Yesterday - because it's now 3.30 am - I interviewed an old friend of mine for the third or fourth time. He was a commander in Fatah in the resistance before Oslo, from around 1972 to 4. He was 20 when appointed, and a student at University. He was tasked with setting up a new resistance group in Gaza, which at its peak was almost 100 men. Until his arrest, he says that he never lost a single man. Their tactics were to go to a scene, throw a grenade at the soldiers and leave. He says their success rate was high and contributed to the feeling that Gaza was ungovernable that still pervades Israeli thinking today. Secrecy was paramount, and the Soldiers operated in closed cells of 3, communicating by dead letter drops and the like. None of them had ever seen the commander, knowingly, although he had seen them.
A child's portrait of a modern - Hamas - resistance fighter.
All went well until one cell, without permission, shot someone in the legs as an informer. Cutting a long story short, they made a mistake, and he went to visit the man to ascertain the facts, and subsequently Fatah distributed a leaflet locally exonerating the man and proclaiming their great regret.
The Israelis immediately arrested the innocent man, since there was now evidence that he had communicated with a known Fatah operative, and he was sentenced to two years.
The leadership in Beirut then sent a man to investigate, he was arrested, and he had a list of names which my contact says he was too cowardly not to give out under torture. My friend got 12 years, serving six and a half, and when he met the wronged man in Jail, he was told by that man that he had an ugly face, and that seeing it was not worth the 2 years that he got, and he was never to show it to him again.
After release he became close to Arafat, but fell out with him over Arafat's acceptance of growing corruption in Gaza. Nevertheless, it is instructive to know that as a senior figure in Fatah, he made high level diplomatic contacts around the world. His violent background was no bar to life at the highest level. I asked him how he dealt with the Russian Mafia whilst doing business there. He said that all his life Palestinians were unfairly labelled as violent terrorists, but when dealing with the Mafia, it was a positive asset. Letting people know that he actually was a commander in the PLO made people anxious to befriend him, rather than fight him. Perhaps the only recorded useful use of a notorious reputation.
My contact then went on to tell me about all the Israeli leaders he had contacts with, and their shortcomings. He has met almost all of them.
"If they were not all on trial for corruption, I could have given the court the evidence myself. They are greedy and trust no-one. They will never succeed", he said, "because they do not even like themselves, they can never make relationships with anyone else. They will never make peace, and they will be abandoned by America, and they will become irrelevant to the world. "Before this last war I thought that it was possible to do business with them, but not now. They are very weak and small men, without any sense of duty.
"Many think that they control America, but they do not. America thinks that they will police the Middle East, but America has had to come and do the job itself. Why employ a dog and bark yourself? If America has to take control of the region, then why does it need Israel? And look at the cost. 30 more years, they will be finished.
"During the war, they did not make war on Hamas. Hamas lost less than 100 fighters, it is nothing. Israel made war on everyone, on farmers who have nothing, on people who have no fault except to be Palestinian. They wanted the people to be afraid and turn against Hamas, but they have shown everyone that Israel does not care for Palestine, and that resistance is the only way, and also that Israel cannot win. They have strengthened Hamas", said this Fatah Warlord. Don't bet that he won't come out of retirement either.
After he left, I went to get some Chicken Kebabs -mmm. There was, as there always is, someone who wanted to practice his English, but this man was different, he had lived for many years in the USA and spoke good English. He told me that he supported no political party, a common view, and that he would leave Gaza as soon as he could, if it were possible.
In America, where he had gone to study, but dropped out and opened a supermarket instead, he was very successful, and obviously enjoyed his life, though not smoking, drinking or chasing girls meant that he had lots of time for work. His rationale was that he wanted to leave his unborn Children better placed than he, and he was happy to work not for himself, but for the future. As an illegal immigrant, he was always vulnerable, but it was the aftermath of 9/11 that prompted a neighbour, jealous of his success, says my waiter, to report him to the authorities, where he was held for almost 4 years, no trial, of course, before deportation could be arranged to Jordan. The Americans couldn't deport him to Gaza, because, of course, they regard it as a terrorist place from which people can legitimately claim asylum. My acquaintance with this man was brief, but he was no fighter, no Al Qaida mastermind, just a dogged, persistent working man trying to make a way in the world, a piece of flotsam on life's political currents, and now earning 40 shekels a day, instead of hundreds of dollars a week. No hope, no future, ambition crushed into a container, a man whose life was wrecked by the Neo-Con wind of change in the USA. They wouldn't give him Asylum, and now he is one more festering hater of all that is US/Israel domination.
One of these men has let life toss him around like a leaf, while the other, used his time even in jail to learn English, Hebrew, and Philosophy, and has bent life to his will. Both find themselves trapped inside a Zoo, with no end in sight to their humiliation. Both have served prison terms just for being Gazan. One proud man for resisting the humiliation heaped on him. The other, for running away from the humiliation that he couldn't live with.
What do you expect of them, O Mighty Israel, O mighty America? You have locked them in a Zoo and given them no hope of ever opening the gate? They cannot live here and they cannot leave. They can only die, and when they don't die fast enough you try to speed it up with a war.
You know without asking that if I'm speaking to a young girl it's because her leg was broken by an F16's rocket: the same rocket that killed all the rest of her family. What you don't know is how I despise myself for accepting that it's normal, or that the girl asked me to sit with her because one of her friends had been interviewed by me previously, and she is so desperate to give a meaning to her life by letting people know about it. The other girls are the young press, schoolkid reporters (all Girls - boys are so much harder to involve), and they interviewed her instead.
But this is why the average Family size in Palestine is about 8 children, because the wastage is so high. And this is why it is illegal for an Israeli Palestinian to marry outside Israel, because it would create more little Israeli Palestinians, and speed up the already growing disproportion in the Arab birthrate, compared to the Jewish. A large Arab population ends all hope of israel being both exclusively Jewish, and also Democratic. Arabs aren't going to vote to be second class citizens.
i have often said that the Palestinian's best weapon is their tears, certainly in winning over the west, but Palestinians know that they can never rely on others to win their fight, and for themselves, and in this war of attrition against the Israelis, the Palestinians best weapon is breeding - not just children, but dignity. Even though the Israelis have given them no choice but death, they have still chosen life:
Have a look at this video, and go to bed with a smile: