"You Israelis say that you are civilized and we're the barbarians. Quite true. We are barbaric in our weapons, and you are civilized, the pinnacle of human development. We have nails and chemical materials that someone concocts in a warehouse and the human body, and you have Apaches and F-16 aircraft that can see a mouse at night moving through a crowded refugee camp that is built on sand. I hear shooting and know that the chances for our fighters are zero. The chance that an Israeli soldier will be killed is zero. He is in the sky like a god, or in a tank like an elephant.
"One hundred and fifty human beings - human beings, both Israelis, including soldiers, and Palestinians have been killed around Netzarim. And all just for a few dozen families in that Jewish settlement. You say that you if you leave Netzarim now, it is admitting defeat. Is it really worth so many people killed?"
One can hear such talk from many people in Gaza. But this time these words were said during a chance meeting in Gaza City with Sami Abu Samhadana, just a few hours after 12 Palestinians were killed in a lost battle with the Israel Defense Forces units that took control of part of the Zeitoun neighborhood and totally destroyed 17 different workshops (including a kebab restaurant) where, according to the IDF mortars were produced, and three residences. In addition, another 15 workshops were partially destroyed, among them a print shop. Abu Samhadana is 40, a native of the refugee camp in Rafah, an administrative detainee during the first intifada and one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement who believed with all his heart that the Oslo agreement was good and would bring peace. He worked hard to convince his friends of this. His Hebrew is fluent, rich and slangy, which testifies to a familiarity with Israeli society, great interest and also affection.
With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, he set up and headed a Palestinian security unit "for special missions" (conversations to soften up and convince opponents of the PA to stop the terror attacks, arrests when the conversations were to no avail, collecting money from tax-dodgers). As happened to many senior Fatah field activists, the Oslo years were good to him financially. In all circumstances - as a prisoner, when he was released between arrests and as a PA official - he met with senior Israelis because of his familiarity with the grass roots and his influence there. During periods when Gazans were not permitted to leave to study in the West Bank, he received Israeli authorizations exit the Gaza Strip in his car and travel to Jerusalem. His identification with the PA hurt his popularity.
With the outbreak of the second intifada, the Israeli authorities permitted him to go to Jordan for open heart surgery. His friend Mohammed Dahlan was promised that he would be allowed to come back. Under the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Shin Bet security service did not promise that he would not be arrested upon his return. But he, a native of Rafah, found unofficial ways to come home. Now, he says, because of that he is considered a wanted man. He says that his 70-year-old mother, who wanted to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, was told by the Israelis who give the permits: "Go the way your son came back."
In the IDF they like instill fear in people with the name of his extended family, Abu Samhadana (his brother, Jamal, is a commander of the Popular Committees). But he is a type that is characteristic of an entire generation, which since its youth has fought against the Israeli occupation, and has therefore has learned to want to live with the Israelis, in two neighboring states.
"I can't understand what you're looking for here in Gaza. If you want it so badly, then take it. We're sick of it. Do you want separation and not peace? Okay, we also want separation and not peace. But there should be separation. Is Nablus the holy land? Is Hebron the holy land? Okay, give us Tel Aviv. I'll give up Jerusalem, you take Ramallah and give me Netanya. But it's not possible both to `separate' and at the same to leave all the Jewish settlements and the settlers here.
"I tell the Hamas people, not the Israelis, straight to their faces that I am opposed to attacks on Israeli civilians," he says. And firing the Qassam rockets? "More Palestinians have been hurt by it than Israelis. But our people only react. You are the initiators. It's like a game on a field where on the one side there is a goal and soccer players and on the other - the basket and basketball players and in the middle the referee blows his whistle and throws the ball. Any sensible person would have to stop the game right then - both players and spectators.
"That's what we're like, the Israelis and the Palestinians. Instead of stopping we keep playing a game that should have been stopped long ago. It used to be that the Israelis apologized when they killed civilians and children here. Now, they've even stopped apologizing. Our generation, now, has surrendered. Maybe. And what will happen with the next generation? This generation will die, but its children and grandchildren? Do you want to leave a war to your grandchildren? A real commander would do everything he could to spare his grandchildren war.
"If the Israelis enter Gaza, thousands will die here. And then their grandchildren will remember the blood and avenge it. All the extremists here want Sharon to stay."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now