Whenever I light a cigarette I think of B and the many companionable cigarettes and cups of strong, sweet coffee we took together in Nablus. I smoked my last one in the beautiful, moonlit city with him, very late, on the night before I left for the USA for a summer visit. To meet was a huge risk for him but he wanted to say “until we meet again”. I hadn?t made it to an earlier rendezvous, and was sad that I had missed him ? he knew, so he came back at a very dangerous time when the soldiers were in the city! To my profound sorrow, some four months later he has finally been trapped and captured in Raffidiya during an Israeli occupation army undercover operation in which his brother was also dragged in shackles from his bed.
When taken prisoner by the illegal Israeli occupiers, Palestinian resistance members don?t face trial, but beatings, torture, and murder.
It is difficult to face the images of the brutal cruelty they are now suffering at the hands of the Israeli torturers in a continuous merging of day into night - a seamless agony of cold and thirst, unbearable noise, filth, electric shocks, snapping bones and screaming tendons in windowless, stinking, blood-drenched rooms where the brilliant lights burn retinas behind taped-open, sleep-deprived eyelids 24-hours a day. Oh, there are dozens more cruel and inhuman tortures then this, all well-documented by the victims, with names, dates, and details. But no one is listening to the appeals of prisoners near to death from torture ? B and his brother will join the 190, unsung outside Palestine, who have already died of Israeli brutality.
If the usual experience of other prisoners is anything to go by, we will meet again only in the Paradise. Unless there is a sea-change of attitude by the Governments of the world, no one outside the prison is likely to see him again, for no visits have been allowed since 1997. It is hard to comprehend not seeing ever again a human being who is still on this earth. It is hard enough when someone dies.
Back to the Beginning
As a journalist working and living in Nablus, I realized fully just how biased, distorted, untruthful or incomplete is most of the reporting coming from Palestine, and how much of it churns out the propaganda of Israeli government. The reality on the ground every day usually bears no relation to anything in newspapers and journals. The only journalist of international standing who actually came to Nablus the whole time I was there was the wonderful Chris McGreal of The Guardian.
It is very clear to me that, unless we engage - in some depth and at a sincere, sustained level - with the Palestinian Resistance, and especially with Hamas because of the (almost) universal respect and love accorded to them here, there will never be any progress towards a just establishment of a Palestinian state. Recognizing that these are human beings not ?terrorists?, with the courage and determination to make any sacrifice for the justice of their cause, is the spring-board to understanding what has to be done to bring justice here.
It is, of course, in the interests of ?Israel? and the Jewish lobby in the USA that journalists have no contact with the Mujahideen, either through not being allowed to enter Palestine or, if they get in and are privileged to be granted interviews, to accuse them of ?supporting terrorism? merely for doing the job they should be doing! So journalists fear any interaction with members of Hamas and its military wing, Al Kittab al Qassam, and with Al Jihad Islami and its military wing, Al Quds Brigade, in particular.
Of course, there is the difficulty of meeting them at all. First, because they are very secret and very self-contained organizations and, second, because members of the resistance, the Mujahideen, are acutely distrustful of ?internationals?, rightly in my experience, questioning their motives and interpretation. Time and time again they have found ?internationals? to be collaborating with Israel ? when they went through the wallets of, for example, three ISMers, and found Israeli ID on them ? in some cases, indeed, that they were members of the IOF. Many resistance fighters have died as a result, and many more are in prison. There is even a further problem! The Israelis not only make it difficult to get into Nablus, they have also done a very successful ?hatchet job? on the reputation of this most friendly of cities - so that people constantly exclaim “Nablus? No, it is too dangerous, aren?t you afraid?"- So we should just go to the safe places then? If that is how someone feels then he should leave, perhaps, and let someone else do the job.
It is very important for us to make these contacts and do our best to understand what kind of human beings the fighters are (indeed that they are human beings!), what motivates them, and that they will never give up. We must then to try and report in a way that will enable people everywhere, but especially the US and the UK, to judge for themselves the truth or otherwise of the diet of Zionist propaganda which they have been fed through a hundred years and more.
Unexpectedly, what started as a series of discussions and interviews in a professional situation over a period of months, developed into a strong and enduring friendship. With every meeting (always fraught with danger and with both of us hyper-vigilant) my respect for this sensitive, dedicated and delightful human being grew. For that is what he is, of course, a human being like you and me. A much-loved son, brother, husband, father, uncle and friend. A man with worries and concerns, pride, hurts, sorrows, achievements, and dreams. A business-man who goes to the office in the morning and calls home if he is going to be late. A parent with the same trepidations about school and Parents Evenings as any other parent in the US or in Europe.
An ordinary man now become extraordinary. Not a faceless, nameless ?terrorist?. A legal freedom-fighter against an illegal occupier; a member of the legitimate Resistance.
For the first time I came to understand the work of Hamas and the make-up of its membership. Hamas is not filled with the disaffected, anarchic, wild-eyed, illiterate peasants in scruffy fatigues, as the propaganda has been putting out for years. Very much not! Hamas is a highly-disciplined organization, 60% of whose activities comprises charity work with the thousands of people made destitute by the Israeli terrorism. Its members are the best Palestine has to offer and come from every level of society ? they are businessmen, teachers, mechanics, poets, doctors, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, janitors, administrators, students, professors, hair stylists, truck drivers ? every occupation is represented. Only one man I met ever said he didn?t like Hamas, for it is respected, indeed loved, throughout Palestine and not just by its members.
Resistance to the Occupation comes from inside the hearts and homes of ordinary Palestinians.
For several weeks before I left Nablus for the summer, B had to find a new hiding place every day, for he was hunted daily (or, nightly as it is here), his family continually terrorized and harassed, and his home and the homes of his brother and sister burst-into during the night and ransacked at least once a week. One night I was out late and went to observe one of these large-scale invasions of his family home and neighbourhood for some three hours. B is very human and got a great deal of satisfaction from knowing their every move first-hand. His amusement that we were drinking coffee high above while they wasted their time in another fruitless ?operation? was like the fun of a mischievous boy! He has not been able to go to his home for 16 months.
Throughout this extended period of physical uncertainty, when his wits must always be at their sharpest even though he can sleep only irregularly and for short periods, the certainty of his purpose is absolute and he retains his faith, humanity, sense of humour and concern for everyone but himself. He is very much in control of his emotions and betrayed his deepest feeling on only a couple of occasions. Once, when I was e-mailing my pictures of a siege in Al Makhfiyyeh, he saw my photos of his Shahiid (martyred) friend, Mazen Freit?kh, and, much worse, of his captured friends Dia?a, Enab and Amir. Two livid, puckered, bullet scars stood out on his fine, tight jaw when he said poignantly of Dia?a ? “this is my friend, he is more than a brother” ? and, very quietly, of Mazen ?"you know who this is ? he is the strongest of the brave”. His eyes betrayed unfathomable sorrow and his thoughts were far away in a place I cannot go. Seeing, perhaps, the legion of martyred friends marching in a human bridge over a river of blood, from the past to the future. Very deliberately and, again, quietly, he said, “when I was twenty I had many friends; now they are few”.
Quietly ? yes, B is a quiet one. He is a small, fragile-looking, fine-boned man with a direct gaze that seems to see into your soul. His neat, black hair shows no sign of grey. In company with most Nabulsi men, he has some teeth missing ? a result of Israeli brutality. His quick smile is open, his chuckle infectious! His mother is sad, because - “you see, he doesn?t eat properly now”. His sister looks at a picture of the robust man of 5 years ago and tears fill her eyes at the changes wrought by the past 18 months, during which he has lived through several lifetimes of hardship, sacrifice and sorrow.
Delicate hands and wrists bearing the dark, puckered skin of the machine-gun bullet stigmata gesture gracefully to underline or illustrate a point. The bullets also stamped this ?mark of the Intifada? in his right lower jaw where the damaged nerve works almost continuously. A gentle man, older than the usual run of mujahideen, his calm and composed manner hides deep reserves of mental strength and energy. He seems to be a loner - whether by choice or circumstance I was not certain at first, though I thought even then it was the latter (correctly it turned out). In his very quietness he comes and goes almost unnoticed and this, coupled with an obvious intelligence and meticulous planning, may well have kept him alive and ?free?.
You don?t see him coming and, often someone will say ? “have you seen who is here?” And he has been around for an hour! - but quite suddenly you will notice he is by your side. You talk a while and then, when you turn to say something, he has gone, melted into the city silently like so many of the mujahideen are able to do. It seems that the whole city was holding its breath for B. Almost everyone so much wants him to live and many would face personal danger to do anything necessary to protect him; but he, with grace and love, accepts the decision of his God and, because of their love for him, Nabulsi will do the same.
When I asked if I might record an interview B was initially reserved, wary and reluctant, but our acquaintanceship has grown rapidly to a point where I have the privilege and honour to be a trusted companion. I find it extraordinary that anyone would write about the Islamic Resistance without ever knowing any mujahad in any depth. Perhaps surprisingly, as I speak little Arabic as yet and he speaks little English, these times together are relaxed and fun ? he has a quick wit and a sharp sense of humour and it is easy to find Nabulsi who speak many languages as interpreters. For the first time in his life he wishes he had spent a little effort on English which he shunned as the language of the colonial power who brought upon the innocent heads of the Palestinians this cataclysm ? Al Nakba.
Arrested and imprisoned many times, (he cannot remember now how many offhand!) he followed in the footsteps of his father, a world renowned Islamic scholar and Sheikh who, like most of the men here, spent a large part of his life in an Israeli jail ? most recently last year when he was taken for 96 days without any notification to his family who had no idea where he was, or if he was alive or dead. Three months throughout which this learned man of 72 was subjected to many vicious tortures before being sent home without charge. Three of B?s brothers are in the prison, two unlikely to be seen again for one is serving 24 times life and one, well, “only one times life”. The third may be released sometime but the chances are not high ? his sentence is only ten-and-a-half years because he is totally blind!
Yet their tiny, brave mother displays only strength without regret - though with tears welling-up when she related details of their torture and agony in jail - knowing that giving her sons is her irreplaceable contribution to freedom. Many of B?s other male relatives suffer the same fate. Their homes are invaded and searched almost every week at night. The disruption is designed only to terrorise and destroy because the Israelis should know that he would never put the lives of his beautiful wife and children in danger by going home!
Recently the adults in the family house were all locked in one of the upstairs rooms while B?s four children - the youngest 3 years, the eldest 10 ? were held in their apartment alone with the soldiers and their guns, and abused and threatened all night ? a night of terror when they were bullied and intimidated to try and find out - “where is your father?” They do not know anyway. Why would they? They are children. Shut in with soldiers while the rest of the family members were herded into one room upstairs ? like every Israeli action here, of course, illegal under every pertaining International law, Statute and Convention. Imagine the feelings of their mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts, who could hear their terror but were powerless to do anything.
After they have had their land stolen, their homes destroyed, and their family members murdered, can we blame Palestinians for joining in the uprising?
B speaks quietly with careful, considered words. Minimal in number and very guarded at first; later endlessly curious about our way of life and love, work, marriage and family and, of course, religion and political life. Certain of his direction and completely unafraid of being murdered he is totally committed to serving Palestine with everything he has including his life. He gave up a wealthy lifestyle as the owner of a successful contracting business to become mujahad only in April 2002. Previously political, the crimes of April made him take up armed resistance at an advanced age for a mujahad. He talks of his four children with tenderness, love and pride. Like any other father. He was pleased when I gave him the pictures they had drawn for him, and folded them into a little square and kept them in his shirt pocket over his heart along with pictures of his family. Imagine the sacrifice ? not to go home for 16 months. His baby was one-and-a-half when he last crossed the threshold of his home. The little one asks for his father ? will I see Papa today? ? constantly. The whole family is making a total sacrifice for Palestine. But what else could they do? (Like the patrician, aesthetic-looking leader of the PFLP who replied, when I asked if he was still a mujahad as well as a politician, “the situation makes us both”, with a wry, lifted eyebrow. I suspect it?s the same for most here).
On the 13th June, the day when Bush gave the Green Light to Sharon and the IOF to murder all of the Islamic resistance B said, “it is clear that the Jewish will not live in peace and therefore we cannot exist side by side in two states because of their huge military power. So either they must go or we must leave. We will never leave.”
And, indeed, at nine o?clock on the night of the 13th June, simultaneous attacks were launched on Balaata Refugee Camp and on the Old City and on Jabal Ash-Shamalia, with helicopter attack gunships, flares lighting up the night sky, tank cannon reverberations, sound bombs and dynamite, jeeps and soldiers firing “like crazy” in all directions.
Lost in Israeli Prisons
It is with a sense of profoundest grief that I now report his capture and torture. No one knows where he is or how he is. If he was wounded before they got him he will get no medical attention. If previous experience is anything to go by, no one will know for, perhaps, years. Or never. Like the many ?disappeared? over the years. Unless a released ?prisoner? has a tiny bit of information about him. He will not be charged with anything supported by evidence, and he will not have a lawyer to represent him. He will not be tried in a Court of Law. He has not done anything illegal so he cannot be properly charged with anything. But then, neither have the other 7,000 or so political prisoners in Israel?s condemned jails. He was captured by an undercover unit of the Israeli army, dressed as Palestinians. Whenever I see these units at night around the city I feel that it must be quite nice for Israelis to dress as human beings for a few hours and not as the terrorists they are in their day-jobs.
Sharon ?insists? that the resistance be captured, killed or disarmed by the PA police (who are not allowed to pass the checkpoints to get to work!) and yet it took the might of the 50,000 IOF troops four months to capture one man!! Just repeat the mantra often enough and it becomes a given truth.
On that last, beautiful, evening in the moonlight, he asked me, “when peace comes, may I come to your home in Wales?” That he should wish it is an honour I will never forget ? to welcome such a great human being into my small home would have been a privilege. In the final moments of that evening, under a weight of sadness, I said that ? I wish that you are sitting in this chair when I come back so that we can continue our conversations. His reply was, “my God will decide”. I have been an atheist throughout my adult life, yet in Nablus no-one can doubt the existence of God. Goodness is in the very air you breathe and in every person. I will never forget the risk he took in returning to ?part together? and the respect and affection it demonstrated for an insignificant old Welsh grandma. It is the greatest gift he could give.
Anne Gwynne is a freelance journalist; she has worked with the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus, and reports for Pacifica Radio?s ?Flashpoints? program.
Article courtesy of Palestine Chronicle