Portrait of a Palestinian Fighter
The Most Wanted Palestinian
By Elizabeth Rubin
In the early morning of April 5, in the West Bank town of
Tubas, an elderly man was milking his goats in his olive grove when he
heard the whining of an unmanned drone in the sky. He looked up and saw
Israeli special forces emerging from behind some trees on the nearby
hillside and from cars with Palestinian plates to surround a small stone
house that belonged to his son. ''Jaish, jaish'' (''army, army''), he
shouted to his son, and told him to send his wife and daughter down the
slope. He did not suggest that his son, Munqas Sawafta, try to escape.
Sawafta had given refuge the day before to five Palestinian fighters,
in the midst of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield. ''Would it have
been acceptable for the host to run away and leave behind his guests?''
asked the father, in his red kaffiyeh, leaning on his cane. ''It was
better he die with dignity than be killed as a collaborator.'' Someone
had obviously tipped off the Israelis that the men were hiding in the
house and that among them was Qeis Adwan, a 25-year-old Hamas activist,
inventive bomb maker, mastermind of several devastating suicide-bomb
attacks and charismatic political leader who had risen to the top of
Israel's most-wanted list the previous summer.
He had already escaped several attempts to capture or kill him. The
Israelis shouted an order to surrender. Sawafta came out the front door
while one of the Palestinian fighters slipped out the back, skidding
down toward the olive trees, firing his rifle. Both were shot dead.
Tanks, helicopters and troops besieged the house. Around midafternoon,
after hours of trading gunfire, the Israelis dispatched a neighbor with
a white flag, to see if anyone in the house had survived the onslaught.
In fact, Qeis Adwan and the three other fighters were still alive and
armed. The neighbor told them they had two choices -- surrender or be
The discussion was brief; they'd never surrender. As an Israeli D-9
armored bulldozer ripped off the front of the house, one of the men had
time to scrawl a message in blood on the bedroom wall above a white bed
frame: ''Allah-u-Akhbar, Abu Hamza Said, Tulkarm'' (''God is great,''
his name and hometown). By dusk the four men were dead. Adwan was the
last to die, shot in the head at close range. The next day, the military
wing of Hamas, the Iz al-Din Al Qassam Brigades, issued a statement
vowing horrific revenge: ''It will be a new kind of punishment this
time, of an unaccustomed type that will shake their entity and destroy
By now, Israeli assassination operations against Palestinians have
become as routine as Palestinian suicide bombings. Every terrorist act
prompts an Israeli military response or what the Israelis call a
''targeted killing,'' which in turn elicits a murderous Palestinian
retaliation -- particularly when the target is a leader of an armed wing
like Al Qassam Brigades of Hamas; Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Fatah,
Arafat's nationalist party; Islamic Jihad; or the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine. The cycle has been spiraling unabated, with
minor truces, for more than eight years, since Hamas launched its first
suicide-bombing missions to avenge a massacre by an Israeli settler,
And it shows no signs of abating: in just the week before this
article went to press, Jerusalem suffered two suicide attacks in which
26 were killed and retaliated by killing 2 militants, seizing
Palestinian lands and sweeping up thousands of Palestinians. Most
Israelis had never heard of Qeis Adwan (pronounced kice ODD-wahn) until
he was killed and the newspapers reported his rap sheet: how he
masterminded the suicide attacks at the Matza restaurant in Haifa on
March 31, two days after the start of Operation Defensive Shield; at a
Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem last August; and on a crowded railway
platform in the coastal town of Nahariya the following month.
Altogether, 31 Israelis died in the bombings, and scores more were
wounded. To Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, Adwan had
become one of the most dangerous Palestinian militants, threatening
enough to merit a carefully calculated -- and expensive -- assassination
plot, right in the middle of the army's first emergency call to war
since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. One morning a few weeks after
Adwan's death, I met with a Shin Bet officer in Tel Aviv to find out why
Adwan was considered to be so dangerous. ''He had three outstanding
characteristics which were catastrophic from our point of view,'' the
officer said: his ability to manufacture ever more potent bombs, his
logistical imagination in the plotting and execution of the attacks and
his leadership potential.
Adwan had emerged as the most popular and inspiring leader of the
student union at An Najah National University in Nablus, which is, with
13,000 students, the largest in the West Bank. But he was also a
longtime member of Hamas, the virulently anti-Israeli Islamic group. So
when the second intifada began, in September 2000, he moved quickly into
a more militant role, assuming command responsibility in the northern
military wing of Hamas. He not only recruited and dispatched suicide
bombers but led attacks against Israeli military positions. He also
pushed to improve the Palestinians' crude and so far ineffective Qassam
rocket, a homemade weapon with a range of about five miles.
He coordinated military attacks and financial matters for Hamas in
the West Bank and Gaza (physical travel between the two is impossible
for most Palestinians) and talked with affiliates in other countries.
''He's one of the few who were in touch with Hamas headquarters in
Jordan and Syria,'' the Shin Bet officer said. On March 31, two days
after Israeli tanks rolled into Ramallah, Adwan produced his deadliest
bomb yet and sent it off in an explosives belt with a young man from a
village not far from his own. The bomber detonated himself in the
Arab-run Matza restaurant, killing 15 and wounding more than 40.
Among the dead -- many of whose bodies were disfigured beyond
recognition by fire and shrapnel packed inside the bomb -- were several
Israeli Arabs. Listening to the Shin Bet officer's descriptions of Qeis
Adwan's Haifa bombing -- ''an outstanding operation,'' ''he learns from
his mistakes,'' ''he pulled off a difficult one, a first for Hamas'' --
I had the feeling that he almost admired his adversary in a professional
way. But if he did, the feeling was tempered by moral revulsion. ''I've
been in this business for 20 years,'' the officer said, ''and I've never
encountered such a vicious and cruel terrorist as Qeis Adwan.'' It was
an astonishing claim regarding such a young man barely out of college,
given the long list of his predecessors -- among them, Yahya Ayyash, the
prototype of the Hamas ''engineer'' (typically a bomb maker with an
engineering degree) and originator of Hamas's suicide bombers.
The Shin Bet officer shook his head. Ayyash had a family, he said,
but Adwan had no personal life whatsoever -- no wife, no interest in his
family. He was, he said, a ''terror machine.'' ross the Green Line into
the West Bank, and not surprisingly, you find an entirely different
portrait of Qeis Adwan. ''Kind,'' ''simple,'' ''flexible,'' ''polite,''
''diligent,'' ''beloved.'' When I met his mother a few weeks after his
death, she said, ''He never carried a gun.'' She was a tall, formidable
woman, dressed in black with a white hijab tight around her face. Her
eyes shone with pride in Qeis as she showed me a photograph of him
crouching next to a snowman. ''He was an angel in a human body,'' she
said. ''When he was young, he didn't even like to see insects die.''
One of Qeis's brothers, Nassar, a skinny 22-year-old studying civil
engineering, told me he was taking an exam last summer when a friend
passed him a newspaper with Qeis's name printed in a list of those most
wanted by the Israelis. He raced home from Nablus. ''I opened the door,
and Qeis looked at me and knew I knew, and that I wanted a reaction. He
said: 'What they're saying is totally untrue. Is it possible I could be
responsible for all this?' ''All of us knew it was the death sentence
for Qeis,'' Nassar continued. ''In the past, if Israel suspected you,
they arrested you.
But in this intifada they send you a rocket.'' The Adwans all agreed
-- Qeis was enough politics for one family. Nassar stays out of the
limelight at college. Ahmad, Qeis's oldest brother, who sacrificed his
dream of attending college to help finance Qeis's studies, is engaged to
be married. The family now lives in a modern, airy apartment that Qeis
insisted they move into after his graduation. (It was not clear who
financed the move, or how.) Until then, Qeis, his four brothers, parents
and grandparents had shared one stone room in a crammed alleyway in the
old quarter of Jenin, just a five-minute walk from the new place. The
domed room is bare and dusty now, except for one relic from Qeis's
student days -- an ornate architectural model for a fine arts building
at An Najah University.
White and blue and gold, the model sits shining in relief, as if it
might offer some clue to Qeis's life, like the golden-hued watercolor he
painted for his architecture professor. The watercolor depicts the
corner of an old stone house, with a shuttered window and curved stone
steps leading to a door shaded in an archway. ''He was so committed to
academics and politics,'' his professor said, fingering the sketch, ''I
can't imagine what changed him -- if it's true.'' Shin Bet would say
that nothing changed him, that he was Hamas and that Hamas is terror.
But what forces had converged, I wondered, to transform a promising
young architect and student leader into the commander of a regiment of
Qeis Adwan Abu Jabal (Abu Jabal means ''father of the mountain'' and
is his family name) was 10 in 1987, when the first intifada exploded
throughout Gaza and the West Bank. Streets in his old neighborhood --
the stronghold of the resistance in Jenin during that time -- bear names
like Al Mujahedeen, Al Intifada and Yahya Ayyash. Growing up, he saw
constant confrontations between the Israeli Army and young
stone-throwing Palestinians. He watched the army storm the homes of his
neighbors and relatives. His aunt recalled him watching his uncle, who
was 16 at the time, getting beaten by Israeli soldiers. His uncle never
recovered his mental faculties, she said.
When Qeis wasn't in school, he spent hours at the mosque with his
grandfather, a devout man from Siris, a village in the valley between
Nablus and Jenin, where the family still has olive orchards. By 12 or
13, one of his friends said, Qeis was a Hamas child, hanging up the
group's green flags, pasting up martyrs' posters and throwing stones at
the soldiers in the municipal park. Later, he was one of the top
students at his high school. He memorized large sections of the Koran
and followed, like every Hamas child, the group's motto: ''Allah is its
goal, the prophet is its model, the Koran is its constitution, jihad is
its path and death for the sake of Allah is its most coveted desire.''
In his last year in high school, he landed in an Israeli prison for
40 days, family members said, on suspicion of belonging to Hamas. (The
Shin Bet officer insisted that it was only eight days.) The next year,
his parents mustered the money for him to study architectural
engineering. Soon after, he lost one of his closest friends and a fellow
Hamas activist, Tariq Mansour, who was shot dead in uncertain
circumstances at an Israeli checkpoint. And in his second semester, he
was hauled off again to prison, this time for six months and by the
Palestinian Authority, which had been pressured by Israel to round up
Islamic militants after a spate of suicide attacks.
While there, as his friend and the current student leader of An Najah
University, Ala'a Hmeidan, put it, he gained ''the ability to sustain
pain like a sponge.'' In prison, Qeis forged one of his most important
relationships, with Sheikh Jamal Abu al-Haija, a Hamas leader in the
Jenin refugee camp. As a child, Qeis listened to his preachings, but it
was in prison that their bond was sealed. He became Qeis's spiritual
mentor. Qeis gave lessons to Jamal's young children on visiting days.
Jamal was the caretaker of the prison's other political detainees. Qeis
was his deputy, leading hunger strikes and attending to prisoners'
problems. Qeis was on affable terms with everyone, even his jailers,
said a cousin and a Fatah officer from his ancestral village. But he was
enraged that the Palestinian authorities were detaining political
activists without trial.
This was not the free Palestine he had imagined since childhood. The
experience intensified both his determination to resist and his belief
that ''Islam is the solution'' -- a Hamas slogan. Sacrifice, in whatever
form, became the essence of his ideology. A fellow prisoner recalled him
reiterating the word like a mantra in every context: ''He said, 'My only
concern now is how I can sacrifice myself to stop the oppression in our
homeland.''' At An Najah University he found a way. Spread out under the
rocky mountains of Nablus, the university is not only the largest but
also the most radical in the West Bank.
In the annual student elections -- pitting candidates from student
affiliates of all the major Palestinian parties -- the Islamic bloc has
won by increasing margins every year since 1995. It's not hard to see
why. The Islamic parties are not considered to be corrupt. They don't
work for the Palestinian Authority intelligence services, as do many in
Arafat's Fatah party. And they have a highly efficient recruitment
apparatus. Any time the P.A. rounds up Hamas student activists or the
Israelis assassinate a suspected militant (as they did 15 in Nablus in
2001), the Islamic bloc wins more members.
Hamas calls An Najah University ''the nest of the Qassami Brigades,''
the group's military wing, and boasts that the university has produced
11 suicide bombers for the intifada. The day I arrived in mid-May, two
Hamas leaders opened an exhibition on the Israeli occupation, and local
journalists were being barred from entering the campus.
administration was eager to avoid a repeat of the scandal last
September, when Hamas unveiled an exhibit on the bombing of the Sbarro
pizza restaurant in Jerusalem. That attack, which took place at lunch
hour at the intersection of Jaffa and King George Streets -- the
equivalent of Times Square -- was planned and executed seemingly with
malevolent care to produce the maximum carnage.
Fatiya, and three of his brothers -- Ahmad, Waseem and Nassar --
outside their home in Jenin.
Packed with nails, the bomb killed 15 people, including 6 children,
and wounded 130 more. The Sbarro exhibit was a room-size installation
with broken tables splattered with fake blood and body parts, a
mannequin of the bomber with a Koran and a rifle and a slogan referring
to Hamas's military wing: ''Qassami Pizza is more delicious.'' After a
report on Israeli television, the university president's office was
bombarded with outraged faxes from around the world. Yasir Arafat
promptly had the exhibit shut down. Qeis was on the political scene from
his first days in the engineering department in 1996.
By his junior year, he was so popular that the Palestinian
Authority sparked a revolt by detaining him and another student leader
just days before the campus elections. Students boycotted classes and
went on hunger strikes. Even the Fatah youth candidates railed at the
P.A. for corrupting their image -- for making it look as if they had
conspired to sabotage Qeis. After three days, the P.A. released the two,
and the Islamic bloc won. As the leader of the student union, Qeis
advocated ''Islam as a solution,'' not just to fight Israel but to
change Palestinian society. He led demonstrations against the
Palestinian Authority's crackdowns on Islamic activists.
He visited students in prison and registered them for classes. At
this stage, his friends claimed, Qeis often said that as long as the
P.A. considered jihad illegal, ''we will delay until a suitable time and
focus our priorities elsewhere.'' He closely followed the teachings of
Hasan al-Banna, an imam who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in
1928 and was assassinated in 1949. ''Build the state of Islam in your
hearts,'' al-Banna once said in a passage that is often quoted, ''so
this will lead to the Islamic state on your land.'' When the student
council chose Qeis as its leader, he accepted in divine terms. ''I am
mandated by God to help the students,'' he once wrote.
Everywhere I went on the campus, I heard stories of Qeis's efforts to
solve students' problems. ''He found my sister housing and lowered her
tuition fees,'' a local journalist said. He created a Web site for the
student council to connect with students elsewhere in the West Bank and
in Gaza. He was the poor students' advocate, collecting funds from rich
families to give to the poor, finding them cheap housing, appealing to
the administration to lower or waive their fees. He opened a used-book
store on campus. Students of every political persuasion sought him out
for help with their psychological, financial and academic problems. They
affectionately called him Abu (father) Tariq, a name he once gave
himself in memory of his high-school friend killed by Israelis.
In the courtyard, he erected a clock tower in the shape of pre-1948
Palestine, to remind students that ''we own all of Palestine,'' said a
classmate. It is now called Qeis's or Abu Tariq's Tower. And he brought
to the campus the muezzin's call to prayer five times a day. Tensions
between the Islamic parties and Fatah were often explosive in Nablus.
And yet, his professors said, Qeis always tried to unify the factions
and mollify the Palestinian Authority. He was not a fanatic, they
insist, but a pragmatist. ''And he was funny,'' Ala'a Hmeidan said.
''This opened all doors for him.'' ''He would have been a great
political leader in our history,'' his mother told me.
And that is precisely what had so worried the Shin Bet officer. It
was the combination of his engineering and strategic and political
talents, the officer said, that ''made him lethal.'' But history and
politics intervened in Qeis's destiny. In July 2000, the Camp David
summit meeting convened and quickly unraveled, with each side accusing
the other of intransigence. Qeis led a campus protest, shouting: ''From
Camp David 1979 to Camp David 2000 is all a path of compromises. Our
Palestine is from the river to the sea, and we will not give up a grain
As his brother Ahmad said: ''Of course he didn't approve of the peace
process. We didn't regain a lot of our lands. The lands handed to the
Palestinians weren't contiguous. As a Palestinian and Muslim, he argued,
he couldn't get to Al Aksa Mosque even once in his life.'' While the
mosque is on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, and under nominal
Palestinian control, Israeli travel restrictions prevent Palestinians
outside Jerusalem from getting to the city. In fact, Qeis never made it
out of the Nablus-Jenin area. And then on Sept. 29, 2000, Ariel Sharon,
who would soon be Israel's prime minister, went to the Temple Mount in a
move that enraged the Palestinians.
At a campus protest two days later, Qeis shouted, ''Let Sharon know
that all of us will be time bombs which will explode one day defending
Al Aksa Mosque.'' And he led the students out of the university gates,
through the city and toward an army checkpoint. There, suddenly, the
whole game changed. Time magazine published a collection of intifada
diary entries at the time. One, by Qeis, reflected on that day: ''I was
under a special premonition of fear and portent. After dawn, I started
reading the Koran. The sun's rays were weaving a special dress of
The sun told us, 'You have a date with martyrdom.' My heart was
brimful with a special feeling. Large numbers of students gathered in
the courtyard. We started shouting, 'God is most great!' I asked the
students to wash their faces and hands before prayers. I looked at the
faces of the youths, thinking that a serious incident would occur. ''It
was the biggest march I have ever seen at An Najah University. We walked
for five or six kilometers. Hundreds of the marchers rushed to the front
line to clash with the soldiers. I could not forget these moments. The
shooting from the Israeli soldiers was intense. It was like a
battlefield. Our faith is our weapon against the soldiers, the
Two youths standing next to me were wounded. The number of casualties
was large beyond expectation. ''I was told that my roommate, Zakariya
Kilani, 21, was among the martyrs. He was with me for two years. He was
my brother and my friend. He was my body. I could not believe that
Zakariya died. I lost my dearest friend. This is the decree of God. He
told me at the mosque that he wanted to die as a martyr. Heaven has
opened its gates for martyrs. Honestly, though, I was shocked when
Zakariya fell a martyr.'' With the violence spreading to every
Palestinian city, Israel gambled that a swift military response would
crush the uprising. Within five days, 42 Palestinians were dead and
about 1,300 wounded. Three Israelis were killed. Qeis was delighted that
the confrontation had finally arrived.
Until then, he had obeyed the Palestinian Authority's ban on jihad.
Now, with Fatah in the fray, everything was fair game. ''He said this is
the true nature of our relations with Israel until the occupation
ends,'' one friend told me. Another, Muhammad Hambali, said: ''Qeis
began to rethink everything. 'We're giving all these martyrs by means of
stones and marchers,' he said. 'We're losers with these methods.' And so
he began to develop the new method.'' In retrospect, it looks as if
Qeis's life had been one long germination process for the second
intifada. He had come of age with Hamas, which was founded in 1987, and
in joining Al Qassam Brigades he took the final step to jihad.
Sometime in the fall of 2000, the ''engineers'' of Nablus, the West
Bank headquarters of Al Qassam, began educating Qeis in the arts of
bomb-making. That December, the first Hamas suicide bomber from An Najah
University blew himself up at a roadside cafe packed with soldiers. Days
later, Hamed Abu Hejli, a friend of Qeis's on the student council, blew
himself up at a bus stop in Netanya. ''It's marvelous,'' Qeis remarked
at ceremonies for the two bombers, ''that man sacrifices himself so as
to enable his nation to live.''
In May 2001, shortly before his graduation, Qeis noticed a white
Subaru pull up outside his building. Three men dressed like Palestinians
but looking suspiciously like Israeli special forces stepped out. When
one aimed a pistol at Qeis, who was standing in the window, he shouted
to the students in the street and ducked under the table. The men jumped
back into the Subaru and sped away. After that, said Qeis's friend
Muhammad Hambali, Qeis was constantly on the move, and his friends
rarely saw him anymore. Before I left An Najah University, I took a tour
of the Hamas exhibition of the Israeli occupation. I was curious to see
what the university officials had wanted to hide from the local press.
A dropcloth painted like the facade of a gray house with blood
dripping down the stones was draped over the building. The exhibition
began in a room haunted by taped screams and lined with photographs of
the invasion of Nablus, as well as a shot of a house collapsed atop a
ponytailed girl. The next gallery reproduced a military internment camp,
with photographs of imprisoned students behind fake jail bars. Just
ahead of me, dozens of students squeezed through a dark, narrow tunnel
and covered their mouths to hide their laughter as they filed past a
live model of a militant in fatigues, lying motionless in a sniper's
position, defending the Jenin refugee camp.
Rockets made from plastic bottles, painted in gold with the words
''Made in America,'' penetrated a stone wall. A warning sign was tacked
over the door to the next room: ''If you have a weak heart or troubles,
take care when entering this room.'' There you were greeted by
photographs of Palestinian babies torn apart, of bodies charred and
chewed up by shrapnel. Next was a scene from paradise -- a photograph of
Qeis in military fatigues atop a painted mountain, with an elegy to him
as he joins his Hamas comrades. What followed was an homage to Qeis: his
graduation project, which was a large model of a tree-lined bus terminal
and shopping center planned for downtown Jenin, and photographs of him
accepting the student leadership, speaking at a rally and honoring the
On display behind black curtains and a low black scrim were the
highlights of his career in Al Qassam -- models of the Sbarro
restaurant, the Matza restaurant, posters of the suicide bombers
involved in each and a poster with Qeis in the middle flanked by Sheikh
Ahmed Yassin, the founder and leader of Hamas, and Osama bin Laden. At
the end, there was a decree: ''After we studied and saw the number of
Zionists killed, and in accordance with the rules of Jihad, we decided
to grant Qeis Adwan Abu Jabal, born in Jenin, a degree of excellence in
martyrism from Yahya Ayyash College with all the rights of this
degree.'' It was signed ''Iz al-Din Al Qassam Brigades.''
The exhibit wrapped up in paradise: birds singing amid bouquets of
flowers; a sweet aroma of perfume; a life-size dummy of Qeis in a
shroud, the jacket he died in draped over it; and a photograph of Qeis
and Zakariya Kilani smiling, relaxed, before the intifada. Later, I met
up with a student of marketing and advertising called Ali, and his art
professor, who said they felt it was time for the silent dissenters --
''And we're not a small faction,'' Ali said -- to speak out against the
suicide bombings. ''In the past, people thought we should leave the
extremists alone,'' the art professor said. ''Now it has changed. We
should stop them because they are hurting us.''
Then he glanced over his shoulders. ''I want to shout it, but
sometimes I am afraid.'' n mid-May, hoping to fill in the remaining
mystery of Qeis's life -- the military side -- I paid a visit to his old
friend and mentor Sheikh Jamal Abu al-Haija in the Jenin refugee camp. A
glossy scorecard of past suicide operations was being passed around the
camp, and the guys from Hamas were angry. How could they be last on the
list, after Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa Martyrs, especially since their
attacks were usually the deadliest? In the exposed third floor of one
house, where the facade had been stripped off by an Israeli bulldozer, a
poster of Saddam Hussein balanced on a chair.
A local journalist told me that Saddam's money had just arrived for
40 families with destroyed homes -- $25,000 per family, the same amount
given to the families of suicide bombers. A retarded boy wandered by
spraying perfume over the odor of unseen rotting bodies. ''Give me
liberty or give me death'' was scrawled in English on the shard of a
wall. Wanted men appeared and disappeared. A fatherly figure, whose
destroyed living room is now an open-air porch and meeting point for the
homeless, said about an elusive fighter I needed to talk to: ''He can't
stay in one place too long.
He's still wanted.'' The fighter, with a pistol in his pants and a
face flecked with shrapnel bites and black burned patches, appeared
momentarily but then dashed off. Jamal is the wanted man in the camp
these days. He's 42, with a kinky gray-and-black beard. His eyelids are
so dark that they look as if they were brushed with charcoal. I met him
a few weeks earlier, when he was still insisting that he was just a
media spokesman and that he had seen Qeis in passing only over the last
six months. This time, in his home, Jamal partly lifted the veil, as if
he had decided that his days were numbered and that the publicity could
only do Hamas good.
The house, like the whole of the Jenin camp, was a damaged martyrs'
gallery, decorated with posters of those who bombed the Sbarro and Matza
restaurants, as well as of the fighter who led the camp's resistance.
Young men wandered in and out all day, each filling in pieces of Qeis's
life. ''You see Hamas is now attracting the intellectuals,'' Jamal said
with a touch of sarcasm, since most of the young men were studying hard
sciences. Indeed, the Hamas militant responsible for the recent
Jerusalem bus bombing, 22-year-old Muhammad al-Ghoul, was pursuing a
master's degree in Islamic studies from An Najah University. ''Hamas's
operations are so painful to the Israelis because they use their
scientific capabilities,'' Jamal added.
Qeis himself, in the months leading up to his killing, was concocting
ever more lethal explosives. ''He was developing rocket-propelled
grenades and Qassam rockets,'' said one of the young men, a computer
scientist. Pointing to him, Jamal laughed and said, ''You should replace
Qeis.'' The young man shook his head shyly, saying, ''No, no.'' The men
clearly loved Jamal and his warm, embracing manner. He sat in his chair
rubbing the short nub that remains of his left arm, which he lost March
1, during the first invasion of the Jenin refugee camp. Two school-age
boys came home with their red backpacks.
One of them, Jamal's 10-year-old son, Hamzi, said that he was a great
admirer of Qeis, who taught him how to do his homework and brought toys
for his little sister, Sadjita. ''I told him I want to be like you, a
fighter for freedom,'' Hamzi said. Sadjita, who is about 5, piped up and
said she wanted to be a martyr when she grows up. Her father said that
she told him she's going to meet his martyred friends in paradise,
between the mountains. To me, she said, ''I want to meet Qeis in
paradise.'' Martyrdom, revenge, jihad, occupation, liberation. The
words, the deeds, the aspirations have become so enmeshed that it's
impossible to envision a world outside this deadly ring.
Here in Jamal's half-destroyed home, in the destroyed camp, in the
besieged city of Jenin, there was the collective sense of resisting the
occupiers. But there also was a collective disease born of utter
despair, a cult of suicide, of celebrating death as a solution for life.
You rarely see posters of singers, athletes or actors in the West Bank
anymore. Suicide bombers are the new celebrities and heroes of
Palestine. In the evening, Jamal's cellphone rang. It was Zaid Kilani,
the brother of Qeis's best friend Zakariya. He's in prison, having
partly blown himself up in March 2001, when Israeli special police
ambushed him at a checkpoint in Wadi Ara as he was rushing back from Tel
Aviv to Jenin with a defective bomb. Zaid's story is a tale of revenge
And speaking to him through my translator, I caught a glimpse of the
mundane details that make up what these militants and suiciders see as
their ''sublime vocation.'' He was leading a directionless, debauched
life, he said, until his brother Zakariya was shot dead. ''I went out on
the streets with a knife,'' Zaid recalled. ''I wanted to kill any Jew.''
Then he went to Qeis. He asked for his help to avenge his brother's
killing. He told Qeis that he wanted to join Al Qassam Brigades. ''Qeis
told me, 'I felt you would come to see me.' So he mobilized and prepared
me. He rented me an apartment, gave me a pistol and money, 2,000
shekels'' (about $400 today). Zaid became a soldier for Al Qassam and
began to change his ways. He started praying, stopped drinking and
started thinking seriously about marriage.
''Before Qeis, I had no aim in my life,'' Zaid said quietly. (He is
apparently not supposed to have the cellphone in prison.) ''He was the
essential element in changing my life. He lightened the road for me and
raise d my morality.'' Soon after Zakariya's death, Zaid traveled to Tel
Aviv to the Carmel market and stabbed an Israeli officer. Zaid had two
assets that were extremely appealing to Qeis. Having worked in various
restaurants in Tel Aviv, he knew all the city's shopping centers and
But more important, he had a 20-year-old Russian Jewish girlfriend,
Angelica Francesca Yosefov. Zaid wanted to end the relationship and
marry a Palestinian woman, but ''Qeis told me: 'No, keep it. You have to
use it.' We planned to rent an Israeli apartment in the Russian girl's
name and establish a laboratory there to manufacture bombs inside Tel
Aviv. Qeis told me we have to do our best to kill at least 200 Jews, me
and him.'' Zaid did not aspire to be a suicide bomber. ''How many could
I kill in a suicide? Ten? Twenty? I could make much greater losses on
the Israeli side by planting explosives.''
But just in case of a slip-up, he carried a pistol, preferring
martyrdom to detention. Carrying two sets of explosives, Zaid said he
picked up Angelica and went to a restaurant on Allenby Street in Tel
Aviv. He left one bomb there and headed to the Dolphinarium, a nightclub
where a friend worked as a guard and where, three months later, a
suicide bomber would kill 21 and wound more than 100, mostly young
people. Zaid slipped inside, dropped off a sack with the second bomb and
The detonator was supposed to be activated by a cellphone. ''Suddenly
Qeis called me,'' Zaid said. ''The bomb was discovered in the
restaurant. It didn't explode. So I went back and took the explosives
from the nightclub.'' Zaid said that Israeli investigators told him that
there were 36 missed calls registered on the phone detonator of the
restaurant bomb. ''I tried to explode it 36 times,'' he exclaims. ''But
the explosives had so many technical errors.'' Qeis told him to leave
immediately and throw his phone into the sea. ''Unfortunately,'' he
said, ''I didn't obey him. It was my fatal mistake.''
The Israelis traced the contact between his cellphone, the detonator
in the restaurant and the calls to Qeis. When the Israeli police
surrounded him, he used his pistol to detonate the explosives. He lost
an eye, a hand and his stomach lining, but his proud achievement, he
said, is that he killed an Israeli. He's still in touch with Angelica,
who is also in prison. And though he did in fact marry a Palestinian
woman -- 10 days before his arrest -- he said he would like to marry
Angelica, too, one day.
Why, I asked Zaid, did you choose to blow up the Dolphinarium? ''The
only guidelines my Al Qassami colleagues gave me,'' he said, ''were that
the bombs must be far away from the schools and kindergartens, far away
from the synagogues and far away from the inhabited buildings and
universities. I was very close to that site, and I saw those young men
and young girls who are drunk. There were a lot of them. So I chose that
spot because I'd have the chance to kill a large number of them.'' For
the Israelis, Zaid was a boon. He said he tried to keep quiet in the
interrogation, but sleep deprivation and injections of some kind of
stimulant defeated him.
''I only told them Qeis led me to get the bombs from Mohaned Tahir,''
who is known as Engineer No. 5. The Shin Bet didn't believe him,
thinking correctly that the bombs had come from Qeis. And from that
moment on, Qeis was a wanted man. Qeis's friends and followers often
described him as simple, a word of praise you often hear in Islamic
countries. It doesn't mean ignorant, as much as lacking ostentation,
plain, pure, fundamental, like the prophet Muhammad. Qeis believed
himself to be not only continuing the heroic struggles of the prophet
but also following in the footsteps of Sheikh Iz al-Din al-Qassam, after
whom Hamas named its military wing.
A Syrian-born imam, al-Qassam organized terrorist cells to kill the
British and the Jews in Palestine. He was forced to flee to the
mountains around Jenin, where he was killed by the British in 1935. His
final, 10-day stand and his execution exalted his life into legend. By
the summer of 2001, Qeis was taking refuge in those same mountain
villages between Jenin and Nablus where he had harvested olives as a
child. There he read the Koran, dispatched martyrs and plotted his
operations. I was given a glimpse of that period in Qeis's life from a
thin young man with wide, dark eyes and long eyelashes, whom I met in
Sheikh Jamal's house on my visit to Jenin.
When the man appeared at the landing, the other men in the room were
asked to leave, so as not to see his face. He was one of Qeis's
soldiers, trained and inspired by him. We went into the bedroom, where
grain was drying on a mat. He drew a curtain over the interior window
and began to paint a sketchy picture of Qeis's life underground. He
reiterated Qeis's teachings. ''We don't like killing the Jews, but Al
Aksa is under the Israeli occupation, and we have to liberate Al Aksa
Mosque and all Palestinian lands.''
With each memory of Qeis, a shy smile of a child spread across his
face. He recalled bringing a few dates and bread to Qeis to break his
Ramadan fast. ''And though it wasn't much, Qeis told me, 'Our aim in
this life is not only to eat.' And he took these dates and bread and
went to the mountain saying, 'I hope I will take my meal in paradise.'''
Qeis knew he could no longer marry on earth, the man said, so he talked
instead of marrying the huris (the virgins) in paradise. Shortly after
Qeis's name appeared on the wanted list, the young soldier went to warn
When the soldier found Qeis in his shelter, he was calmly preparing
explosives. The soldier urged Qeis to lie low, but he refused. He
planted his bombs on a Jenin bypass road -- one of the special roads
built for Israeli settlers and soldiers -- and waited for an Israeli
patrol. As soon as the jeep was in view, he detonated his bombs by
remote control, killing several soldiers. ''He came back to the shelter.
He was happy and smiling, and he told me: 'You see. We are mujahed, and
we mustn't be afraid.''' In September 2001, just days before the World
Trade Center attack, Muhammad Saker Habashi blew himself up at a train
station in the northern coastal town of Nahariya.
He was an Israeli Arab, the first to mount a suicide operation, and
his act set a terrifying precedent, given the million Israeli Arabs
inside Israel. Moreover, he was 48, with two wives and several children;
not the usual profile of a suicide bomber. Qeis, the young man told me,
was astonished when Habashi had come to his shelter and said he wanted
to be a martyr. ''He said, 'But you're an old man, why?' Habashi
answered: 'Every human being has his own aim in this life, and mine is I
want to be a martyr. I want to enter paradise.' ''I remember Qeis was
touched by his strong words, and he took the explosives belt and told
Habashi: 'I will go instead of you. You stay.' Habashi refused.
They had lunch. They sat on the floor and drank coffee. They talked
for four hours. Qeis insisted that Habashi take care of his family.
Habashi replied: 'The pioneers and martyrs in the beginning of Islam
used to leave their families and go to al jihad. They didn't care about
their families.' The next day, Habashi walked to the train platform,
which was crowded with Israeli soldiers, and blew himself up. Three
Israelis were killed, and more than 90 people -- Arabs among them --
Qeis maintained his reign as terrorist mastermind throughout the
winter and into the spring. Once a prospective architect and engineer
and caretaker of students, he was now the caretaker of martyrs and an
unrepentant killer, deciding the fates of Palestinians and Israelis
alike. Ultimately, he would tell prospective bombers -- who often
competed hotly for the chance to carry out attacks -- it makes no
difference who is chosen. ''All of us expect to be martyred,'' he said
in a taped interview shortly after the Sbarro bombing. ''When the
mujahed carries a rifle in one hand and his soul in the other, he knows
his destiny is martyrdom.'' He also feels empowered, according to Dr.
A psychiatrist in Gaza, Serraj has been studying the effects of the
occupation and resistance on young Palestinians, particularly from the
first, unarmed intifada. ''When you join one of these militant
organizations, you suddenly have access to guns and grenades and all
these symbols of man's power,'' he said. ''This brings back to the
children their early traumatic experience and puts them in a position
today to say: 'I am not powerless like my father was. I am in control.'
Of course there's the element of excitement, being able to play a very
serious game of hide-and-seek, of chasing the enemy and risking your
life. Take all this and put on it the question of ideological teaching,
and you have a new person.''
The last time the young soldier saw Qeis was on April 4. ''Qeis
wanted very much to commit a suicide-bomb attack,'' the soldier
recalled. ''We used to prepare explosives for the invasions, but the
night before the Israelis invaded, he told me to leave the camp
immediately, because he didn't want us to lose all our armed men.'' The
Israelis believe that Qeis was given instructions from Hamas leaders
outside Israel to save himself for future use. The young soldier
said, ''I remember Qeis said: 'Scatter yourselves. Work by wisdom. Use your
brain. And take care.' He took his M-16 and a belt of explosives that
weighed 35 pounds. He insisted that he would never surrender. ''Qeis,''
the soldier said, fidgeting and obviously eager to be on his
way, ''is a loss you can't restore.''
At 25, Qeis
was finally caught by Israeli special forces. "It's marvelous
that man sacrifices himself so as to enable a nation to
live," he once said in celebration of the martyrdom of
But, he vowed, he will follow in Qeis's path
with the other young men who share his spirit of faith and jihad.
I left Jamal at 11 p.m. Three hours later, tanks ground into Jenin
while helicopters clattered overhead. Shots rang out here and there. The
family I was staying with was accustomed to it by now. The youngest
daughter had a thick stack of postcard-size collectors' items, like
baseball cards, only these were martyrdom cards. Toubasi, Al Masri,
Hamad, Hashem, Tawalbi, she said, dropping one after another on my lap.
On television, Al Manar, the Hezbollah station and one of the favorites
in the Arab world, flashed a picture of Tawalbi, a leader of Islamic
Jihad, who was killed leading the resistance in the Jenin camp. Another
daughter crooned at the TV and kissed Tawalbi's image.
The next morning, with the city closed off by Israeli tanks, I
returned to Jamal's house. Outside, two children were mocking the speech
Arafat made weeks earlier from his compound in Ramallah, which was then
surrounded by Israeli tanks. Arafat had said he wanted to be ''a shahid,
a shahid, a shahid,'' a martyr. The kids said, ''You say you want to be
a shahid, but you're just a traitor, a traitor, a traitor.'' Jamal's
home had been dynamited during the night. Wet and charred clothes,
furniture, the boys' red schoolbags and a red grenade handle were
scattered on the roof in front of his second-floor door.
The clock was stopped at 3:15. His wife, Assma, in her
green-and-white veil, was calm as she described a long, surreal night
with Israeli forces under the command of a Captain Jamal, a Druze
officer who spoke Arabic and knew everything about the family. (The
Israeli military was unable to comment by press time.) Assma said she
awoke to gunshots and the heat of a fire. She screamed, ''Don't shoot,
don't shoot,'' grabbed her children and ran outside. Someone shouted at
her, ''Tell anyone inside we're going to burn your house down.'' She
wanted her passport and other documents.
Sadjita asked if she could get her toys. Then, according to several
Palestinians interviewed separately, and who claim to have witnessed the
entire incident, Captain Jamal told them to shut up and summoned each
child by name. A soldier put a pistol to 11-year-old Assam's head
shouting, ''Where's your father?'' The boy didn't know and was beaten.
The same was done to the next son. They took aside Banan, Jamal's
18-year-old daughter, and interrogated her. But her fear had been numbed
long ago. Even Sadjita, eating an unripe cherry, said: ''I am very sad
because my toys were burned, and they beat my brothers in front of me.
But I didn't feel frightened from the army. They don't kill children.
Only big people. And God is stronger than them.''
Captain Jamal summoned Assma and offered a deal for her husband.
''We'll put him in prison, not kill him,'' if she would tell him where
he was. But she said she didn't know where he was. ''Take my mobile,
call him, tell him to come so we won't destroy your house,'' Captain
Jamal said, according to Assma. She began prayers to Allah. ''Look,''
she said the captain told her, ''we know there were five young men and a
journalist in your house. They stayed until night. Jamal washed, went
for prayers and didn't come back. We know what you eat. What you have
for lunch, for supper. Not one of our spies was watching you but 20. You
have five minutes to decide: where's your husband, or we demolish the
house.'' Assma wasn't budging. The five minutes were over. ''Close your
ears,'' Captain Jamal shouted.
After the dynamite had been exploded, the Palestinian witnesses said,
Captain Jamal told Assma: ''All this army came for your husband, Jamal.
We brought 11 military vehicles, tanks, a truck for prisoners. Your
husband sends people to blow themselves up and kill our children. We are
going to capture him.'' To date, he's still hiding in Jenin somewhere.
Assma said she prepares herself and her children every moment for
Jamal's death. After this last invasion, she said, ''the spirit of jihad
has been planted in the children and women themselves. The hatred gets
wider and wider.'' Over the two days I spent in the Jenin camp, I
watched and occasionally talked to a 13-year-old girl who was staying
with Jamal's family because her house had been destroyed and her father
She had an encyclopedic brain and an uncanny memory. She remembered
what I wore in the camp a month before, though we had never met. She
remembered conversations with her father from eight years ago and knew
what all the politicians were saying or had said. She never smiled and
told me that her father wanted her to be a doctor. She said she would
prefer to study nuclear physics so she could blow up America. ''When
someone comes to fight you in your home, you have to fight him back,
isn't that true?'' she asked.
Of course, these are the words of an angry, hurt child. But in the
mind of Serraj, the psychiatrist in Gaza, they may express a potentially
terrifying illness, the fruits of 15 years of unending violence. ''We
have seen the children of the first intifada become suicide bombers,''
he had said. ''You only have to wait and see these children of today,
what kind of horror they will bring to the world.'' Elizabeth Rubin
writes frequently on the Mideast.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
posted June 30, 2002 / updated 5 October 2007
* * *
* * *
Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved
in the Americas
the explosion in work on African American
and religious history, little is known about
Black Muslims who came to America as slaves.
Most assume that what Muslim faith any
Africans did bring with them was quickly
absorbed into the new Christian milieu. But,
surprisingly, as Sylviane Diouf shows in
this new, meticulously researched volume,
Islam flourished during slavery on a large
Servants of Allah presents a history
of African Muslim slaves, following them
from Africa to the Americas. It details how,
even while enslaved many Black Muslims
managed to follow most of the precepts of
their religion. Literate, urban, and well
traveled, Black Muslims drew on their
organization and the strength of their
beliefs to play a major part in the most
well known slave uprisings. Though Islam did
not survive in the Americas in its orthodox
form, its mark can be found in certain
religions, traditions, and artistic
creations of people of African descent.
all their accomplishments and contributions
to the cultures of the African Diaspora, the
Muslim slaves have been largely ignored.
Servants of Allah is the first book to
examine the role of Islam in the lives of
both individual practitioners and in the
American slave community as a whole, while
also shedding light on the legacy of Islam
in today's American and Caribbean cultures.
* * * * *
By Nidaa Khoury
Khoury's poetry is fired by belief in
the human and the spiritual at a time
when many of us feel unreal and often
Huri, Ben-Gurion University
Written in water and ink, in between the
shed blood. Nidaa Khoury's poems take us
to the bosom of an ancient woman . . .
an archetype revived. The secret she
whispers is 'smaller than words.'—Karin
Karakasli, author, Turkey
Nidaa Khoury was born in Fassouta, Upper
Galilee, in 1959. Khoury is the author
of seven books published in Arabic and
several other languages, including The
Barefoot River, which appeared in Arabic
and Hebrew and The Bitter Crown,
censored in Jordan. The Palestinian poet
is studied in Israeli universities and
widely reviewed by the Arab press. The
founder of the Association of Survival,
an NGO for minorities in Israel, Khoury
has participated in over 30
international literary and human rights
conferences and festivals. Khoury is the
subject of the award-winning film, Nidaa
Through Silence. Currently a senior
lecturer at Ben-Gurion University,
Khoury's poem Portal to the Orient is
being produced by Sarab for Dance for
performance in Palestine. Book of Sins
introduces this important Middle Eastern
poet to the Caribbean and the Americas.
* * * * *
A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention
By Jamal Joseph
In the 1960s he exhorted students at Columbia University to burn their college to the ground. Today he’s chair of their School of the Arts film division. Jamal Joseph’s personal odyssey—from the streets of Harlem to Riker’s Island and Leavenworth to the halls of Columbia—is as gripping as it is inspiring. Eddie Joseph was a high school honor student, slated to graduate early and begin college. But this was the late 1960s in Bronx’s black ghetto, and fifteen-year-old Eddie was introduced to the tenets of the Black Panther Party, which was just gaining a national foothold. By sixteen, his devotion to the cause landed him in prison on the infamous Rikers Island—charged with conspiracy as one of the Panther 21 in one of the most emblematic criminal cases of the sixties. When exonerated, Eddie—now called Jamal—became the youngest spokesperson and leader of the Panthers’ New York chapter. He joined the “revolutionary underground,” later landing back in prison. Sentenced to more than twelve years in Leavenworth, he earned three degrees there and found a new calling. He is now chair of Columbia University’s School of the Arts film division. . . . In raw, powerful prose, Jamal Joseph helps us understand what it meant to be a soldier inside the militant Black Panther movement. . . .
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
updated 18 March 2012