By Patrick Bishop, May 22, 2004.
Israelis are beginning to hope that daily life may be returning to
something like it was before the Palestinian uprising. In Tel Aviv,
which prides itself on being fun, the bars are full at weekends.
Crocodiles of Christian and Jewish tourists are once again
thronging the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The more relaxed mood has a simple explanation. It is three months
since the last serious terrorist attack.
The army says there were 25 such attacks in 2002, which
killed 147 people. Last year there were 20, killing 141. So far this
year there have been only two, in which 19 died.
The Israelis are starting to believe that their tactics are working.
Palestinian groups fighting them tend to agree.
The question is whether the trend marks an irreversible
improvement or is merely a lull while the militant groups, decapitated
again and again, regroup and rethink.
One reason cited for the decline in attacks is the barrier being built to
separate Arab and Jewish territory.
“If you want to keep mosquitoes out, then you need a screen
on the windows,” said Dr Hanan Shai, a military strategist and
reserve colonel in the Israel defence forces who has the ear of some
“The screen is the separation barrier.” But whatever the
claims made for the barrier, it is too early to judge as the project is
Both sides agree that the main factor in the decline in activity is
Israel’s success in killing or capturing the leadership of the most
Sources close to Hamas, which is responsible for many of the suicide
attacks, say that in the West Bank, from where most operations
were launched, the organisation has been badly hit.
“There is no money to finance operations,” said one. “Many
of the leaders are gone and it is difficult to replace them. Hamas
needs at least two years to rebuild.”
Only one senior figure, Ibrahim Hamad, the Hamas commander in the
Ramallah area, is still at large, having survived numerous attempts to
capture or kill him.
A local Hamas boss in Qalqilya was killed on Thursday. Some
leaders have retreated to Syria. Offensive operations are “drying up
the swamp”, says Dr Shai.
At the heart of his thinking is the notion of separation and exclusion.
“If you want to stay human in the war against terror, the only way is
to isolate the enemy,” he said.
Death of an Intifada
By Isabel Kershner, The Jerusalem Report Magazine, June
In the West Bank city of Tul Karm, everyone from Yasser Arafat’s
governor to the remnants of the Al-Aqsa Brigades says the
Palestinian uprising is as good as over
Hani Aweideh looks like he hasn’t quite grown into his new role as a
militia leader. Clean-cut with neatly coiffed hair, pressed beige jeans
and a matching polo shirt with embroidered trim around the collar,
the only thing that distinguishes this 26-year-old from the ordinary
young men of Tul Karm is the AK-47 he brings with him when he
emerges out of hiding for an afternoon rendezvous in an anonymous
Aweideh handles the gun awkwardly, though with obvious
reverence, asking for a plastic bag to hide it in for the short hop from
the backseat of a car into the store.
Not long ago Aweideh and his comrades from the Al-Aqsa
Martyrs Brigades – the armed cells, affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s
Fatah movement, that sprung up with the intifada – would have been
swaggering through the streets of this West Bank market town,
inspiring admiration in some residents, terrorizing others and plotting
what they call “military operations” against nearby Jewish
settlements or Israeli cities that lie over the Green Line, the pre-1967
border that skirts Tul Karm to the west.
But the armed men are not walking around here anymore, certainly
not in broad daylight. The few of them left after the army’s frequent
raids, targeted killings and arrests are said to be feeling hunted and
alone. And while predictions of calm times ahead may be premature,
many here are already declaring Tul Karm’s intifada over.
“Everybody is either dead or in prison,” says Nidal Jallad, who is
hanging around the store shortly before Aweideh makes his entry.
“It’s over. We’ve had enough. All we want now is for the prisoners
to come home.”
One of Nidal’s brothers, a Hamas activist, was caught in
March 2003 transporting an explosive belt from Nablus in a car with
three others, including the would-be suicide bomber. He is now
serving a 17-year sentence in Beersheba jail.
Another brother, Nidal says, was shot by an Israeli army
sniper during a curfew and is just starting to walk again after four
operations. Nidal claims his brother was only outside because
soldiers had taken him from his house, dropped him off near the
hospital, then ordered him to walk home.
Nidal is the cousin of Malik Jallad, known as Jarira, the last
commander of the Tul Karm Qata’eb, or Brigades, who was captured
four months ago. When Aweideh comes in, he introduces himself as
Jarira’s successor, though other local sources say the arrested leader
hasn’t been replaced. There’s nobody left of the serious hard core of
the Brigades, they say, only the remnants of Jarira’s junior
lieutenants such as Aweideh inside the city and “a few thieves” in
the two local refugee camps. The mounting tensions between the
city and camp militants have turned them more into rivals than
Aweideh, who used to work in a picture farmer’s shop, insists that
there is still an intifada in Tul Karm. “Only two days ago soldiers
opened fire on one of our guys,” he notes, adding that 10 days ago
there were six more “martyrs” from the Qata’eb in the Nur Shams
camp adjacent to the town. But ultimately his protests only serve to
confirm what the others are saying. Asked what exactly the Qata’eb
want, he replies: “All we want now is to defend ourselves. That’s it.
Nobody is giving us any hope or any security.”
Residents of Tul Karm are no longer willing to provide refuge for the
armed men in their houses, local sources say, for fear of ending up
on the army’s demolition list. Furthermore Aweideh, his fingers
nervously drumming on the back of his chair, an eye fixed on the
door, reveals that it is not only the Israeli actions that are curbing the
“The Palestinian Authority used to support us, but we’ve had
no funding from them for the past two months,” he claims. “They
make promises, but nothing ever materializes. The PA wants to calm
the situation, but Sharon doesn’t,” he concludes.
Hiding has become the armed men’s main preoccupation, since the
apparently inexperienced Aweideh attests to “100 per-cent
difficulty” in launching attacks. The last local operation took place in
early April when a gunman from the Tul Karm refugee camp
infiltrated the nearby Avnei Hefetz settlement fatally shooting
Ya’acov Zaga, 40, and wounding his teenage daughter. The gunman,
18-year-old Ramzi Arda, was killed by soldiers during the incident,
though an accomplice who had driven him there got away.
Tul Karm is known much more as a Fatah bastion than as a
stronghold of Hamas, though posters of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed
Yassin and his short-lived successor Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, killed in
Israeli strikes in Gaza, are plastered up all over town. Both Hamas
and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Avnei Hefetz attack,
saying it was in retaliation for Yassin’s assassination in March.
Aweideh attributes the difficulty in launching attacks to the recently
constructed security barrier that now seals Tul Karm off from Israel,
as well as the strict checkpoint regime that controls movement
between the city and the rest of the West Bank and “the pressure
put on us by the PA.” He says that the people he deals with in
Ramallah “are scared for Arafat” following Prime Minister Sharon’s
veiled threats on the Palestinian leader’s life.
About a dozen of Aweideh’s friends have been killed. Asked if he’s
afraid, he points a finger upwards, lifts his eyes to the ceiling and
says he’d like to join them.
Tul Karm, a city of 90,000 – or over 130,000 including the two
refugee camps – figures prominently in the annals of the intifada.
Israel launched its “targeted killing” of intifada leaders here when
army snipers shot down Thabet in the last days of 2000.
Thabet, a dentist and a local Fatah leader who was well
known to the Israeli peace camp as a political dialogue partner, had
allegedly become a conduit for funding the Qata’eb network. “He
was involved in everything,” says Aweideh admiringly. Abd al-Bassat
Odeh, the Hamas suicide bomber who carried out the Park Hotel
Passover attack in Netanyah in March 2002, killing 30, also came
from the city. That bombing precipitated Israel’s massive Defensive
Shield operation that saw the army reinvade all the Palestinian cities
of the West Bank.
The Tul Karm refugee camp produced Sirhan Sirhan, the 19-year-old
gunman who killed five Israelis at Kibbutz Metzer in November 2002,
including a mother and her two boys, aged four and five. Tul Karm
was also the hometown of Raed Karmi, one of the Al-Aqsa Brigades’
most charismatic leaders in the West Bank who was alleged to be
responsible for the deaths of at least nine Israelis, including two who
were abducted from a Tul Karm cafe and executed in retaliation for
Karmi was killed in an explosion widely attributed to Israel in
early 2002, an event that brought a tentative three-week cease-fire
called by Arafat to an end. (The PA was supposed to have been
holding Karmi in custody at the time.)
Izz Al-Din Sharif, Arafat’s personal envoy in Tul Karm, has been the
governor of the district since the fall of 1996 when the Israelis
withdrew under the terms of the Oslo Accords. Together with the
surrounding villages, the population of the district is some 245,000.
One of the “outsiders” who returned from exile with Arafat,
Sharif had helped form Fatah’s Al-Yarmuk force in Syria in the
1970s, and later moved on to PLO headquarters in Tunis where he
worked with the legendary Khalil Wazir (Abu Jihad). When he first
came here he says he found the place in a dilapidated mess.
“There were no water wells, there were 90 children to a classroom,
there was one hospital from Ottoman times and no clinics in the
villages, and the market was flooded with rotten canned food past
its legal expiry date,” he recalls.
A small, lean man with a trim mustache and dancing eyebrows, he
describes how things began to transform. Police and security forces
were trained and deployed on the streets, a security plan was
created for the whole region, committees were formed to deal with
education, health and the rotten food, the Japanese started building
a new hospital, the United Nations Development Program and the
Europeans helped improve the water system and the foreign
donor-funded Palestinian Economic Council for Development and
Reconstruction started paving the roads.
“Commerce prospered and the city was flourishing,” Sharif enthuses,
in Arabic. “And we were also fighting terrorism. We started meeting
with the Israeli army and solving all the problems at the table. At the
weekends, Tul Karm was full of Israeli families who used to come
and shop. Here everything is cheaper and better. The Jews would
return home with wide smiles on their faces. The years from 1996
until 2000,” when the intifada erupted, “were a golden era for us.”
Although the intifada started under the premiership of Ehud Barak –
and Thabet, who Sharif describes as “a man of peace” who was
“trying to organize the armed men and the illegal weapons” was
killed on Barak’s watch – Sharif blames Sharon for the escalation.
Ignoring questions about where all the armed militants suddenly
appeared from, he says that Sharon set about destroying all that had
been built in order to set the Palestinian state back another 50 years.
Now, he says, Tul Karm has become a “social case” with about 60
percent of the population living below the poverty line. “There are
248 martyrs from the Tul Karm area, 25,000 wounded, a third in
wheelchairs,” he rattles off. “These are the latest figures that have
stuck in my mind.” Between 18,000-22,000 Palestinians from this
district used to go to work in Israel. “Now they are living on charity,”
Economically, the city is barely functioning. Everybody owes money
to everybody else, judging by what they say. The younger members
of the unemployed are going back to school, while 70 percent of the
college graduates can’t find a job. The coffee shops are full of bored
men who have nowhere else to go. “If you shake them, you’ll find
they haven’t got two shekels in their pockets,” says a local
businessman. Nobody can pay their electricity bills, he adds, and the
PA tax collectors don’t even dare come looking.
Nidal Jallad, who says he works with the PA security forces, is also
one of 12 partners who opened a garden restaurant near the Tul
Karm Town Hall during the good years of the mid-90s. It’s been
closed for the past three years and only operates as a mourning
venue “to receive condolence calls for martyrs,” he says. “Many
people still come. We offer them food. They can’t pay but we serve
In a sign of the times, a recent headline on the local TV station was
not about any Al-Aqsa Brigade action, but the fact that a certain
chain of stores was selling ground coffee at 18 shekels a kilo rather
than the usual 20.
“There is no intifada in Tul Karm. The army is still arresting
people on the pretext that they are planning attacks, but they are
liars,” the governor rasps.
Some of the blood that has been spilled here in recent years has
been the result of internal strife, as the militants take revenge
against local Palestinians accused of having helped the Israeli
authorities track their colleagues down. During Jarira’s reign, three
alleged collaborators from one of the refugee camps were executed
outside the city morgue, to save the trouble of having to transport
And in August 2002, Akhlas Khouli, a mother of seven, was
shot dead, followed by her niece. Khouli was accused of having
planted the bomb that killed Raed Karmi on behalf of the Israelis, and
of passing on information about the whereabouts of another senior
Al-Aqsa Brigades member who was assassinated.
“People are so poor, they will agree to collaborate for very little in
return,” notes a local who says he was present at some of the
alleged collaborators’ confessions. Khouli’s niece is said to have
agreed to help in return for the promise of a cell phone card — which
she never even received.
More recently, though, militants from the Tul Karm camp are said to
have abducted an alleged collaborator, taped his confession, then let
him go in return for a ransom of 80,000 shekels ($18,000). The
freed man is said to have taken refuge inside Israel.
Now, Governor Sharif suggests that Israel should stay out of Tul
Karm and that his forces should be allowed to assume control.
Shortly before the interview in his first floor office, an army jeep was
seen idling inside Tul Karm, not far from the town center, and locals
say the soldiers enter the city every night. A few uniformed PA
police are visible on the streets, but they are not armed and they are
confined to dealing with civilian matters like traffic and petty crime.
In the absence of orders from Sharif’s “close friend” Arafat, nobody
expects that they will go after the militants themselves. All Sharif
will say on the matter is that “security for Israel can only be
achieved at the negotiating table. When we get the right to live, then
we’ll give them the right. Israel wants a leadership of spies, of
yes-men,” he goes on, adding that Arafat “says he’d prefer to die a
hundred times than to be a collaborator.”
After 15 minutes at the store, Hani Aweideh looks like he wants to
be on his way before the army gets wind that he’s out and about.
Now that Tul Karm is relatively quiet, I ask him, if Israel were to stop
its operations here, would you agree to do the same? “We’ll stop our
operations,” he says, “but we won’t hand over our weapons. Not to
Israel, nor to the PA.”
The AK-47 goes back in the plastic bag, and Aweideh speeds off
again. Everyone in the store breathes a sigh of relief. Nowadays,
around these parts, the novice militia leader seems to be viewed as
more of a liability than a hero.