Although it was very publicized by Israeli media, the settlers’ pullout from Gaza does not guarantee a return to the peace process but, on the contrary, announces an intensification of repression. The departure of the Israeli population from Gaza opens the way for the army of Tel Aviv to act with complete freedom. On orders from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and with the consent of President Abu Mazen, the candidates of the Hamas movement for the legislative elections are either kidnapped or killed. The Palestinians are no longer submitted to the Israeli controls in check points, but they are now under the fire of the heavy artillery of the Israeli Army (Tsahal) that fires against urban areas. Silvia Cattori offers the testimony of a Gaza dweller.
Silvia Cattori: All groups of the armed resistance had committed with the Palestinian Authority to stop organizing demonstrations after September 24th, 2005. Thus, the demonstration that ended up in a blood bath should have been the last one. In your opinion, who is responsible for that?
Tariq: For us, it is very clear that Israel is the one responsible. There were about a thousand Hamas militants in the march. Around 20 thousand people were acclaiming them when, all of a sudden, several missiles hit the jeep leaving 19 people dead and more than 80 wounded, and causing panic among the population of Gaza.
Silvia Cattori: Has the Hamas movement been able to prove that they were Israeli missiles?
Tariq: There is a lot of evidence. Several drones and an Apache helicopter flying over the area. The Qassam missiles on the jeeps were not real. If the explosion had originated in the jeep as the Israelis said, then, the glass of the vehicle would have shattered. However, they remained intact. One second before the explosion, the people could hear the whistling that always precedes any attack with missiles. During a press conference, Nizar Rayan, a political leader of Hamas, showed an electronic chip that was found embedded in the body of one of the victims. Other two chips that were found later had their serial number and production date in Hebrew. As to the wounds of the victims, they were very definite cuts, as if made by razor blades. Those are very typical wounds. If the missile gets the upper part of the body, it cuts the arms, the chest and the head. If it touches the ground, it cuts the legs. The victims seemed to have been cut into pieces.
Silvia Cattori: The Central Committee of the Al Fatah movement repeatedly said that Hamas is responsible for what happened.
Tariq: The behaviour of our authorities is very worrying. The people of Al Fatah do not like the increasing popularity of Hamas as they fear they may lose their own privileges. Immediately after the massacre, Abu Kussa, spokesman of the Interior Ministry, said that was a internal incident within Hamas. You have to know that no one here has ever trusted that man. Before saying anything, the members of the Palestinian Authority should have come and investigate in situ. The Palestinian Authority does not know what to do anymore to weaken Hamas; they are even capable of making an alliance with Israel. That is the terrible truth. That is why, instead of condemning the cruel Israeli attacks, the Palestinian Authority immediately accused Hamas.
Silvia Cattori: How do you explain that conspiracy?
Tariq: Elections are close. Everything that the members of the Palestinian Authority say has to be analyzed bearing that in mind. Abu Mazen’s strategy is to offer an image of democracy trying to get their main rival out of the game. Not to mention Israel, where all political forces agree on trying to prevent the Hamas candidates from participating in the elections as a way to eliminate the resistance. Abu Mazen is pleased because, instead of having to do it himself, Israel is doing the dirty work and eliminating Hamas militants. It makes no difference if that further increases our suffering.
Silvia Cattori: After Friday’s human catastrophe, the Palestinians have been exposed to horror: arrests and killings in the West Bank, selective assassination, bridges and roads destroyed, schools and buildings razed to the ground in Gaza. All of this only to sabotage the elections?
Tariq: It is clear! This operation was conceived to close the way to the elections for the Hamas candidates. The Israeli army, with the support of the espionage services of the Shin Beth, has already kidnapped more candidates than those that Hamas could have presented. Hasan Yussef, an important leader of Hamas, is among the victims of the raids that only in a few days put more than 500 Palestinians behind bars. And it will continue. Nobody can enter or leave Gaza. There is panic among the people. When supersonic planes fly at low altitude and break the sound barrier, the terror among children and women is indescribable. The noise is so loud that building glasses shatter. Women and children remain in a state of traumatic stress and they often have to be taken to hospitals. Missiles destroy buildings unleashing hysteria. Jabaliya, the area in which I live, is completely to the North of the Gaza Strip. It is the second stage of the Israeli military attacks, after Beit Hanon. We have a 90% risk of being killed or hurt. In Beit Hanon it is 100%. For my seven children the risk is thus very high. At night, they move very close to me, terrorized, and startle when the F-16s fly above us.
Silvia Cattori: So, in your opinion, everything that is happening in Palestine is related to the elections of January 2006.
Tariq: Yes. Everything has to do with the legislative elections. This Israeli offensive aims at eliminating, through terror, kidnapping and assassination, the most honest and brave people that we have.
Silvia Cattori: What’s the relation between the hundreds of men arrested since last Saturday in the West Bank and the missiles that the Hamas militants have launched from Gaza?
Tariq: It precisely proves that this operation, that Israel calls “First Rain”, had been organized long ago. Its name cynically announces that many other rounds of mortar bombs will follow. They make our lives impossible day and night with their F-16s flying at low altitude and breaking the sound barrier.
Silvia Cattori: Had you ever experienced this terror with the F-16s?
Tariq: No. It started with the massacre perpetrated by Israel on Friday. This abominable sound of the planes breaking the sound barrier is something new.
Silvia Cattori: What is the sign that Israel wants to convey?
Tariq: Since the settlers left the Gaza Strip, there has been a war within Likud. Netanyahu accuses Sharon of being a traitor. We are also trapped in the war between those two people. Sharon has showed to the Likud members that he is able to wipe out any resistance in Gaza, which has allowed him to prevail over Netanyahu.
Silvia Cattori: This war that the people of Gaza are suffering is not only against Hamas militants. Leaders of the Jihad movement have also been arrested or killed. Are you surprised by the magnitude of the repression?
Tariq: For us, the withdrawal of the Israeli settlers did not mean that the Israeli army would stop attacking us. We felt that tension increased, not only from Israel but also from the Palestinian Authority, after the huge success of Hamas during local elections in Gaza. After that moment, we knew that the Israeli army was getting ready to launch a massive attack against Hamas, and it was only waiting for the right moment to launch that attack.
Silvia Cattori: Wouldn’t it be necessary that Hamas abstain from responding to Israel’s attack?
Tariq: Israel is waging a war against us since 1948. It did not wait long before starting to massacre us. Resistance movements respected the truce. Israel did not. Our militants did not respond. Israel has always resorted to a disproportionate use of force. They know the missiles of the Palestinians are almost harmless.
Silvia Cattori: Do the people of Gaza support the actions of Hamas, no matter what the cost may be?
Tariq: The Palestinians believe that Hamas acts in defense of their interests and the security of the Palestinians. They feel great respect for that movement. On September 26th, the spokesmen of Hamas and Jihad announced that they would suspend all attacks against Israel from Gaza. However, Israel maintained its terror strategy and continues to implement its plans.
Silvia Cattori: Was the Palestinian Authority able to get anything out of the September 23 massacre for which it blamed Hamas?
Tariq: No. Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Israel were able to damage the popularity of Hamas.
Silvia Cattori: Do the majority of the Palestinians know that the Palestinian Authority is involved in a power struggle?
Tariq: Nobody trusts anybody here anymore. The people feel disoriented. You never know what is going to happen the next minute. Whom can you trust? Where was the Palestinian Authority when they killed Mussa Arafat a few weeks ago? We have to bear in mind that Mussa Arafat’s house was near Abu Mazen’s residence and Preventive Security; in an impregnable residential neighbourhood, very beautiful, called VIP, with a very tight security. Why didn’t the Preventive Security see anything? Because Mussa Arafat was in the list of people that should be eliminated in the race for power. However, the Interior Minister took that opportunity to blame the Resistance for the attack and to repeat that “illegal” weapons (that is, the Resistance) are responsible for the insecurity that prevails. In spite of that, I can assure you that it is not the weapons of the militants that create disorder and sow panic among the population but the weapons of our new preventive police, trained by the CIA and financed by the United States. In fact, the only weapons that represent a problem are those of the Preventive Security.
Silvia Cattori: How come?
Tariq: It only takes a normal man raising his tone for a Palestinian policeman to draw his gun and kill the man. Those who threat our security are not the men of Hamas who have sacrificed themselves to protect the Palestinian people during all these years, in which the Palestinian Authority was almost nonexistent. The ones that were then hiding and not doing anything to protect those in danger are the ones that are now trying to get personal advantages from the new situation. As it always happens, honest people make the sacrifices to defend freedom and traitors later come to reap the benefits.
Silvia Cattori: What do you expect from your own authorities?
Tariq: We hope that the Palestinian Authority and Al Fatah cease to condemn the acts of the resistance as long as our people continue to suffer colonization. We hope that Abu Mazen changes his position and renounces his plan to disarm the militants while Israel continues to occupy our lands. We also expect that he will behave in a democratic way and let the people say the last word as to who has the legitimate right to speak on their behalf. We hope local leaders will put the interests of the people ahead of their own personal interests.
Silvia Cattori: If I understood you well, you are saying that legitimacy is with the parties that did not renounce to fight. And you reproach the Palestinian Authority and Al Fatah for moving away from what the Palestinian people for a long time have been fighting for.
Tariq: During these five years, the Intifada of the Palestinian Authority has not protected the Palestinians. It is an authority that has no sense. The Palestinians are alone in front of constant attacks, destruction and arrests. Our authorities ask us to respect the Oslo accords and to accept the Road Map! We do not like their way to make concessions behind our back in exchange for certain advantages regarding travels, prestige, etc. Those official representatives have no right to speak on our behalf. Let them leave. They live neither in Rafah, nor in Hebron, nor in Naplusa.
Silvia Cattori: But, how are you planning to resist in front of such a well-equipped army?
Tariq: It is worse if there are attacks, but we do not care what they do. Although we fear what may happen in the future, for us the essential thing is to never renounce to our legitimate rights.
Silvia Cattori: Has the “Israeli withdrawal” brought any benefits?
Tariq: The settlers left but Israel did not. It only withdrew its armoured vehicles and tanks several hundred meters away. That’s it. Israel controls the land, air and sea borders. For us, in Gaza, the only change was the elimination of check points. Now we can go from Jabaliya to Rafah and not find any Israeli soldiers. Before, you had to wait almost a day and you could still not be allowed to continue. But Gaza continues to be completely surrounded. The Palestinian Authority does not control anything; it has not obtained anything thus far. The border of Philadelphia was under Egyptian and Palestinian control only for a week. Families who had not seen their relatives in a year were able to cross. Israel retook control and, since Friday, it blocked all entrances and exits. Now, there are people stuck at both sides of the border.
Silvia Cattori: How do you explain that the Israeli army keeps arresting men in the West Bank and not in Gaza, from where the missiles were launched?
Tariq: The situation is different in Gaza. In the West Bank, cities are isolated, they are like islands. Soldiers can surround them and search later, house by house. In Gaza, the Israeli army, armed to the teeth as it is, is afraid of entering the neighbourhoods due to the strong resistance they face. It is easy to escape for militants. All the Gaza Strip is covered by houses and cities are interconnected. The Israeli soldiers blindly attack our neighbourhoods, from the distance, with tanks and planes. Right now they are surrounding us with heavy armoured vehicles equipped with cannons. They are the same big cannons that Israel deployed in the South of Lebanon. They have an 80-kilometer range. From the North of Gaza they can reach Rafah. If they enter Gaza, it would be the last stage. As there are no Israeli settlers in Gaza they can use the heavy artillery, the planes and the cannons.
Silvia Cattori: How do you feel about those whose mission is to protect children and the weak, and leave the Palestinians at the mercy of horror instead? Kofi Annan simply urged the parties to “restrain” and to comply with their obligations, as if they were in similar conditions.
Tariq: When Sharon launches missiles that destroy highly populated neighbourhoods, the world says it is self defense but when our militants attack an Israeli target, they call them “terrorists”. I say to Kofi Annan that the Hamas militants are not the ones to be condemned. The United Nations has to urge Israel to “comply with its obligations”. Israel crushes us, but it is us, the weakest side, who are asked to make more efforts. The pressure must be on Israel, not on us. If we are suffering so much is because those, like Kofi Annan, in power positions do not want to face Israel because they fear they may lose their jobs.
Silvia Cattori: What is your message to the people who, as members of solidarity groups, have mobilized in your defense without any visible results yet?
Tariq: I respect them a lot but I think they have not understood our struggle. If these movements really want to help, first they have to understand what the real interests of the Palestinian people are. They have never met with the leaders of the Resistance. They have always sided with Ramallah, the NGOs linked to the Palestinian Authority, and they have ignored the people and their struggle.
Silvia Cattori: Do you mean that, from your point of view, there are two sides in Palestine: the Palestinian Authority, in power, negotiating with Israel and carrying out a diplomacy that does not lead anywhere, and the people, rejecting any negotiation before the complete withdrawal of the occupant?
Tariq: That’s it. The financial aid that comes from abroad does not reach the proper people. The donors get the wrong pockets. They should check on the errors of the past and pay more attention to the honest people. We can understand that the donors do not want to help the movements that Israel has placed in a black list to avoid being accused of complicity with “terrorists”. On the other hand, the aid for representatives ends up in the pockets of people who do not deserve it. It is as if they were giving nothing.
Silvia Cattori: Are you identified with any party?
Tariq: I do not belong to any party. I am just a citizen that suffers with everything that happens around him. If Hamas responds to Israel’s attacks I will suffer the reprisals that Israel will take against my people. I am a member of the people. I am in solidarity with their suffering and their struggle.
Silvia Cattori: Sharon said that selective killing of Jihad and Hamas leaders will not stop. He does not hide his intentions to “eradicate” the Resistance. Will he succeed?
Tariq: No, never.
Silvia Cattori: But the espionage services of the Shin Beth are very effective. Don’t the selective killings show that there are many infiltrated agents, that each militant is followed by spies, that Israel can hit anyone anywhere?
Tariq: Israel exploits the weaknesses of the people, it takes advantage of poverty. Only through abuse can they force the most disadvantaged Palestinians to collaborate with them. Spies control our streets and it proves that Israel can not catch the men it is after in Gaza; it has to resort to informers. Militants and military and political leaders no longer travel in cars and they do not stay more than three hours in the same place.
Silvia Cattori: Isn’t that an impossible way to live?
Tariq: In spite of all its technological superiority, the Israeli army can not change our ideas. We resist everything. We continue to live in spite of everything. The Palestinian people know that the Palestinian land is sacred and they sacrifice their lives to see it free from its sorrows.
Interview made by Silvia Cattori, on September 28, 2005, for Voltaire Network. Tariq is a Palestinian who lives in a refugee camp. He is 35 years old and lucky enough to have a modest job that allows him to feed his family.