He is always on the move, never in one place for more than an hour. He left his hometown of Hebron and is now residing in Ramallah. He grew and dyed his hair, disposed of his glasses and grew a mustache and beard. This is how E.A, one of the top heads of Fateh’s military wing, is trying to save hi s life, after Israeli authorities tried but failed to assassinate him back in Hebron.
“I escaped by a miracle,” says E.A., remembering when Israeli forces opened fire at his car. “I was hit by shrapnel and a young man near the car was killed,” he says.
“Since then I have not seen my family. My wife had a baby girl five months ago, but I haven’t seen her,” he laments. Now he communicates with his wife through letters since his phone is tapped by the Israelis. They raided his home in Hebron several times and arrested his two brothers to find out h is whereabouts.
This has become the harrowing lifestyle of most Palestinian activists, whose names now appear on an Israeli hit list. If they are not on the run, they have already been killed.
Just last week, Israeli missiles turned on Hamas leaders in Nablus. The attempt was successful in that it killed the two targeted men – Sheikh Jamal Mansour and Jamal Salim, two of Hamas’ leading political figures.
But they were not the only ones who were lost to the two Apache-launched missiles, which were fired into the Hamas-affiliated research and media center in the seven-floor building in Nablus. Fahim Dawabsheh, the office director, two photojournalists, who worked in local press offices and Omar Mans our, Sheikh Mansour’s personal bodyguard all died in the blast. And finally, there were two children – brothers Ashraf and Bilal, aged 5 and 8.
This assassination was part of an overall policy to liquidate wanted Palestinians, according to Ra’anan Gissen, Israeli government spokesperson. He said that this policy would be ongoing in order to prevent “terrorists” from attacking Israeli cities and Israeli citizens. “Today our forces struck a group of Hamas members, including the head of the military wing of Hamas in Nablus,” he gloated.
He was referring to Sheikh Jamal Mansour, who has been in charge of media activities in Hamas in the West Bank for years. A day before his death, he was interviewed by a local journalist about the recent liquidation of Hamas military leaders. He said that because of the political nature of his work, he did not know them personally. He did say, however, that he envied them, because they had gone before him in their duty towards Palestine.
Mansour had said, “We leaders must not shed a tear because we are at the forefront. If we cry, others will fall apart.”
A deadly policy “They want to spread fear in the Palestinian ranks,” says Dr. Mustapha Barghouti, head of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute, in reference to these assassinations. “They want to create a problem of trust between the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian cadres. They want to strike at the very existence of the Authority and make the Palestinians feel that the Israelis are lurking behind every house, every window.”
Barghouti says this policy reflects a certain principle, which is to make the Palestinian Authority play into Israel’s hands by arresting any person Israel demands. If the Authority does not abide by this, then Israel justifies breaking into Palestinian controlled territories and killing wanted Pa lestinians.
These are the ongoing goals behind the policy of assassination, which Israel justifies in the name of security, says Barghouti. “But they have not been able to achieve this,” referring to the increasing support for the Intifada with every new assassination.
Based on this, Barghouti says Israel’s chances of achieving its goals are practically nil. He also said that this policy is nothing new. “We all still remember Abu Jihad, Abu Iyad and the poet Kamil Nasser, who were all assassinated by Israel,” he reminds. “We know that many of Israel’s leaders, s uch as [former prime ministers] Barak and Netanyahu earned their medals for their assassination of Palestinians.”
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Nabil Amr says that these assassinations are a result of a political decision by the Israeli government to achieve certain goals, which are not security-oriented, as they claim. “We in the Palestinian Authority are not willing to even think of complying with thes e Israeli tactics. We are not willing to raise the white flag.”
Amr continues that there is no military solution that can be imposed on the Palestinians. “The only solution must be political, based on international legitimacy, a steadfastness to the land and political steadfastness to our position. And we must defend ourselves in any way possible.”
He then alludes to less desirable elements in society. He says the Palestinians should also, “purify the Palestinian society from all the ‘elements’ that allow Israelis to infiltrate, particularly spies.” This, he says, is the appropriate response to the Israeli policy of assassinations.
But what about international opinion towards these assassinations? Barghouti senses that there is a change in international public opinion in favor of the Palestinian cause despite Israeli efforts to bring about the opposite. “There is a window of opportunity that is constantly widening to expand the support and international solidarity with the Palestinian people.” He says this is particularly true since Israel misuses its superiority in terms of its power relationship with the United States and its control over the international media.
However, Barghouti says that this international response – no matter how much on the rise- is not enough. If any other country behaved the way Israel is behaving in the occupied territories, he says, the international outcry would have been much louder and we would have seen international observer s in the region. “So the only way to get the international community to react and to pressure Israel is to obtain a decision from the UN Security Council to send international protection for the Palestinian people,” he concludes.
Following the Nablus killings, US secretary of state Collin Powell described the Israeli action as “excessive and provocative.” This description came one day after UN secretary general Kofi Anan condemned the killings of six Fateh leaders in the West Bank village of Fara’.
This former condemnation came from Israel’s top ally, the United States, which Israelis believe is proof of a shakier position on the American’s part.
Haim Shalev, editorialist of the leading Hebrew daily Ma’areve wrote to this effect on August 1. In a commentary on the policy of assassinations, Shalev wrote that “[Israel] must consider the severe American response, which indicates a negative change in the new American administration and a decli ne in international support, which Israel was able to win after the Dolphinarium operation [which killed 21 Israelis] and which now considers that Israel has violated the cease-fire.” Shalev adds, “The Palestinians will consider an escalation of terror as the appropriate response to the assassination of the two Hamas leaders in Nablus.” Then, alluding to the cons of Israel’s assassination policy, he continues, “The Palestinian-Israeli cycle of bloodshed, which has become system atically satanic, will lead to an increase in the fall of new victims in an escalation that will lead to an inevitable and inescapable explosion.”
And this is exactly what is happening. The vows of revenge rose even louder on the Palestinian street following the Nablus assassinations. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas vowed that, “the Israeli people will pay the price. They must know that Palestinian blood is not cheap.”
Yassin called on the Ezzedin Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, to respond to the attack. “The Israeli government has crossed all the red lines,” he said.
But how are the other Palestinian factions dealing with this new reality of assassinations?
Marwan Barghouti, general secretary of Fateh in the West Bank thinks the Palestinian Authority should be on high alert in facing this policy in order to provide protection for its resistance fighters.
Barghouti himself says he was targeted by this Israeli policy on August 4, when two Israeli missiles struck a car driven by his bodyguard and fellow Fateh member. The first one missed, which gave time for those inside to jump out. When the second one hit – totally destroying the car – it injured M ohannad Abu Halaweh, a leading member of Force 17. Israel denies it had targeted Barghouti, saying it had wanted to liquidate Abu Halaweh, who they say is responsible for a number of attacks on Israelis.
Barghouti says that although he was targeted, he is in the same situation as all the others. “The Palestinian Authority should provide them [resistance fighters] with security, they should warn them, guide them and instruct them.”
He also said that targeted Palestinians should be extra careful and vigilant. He maintains that Fateh has warned some of its members who they believe are targeted by Israel to take the necessary extra security precautions.
Barghouti stressed that the Palestinian Authority will not arrest any Palestinian activist at the request of Israel. He added that there are those who think that arresting them will protect them, which is wrong and unacceptable. He says these people can be protected through serious security measur es, even if they are not foolproof.
“We are well aware that in this situation, it is difficult to provide absolute protection,” he admits. “The enemy has planes, tanks and highly-advanced weapons, which hit their target accurately from a distance.”
Dangerous and dirty Abdel Hakim Masalmeh, spokesperson for the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, drew up a simple equation. “The occupation means nothing without collaborators.” He says this phenomenon is dangerous and degrading, a dirty sector of Palestinian society. He thinks these collaborators must be pursued, caught and struck with an iron fist.
He added that the Palestinian Authority must double its efforts in arresting these collaborators and bring them to trial since the law is in their hands. Maslameh warned that if the Authority does not move quickly in stopping collaboration, the people’s patience will run out and their reaction will be violent.
On the contrary, defends head of the Palestinian intelligence, Tawfiq Tirawi, the security apparatuses do their jobs. He says the security apparatuses have and are still informing Palestinian leaders and activists of the need to take caution. He says Sheikh Jamal was told by the apparatuses not to hold meetings at his office or to sleep at home, but he unfortunately did not take their advice.
“The security apparatuses cannot possibly provide protection for every targeted cadre,” says Tirawi. “We would need an army for that.” Even this, he says, wouldn’t be enough. “How can we protect him from a missile fired from a distance or tank shells? Protection must come from an understanding of security from the activists themselves.”
Israel has continued with is policy, challenging the Palestinians and the world. On August 1, just one day after the Nablus assassinations, a cabinet meeting was held in which Israel decided to carry on with this policy.
The statement issued from the cabinet stipulated that Israel demands from the international community to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to immediately stop “terrorism, violence and incitement.” It failed to mention the two children, Bilal and Ashraf, who were killed the day before, along with the “terrorists.”