Co-founder of the terrorist group Hamas, the late Abdel Aziz Rantisi (a.k.a. Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi) devoted his life to a single purpose: destroying the state of Israel. “By God, we will not leave one Jew in Palestine,” he said. “We will fight them with all the strength we have.”
Born in 1947 in a village near the modern-day Israeli city of Jaffa, Rantisi was forced to flee his birthplace with his family in 1948 -- when five Arab states declared a war of annihilation against Israel. He was raised thereafter in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip.
After completing his secondary school education in 1965, Rantisi moved to Egypt and studied medicine at Alexandria University, where he came under the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood. Upon graduating in 1972 with a master’s degree in pediatric medicine, Rantisi returned to Gaza. In 1976 he secured work as a resident physician at Naser Hospital in the Gaza city of Khan Younis. Two years later he found employment as a science professor at the Islamic University in Gaza. He also served on the administrative boards of the Islamic Complex, the Arab Medical Society, and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
Inclined toward acts of civil disobedience, Rantisi was arrested a number of times during the early 1980s for his participation in anti-Israel demonstrations as well as for tax evasion.
In 1987 Rantisi, along with Ahmed Yassin, was instrumental in inciting Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli Defense Forces. These conflicts escalated in tension, resulting ultimately in the First Intifada.
On December 14, 1987, Rantisi and Yassin founded Hamas (“Islamic Resistance Movement”), whose avowed purpose is “liberating Palestine” from its Jewish “oppressors.”
In 1992 Rantisi’s frequent calls for violence against Israelis prompted Israeli authorities to expel him, along with 416 Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, to southern Lebanon. There Rantisi emerged as a leading spokesman for Palestinian terrorists, espousing what would become the twin driving themes of their collective creed: opposition to any cease-fire with the Jewish state and an unwavering support for armed resistance. Rantisi declared, “There is no difference between Akko, Haifa, Gaza, Jaffa or Nablus. The Palestinian Intifada will continue until the last Zionist is banished.”
By 1997, Rantisi had become Hamas' chief spokesman and military general. In this capacity, he directed the group to intensify its campaign of terrorism, a move that was calculated to derail the peace negotiations which were then underway between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Inciting violent fervor among his Hamas faithful with his militant rhetoric, Rantisi called for attacks against any and all Israelis, resolutely rejecting any possibility of moderation. As he explained to the Manchester Guardian in 1997, Hamas’ “rifles will remain directed against the Zionist enemy.” Rantisi’s view that Israel was an illegitimate intruder on the Mideast landscape, Rantisi said to another British reporter: “If Israel was established in Britain, would you accept compromise?”
After the steadily mounting Palestinian violence flared into a full-scale Second Intifada in September 2000, Rantisi lauded those suicide bombers who had lost their lives in the process of murdering Jewish civilians: “I congratulate them. They will teach the Jewish mothers in Haifa, Tel Aviv and everywhere that our blood is not cheap.” “This is the answer to the Zionist terrorism,” added Rantisi. “In the future we will multiply the suicide bombing attacks and we will carry out operations that will shock the Jews.”
Rantisi's deep hatred for Israel was mirrored in his contempt for the Jewish state's closest ally, the United States. Following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003, Rantisi hailed the catastrophe as “part of the divine punishment of America and, together with it, Zionism.” In Rantisi’s view, the disaster was a manifestation of supernatural retribution for America’s complicity in the “massacres of Muslims, the destruction of their lives, the humiliation of their honor, and their desire to globalize corruption.”
Speaking to several thousand supporters in Gaza on March 27, 2004, Rantisi said: “America declared war against God. [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon declared war against God, and God declared war against America, Bush and Sharon. The war of God continues against them and I can see the victory coming up from the land of Palestine by the hand of Hamas.” Added Rantisi, President George W. Bush “is the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam, an enemy of Muslims.”
On March 22, 2004, upon the assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, Rantisi was named as his replacement. Less than a month later, on April 17, 2004, Rantisi himself was gunned down by an Israeli army helicopter. This was precisely the manner of death he had desired for himself: He had once been asked how he wished to die, to which he responded, “It’s death whether by killing or by cancer; it’s the same thing. Nothing will change if it’s an Apache [helicopter] or cardiac arrest. But I prefer to be killed by [an] Apache.”
Following Rantisi's death, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat declared three days of mourning in all Palestinian towns and villages. He also instructed schools to devote the first half-hour of lessons to reading from the Koran in remembrance of Rantisi.
In an obituary that appeared in the April 19, 2004 edition of the United Kingdom newspaper The Guardian, journalist Derek Brown, who had met with Rantisi on occasion, wrote that the late Hamas leader had “said he condoned the murder of Israeli children, if that would secure the future of young Palestinians.”
In the 2007 Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) trial, which looked into evidence of HLF's fundraising on behalf of Hamas, the U.S. government released a list of approximately 300 of HLF’s "unindicted co-conspirators" and "joint venturers." Rantisi’s name was on that list, as were the names Omar Ahmad, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Yousef al-Qaradawi, Abdallah Azzam, Jamal Badawi, Mohammad Jaghlit, Mousa Abu Marzook, and Ahmed Yassin. The list also included groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hamas, INFOCOM, the Islamic Association for Palestine, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Arab Youth Association, the North American Islamic Trust, and the United Association for Studies and Research.