In the West Bank, Wanted Militants Are Made to Feel Unwanted

Coffee shops don't serve militants, barbers don't cut their hair, for fear of IDF arrest raids.

A group of militants from the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, all on Israel's wanted list, strolled into Fawzi Baba, a coffeehouse in the Tul Karm refugee camp around noon. Within a few seconds, a scene that has become routine took place: Everyone dropped their card games and rushed out. Owner Fawzi Matawafa approached one of the newcomers, Mawid Abu Tamam, and whispered, "Why did you come here?" Fawzi has known Mawid for a long time; Mawid is a childhood friend of his son. But the cafe owner says that when wanted men come in, his customers run off in fright.

"Look what happened," Fawzi says to Haaretz. "They all left. I don't want them here. The army can come at any moment and it won't distinguish between wanted man and civilians, so they should go."

One of the customers who fled, Hassam Salameh, says he fears for his life when he is near members of the brigades. "God help us, the security situation is bad and I am afraid. I don't want to be near them," he says.

Salameh's card-playing companion, Abd al-Rahim, turns to the leader of the group, Abu Talab, who was taken off the wanted list under an amnesty agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "Do you think that because of [the Haaretz crew] you have immunity now?" Abd al-Rahim asks Abu Talab. "Because of Israeli reporters? There's no security. You all have to leave."

The social problems of the wanted men ¬ even those taken off the list ¬ don't end with coffeehouses. The "glory days" of Raed al-Karmi, the legendary Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades leader who sowed terror in the city until he was killed by Israel in 2002, are over. In the past year, these men have been feeling unwanted.

"Let's say a wanted man orders a taxi from the nearest stand," Abu Talab explains. The driver comes, sees who he's dealing with and steps on the gas. If they walk into a store to buy cigarettes, they'll give them a pack for free just to make them leave quickly. Even the barbershops aren't willing to cut their hair, the barber goes to the men's hiding place."

The most difficult problem the wanted men face is that they have become ineligible for marriage. Some are still single, not even engaged, even though they are already in their late twenties or early thirties.

"I wanted to marry a girl from the camp," Mawid Abu Taman relates, "but because I'm wanted, her father refused. What kind of life could I offer her?" His friend, M.D., who is not wanted but did not want his name published for fear that the Israel Defense Forces could link him to the group, said, "I love these guys. They're all my friends, but I wouldn't want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets."

The men also suffer due to Israel's ambiguous policy regarding their amnesty. Three months ago, an agreement was signed requiring them to hand over their weapons, swear off terror activity and remain within PA territory, among other obligations. Very few actually have been awarded full amnesty. According to Abu Talab, 13 wanted men from the brigades in Tul Karm are on the list of amnesty recipients.

The Shin Bet security services and the PA reached a new agreement last week over wanted Fatah men in the West Bank. Under the agreement, a few dozen of the 170 men included in the first agreement have been removed from the list following a probationary period, after swearing off terror, handing their personal weapons over to the PA and agreeing to its surveillance. As long as they refrain from terror activities, Israel will not pursue them.

Supervision is to be reduced for dozens more of the remaining men on the list, while a third group is still being monitored. In addition, dozens of new wanted men have entered the probationary period outlined in the agreement.

Shin Bet officials say the relative success of the program "comes from the positive dynamic that has been created, which has had positive consequences for West Bank Palestinians, Nevertheless, the PA's achievements in this area are very limited, and the process of collecting weapons from the wanted men is a slow one. The PA is still far from demonstrating enforcement capabilities."

Amos Harel contributed to this article.