Zakariya Zubeidi Presents

The head of Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in Jenin has his own answer to Hamas: religious Muslims who have cast their lot with the secular militant group. Zakariya Zubeidi also reveals that Abu Mazen is the big winner in Gaza and that Israel helped Hamas there.

It was a strange encounter: It began with the strains of a violin and ended with sounds of gunshots. Between the music - played for us by 9-year-old Mohammed, Zakariya Zubeidi's nephew, on a violin brought to him by Israeli peace activist Wafa Yunis - and the sounds of shooting that led to the hasty exit from the room of the five armed men, several hours passed. During that time Zubeidi described the new situation, as it looks to him from the alleys of the Jenin refugee camp.

As usual, he did not come alone. But the sight of his armed entourage stunned us for a moment. Several bearded men entered the room with camouflage uniforms, flak jackets, machine guns and pistols. That is exactly how the members of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the Hamas military wing in Gaza, look. But this bearded group belongs to the secular Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade. A public relations whiz, Zubeidi brought in his religious friends from their days together renovating the Bank Leumi branch in Haifa's Paris Square in 1998: three "ultra-Orthodox" brothers from neighboring Al-Yamun, all wanted by the Israeli military, and several friends who looked like "Hardalniks" - ultra-Orthodox nationalist Jews. A few looked more like Vizhnitz Hasids in Purim costume than Fatah fighters. Originally from Hamas, they, like their commander, think that organization has misused religion and caused critical harm to the Palestinian people and its resistance movement.

The Hamas offices in the Jenin refugee camp were set on fire last week by Zubeidi's fighters. About 30 Hamas activists in the city were arrested by the Palestinian Authority. In the context of the emergency situation declared by the PA, Hamas activists are forbidden to demonstrate or to walk around armed in the streets of Jenin. The rearguard battle to rescue the West Bank from Hamas will be conducted by people like Zubeidi.

The three pious brothers usually make sure not to hang around with each other so that they won't be killed or caught together. Sheikh Ra'ed, 35, has been wanted for five years; Sheikh Iyad, 32, for three years; and Sheikh Abu-Sayyaf, 28, the youngest of the brothers, has been wanted for four years. Two of them grew up in Hamas, two of them have red beards, two of them are fathers.

"These friends," says Zubeidi, introducing his men, "are more religious than Hamas. Does Hamas say that we are heretics? There are religious people in Fatah, but they don't mix religion and politics. Hamas only used religion for its own purposes. Hamas is not a religious movement. Religion forbids people to kill each other, forbids kidnapping, destruction, theft and arson, and Hamas killed and burned and stole and kidnapped."

Zubeidi also came this time armed with a silver-colored Smith & Wesson pistol and a Nokia N80, the last word in cellular phones. Pictures of the crushed body of Samih al-Madhoun, the most important of the men assassinated by Hamas in Gaza, flickers on his cell-phone screen.

Who is to blame for what happened?

Zubeidi: "Hamas is to blame. Abu Mazen [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] has a policy: He opposes the intifada and wants peace with the Israelis. Hamas talks about resistance and does nothing. They do not oppose the occupation. They're busy only with opposing Abu Mazen. That is their resistance. They felt that they had some power in Gaza, and said: Let's bring down the PA and take it by force. What they did in Gaza has happened many times in the Arab world, but not under occupation."

But how did Gaza fall so easily?

"Abu Mazen had several plans; if one failed he would try the second. He said: No problem. They want to take [Gaza] by force, we'll give it to them. I'll give Gaza to Hamas, I'll say they took Gaza by force and I'll remove Hamas from the PA and the parliament. That's what happened. Gaza is closed - let Hamas do what it wants there. Now Abu Mazen can go to the world and say: We want peace, on the West Bank everything will work out, and nobody will talk to [the deposed Hamas prime minister] Ismail Haniyeh and his people. Nobody will help them, they won't be able to leave, and they will receive food and drink only with the approval of Abu Mazen.

"Now all the Hamas missiles have stopped. They're afraid to fire a single missile. Abu Mazen taught them a lesson: He finished Hamas. He killed two birds with one stone: He got rid of his people in Gaza, who were corrupt, and he received international support. Hamas has destroyed the intifada. People in the West Bank saw what happened in Gaza and don't want any more resistance. I have no trouble with dismantling the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, but on condition that I see that there are genuine peace negotiations."

Is Gaza a lost cause as far as Fatah is concerned?

"We haven't given up Gaza. Gaza belongs to the PA. The salaries, the food - everything via the PA. Everything can by done by fax. Someone want a passport? He'll get it by fax. What will the Hamas people do to us there? The Arab countries don't recognize their prime minister, the Europeans don't agree, and even Iran said he must resign. So how can you survive? You have the weapons, but in another month or two, Fatah will be stronger than Hamas."

Your commanders fled.

"Our leadership in Gaza received money in order to beat Hamas, and stole it along with the weapons. Everyone feathered his own nest. They didn't stand alongside the soldiers. I'm a leader - if I'm not in front, I'm not a leader. There are two types of leaders. Ahmed Hilis remained with the real Fatah in Gaza. He's a leader. [Mohammed] Dahlan, [Rashid] Abu Shabak and [Samir] Masharawi fled. Nor did they prepare an army that would fight, because they never fought alongside them. Just like you [Israel] in Lebanon: Your defense minister has never used a pistol. Jibril Rajoub did not steal money, Mohammed Dahlan did. That's the difference between the West Bank and Gaza. Now we have to dismiss all those who fled Gaza."

You recently received Dahlan in the camp.

"My brother and I against my cousin, and my cousin and I against the stranger."

And what will happen from now on?

"Now the intifada is over. We will live with Israel amicably for five or six years. Afterward the Palestinian people will wake up from what happened. It will take years until the deep scars heal. We have to hope that Israel will leave all the cities, release prisoners, and hand over the money. If Abu Mazen doesn't make progress with peace, we haven't accomplished a thing. If we see that Abu Mazen is not succeeding, we can destroy him as a leader by means of terror attacks, exactly as Hamas destroyed [Yasser] Arafat through its attacks."

Mahmoud Al-Zahar [Hamas leader in Gaza] said this week that after Gaza will come the turn of the West Bank.

"People here on the West Bank know who Hamas is. They succeeded military, but not in real terms. If they hold elections today in Gaza, Hamas will not win. Nor will Fatah. The independents will win. In order for Hamas to do in the West Bank what it did in Gaza, the Israelis have to help it as they did in Gaza. Do you think Israel didn't help Hamas in Gaza? It allowed all the weapons to enter Gaza and closed its eyes."

Why would Israel do that?

"In order to tell the Arab world and the West that the Islamic organizations have taken control. What happened is to Israel's benefit, isn't it? The Israelis planned it together with the Americans."

Maybe the time has come for your generation to come to power.

"No. That's impossible. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Iz al-Din al-Qassam and the Al-Quds Brigades are soldiers who are willing to die on the chessboard. They are protecting the politics on top. That's how it is in the world. Has it ever been different in the world? It's impossible."

Zubeidi's religious friends lay their heavy rifles down, and sit around the table in the apartment where the meeting is taking place. They have a polished appearance. Most of the time they are busy transferring ringtones of speeches and Koran verses on their cell phones. Zubeidi brought the men with him, just as Shimon Peres used to bring Arab representatives in keffiyehs to his meetings with the Socialist International.

Sheikh Ra'ed: "Hamas has besmirched religion. They distorted religion entirely when they killed and burned our people. We have come to prove that you can be religious without being Hamas. The men who threw people from the 15th floor - they aren't Muslims. In Islam there are laws even regarding the slaughter of a cow. Islam is a religion of mercy and forgiveness. Even the Israelis should know that we are opposed not to your religion, but to your occupation. People in Europe are now saying: Look at Islam. It throws people from the 15th floor. What is happening in Lebanon is Islam and what is happening in Iraq is Islam. Everything in the name of Islam. A person who lives in France and supports the Palestinian people is saying: 'Is this the people to whom you want to give a state?' We've lost a great deal because of what happened in Gaza."

Sheikh Iyad: "If two groups fight between themselves, you have to help one. That's clear. When Hamas threw someone down in the name of religion, they acted against religion. Now we are demanding that West Bank-Hamas help us to operate against Gaza-Hamas. The PA embraced them, gave them jobs, now they have to help the PA. Do you think everyone with a beard is Hamas? We're arresting Hamas in the West Bank to help our brothers in Gaza. That's what Allah says."

Sheikh Adnan: "I have a problem with those who stockpiled weapons and didn't fire a single shot against the occupation. They aimed these weapons they collected against the Palestinian people. According to law, the weapons are illegal."

Zubeidi: "The weapons of the resistance and the weapons of the PA are legal. All the rest are illegal and must be collected. We discovered that the weapons of Hamas are not the weapons of resistance and not the weapons of the PA. Hamas are members of our people. It's true that they made a mistake, but we won't kill them. We won't kidnap them, we won't burn them, we won't throw them from the 15th floor. We will help the PA to arrest them legally. Hamas used religion and we in the West Bank will say to them: You are a nonreligious party. True religion can be found among us."

Sheikh Adnan: "The ugly face of Hamas was revealed. The veil was removed and the ugly face was revealed. Hamas helped the occupation. The Israelis are saying thank you to those who killed Samih al-Madhoun. He was a wanted man for five years, until Hamas assassinated him."

What if Hamas tries to take over the West Bank as well?

Zubeidi: "We will fight them to the finish. The Al-Aqsa brigades are protecting the Palestinian people from the occupation. Hamas has carried out an occupation of the people, an occupation of religion, of culture and of the law. If Hamas comes here to kill our people and to do what they did in Gaza, we'll fight them. We've arrested the Hamas members in Jenin. Anyone who does not oppose what Hamas did in Gaza is a partner, and therefore will stay in prison."

Hamas compare you with the South Lebanon Army (SLA).

"Until now we've been on the road, in the camp and in the cities fighting the Israel Defense Forces soldiers who enter. The SLA, [Antoine] Lahad's army, killed the Lebanese and the Palestinian people together with the Israeli army. We didn't sit in the jeeps of the Border Police and take Hamas to jail. We didn't ride Merkava tanks and enter Hamas homes. If the occupation wants to enter the Muqata [government compound in Ramallah] to arrest Hamas members - we will help Hamas leave."

On the Hamas-controlled Al-Aqsa channel they attacked you this week for your connections with Tali Fahima.

"Tali Fahima sat in an Israeli prison longer than Zahar. He sat for eight months and she sat for three and half years, and she is still under restrictions: She is not allowed to pick up the phone to the Palestinian people. Fahima is more [a symbol of] resistance than Zahar. Fahima lit two torches, one in honor of Sheikh Mahmoud who was killed and one in my honor. Zahar lit one torch and burned the entire Palestinian people."

When we went outside for a stroll in the alleys we suddenly heard a whirring sound coming from above. One of the men looked upset: It's a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), he said. Zubeidi: "It's the neighbors' washing machine."

Afterward, lunch was suddenly interrupted: The sound of shooting - nobody know who was involved - sent the entire group running outside, alert and tense, aiming their rifles at the street, leaving us behind with a plate of abandoned stuffed grape leaves and the like.