Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Slain PIJ Leader's Son Says Many Palestinians are Becoming Shi'is

Slain Palestinian operative's son: My entire family has turned Hezbollah
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent

Instead of a Britney Spears ring tone, Shehadeh Shehadeh's cell phone emits a recording of a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. "Our entire family has turned Shi'ite," he boasts.Last week, Israeli security forces operating in the West Bank town of Bethlehem killed his father, Mohammed Shehadeh, who was a senior commander in Islamic Jihad. "My father decided to become a Shi'ite after he was deported to Marj Al-Juhur in Lebanon in 1992," the son recounted. "He met there with all sorts of Shi'ite people and he saw that the oppression the Shi'ites have had to endure is very much like the oppression that the Palestinians have suffered."

According to the 19-year-old Shehadeh, his father eventually came to "respect the Shi'ite commentary on the Qur'an." He equates his father's actions with those of Imam Hussein, whom Shi'ites believe to be Prophet Muhammed's true follower. "My father decided not to surrender and chose a martyr's death, just like Imam Hussein, who fought at Karbala," he said, referring to the 680 C.E. clash in what is now Iraq, which proved to be one of the most significant battles in Muslim history. In it, Hussein ibn Ali, Muhammed's grandson and one of the founding fathers of the Shi'ite sect, was slain by Yazid I, the Umayyad caliph.

Sitting in his house in Bethlehem's Wadi Maali neighborhood, the young man entertained a group of friends, all devout Muslims filled with extremist zeal. They were there to mourn his father's loss with him. The son is outspoken about his disdain for Israelis. "The Jews killed the prophets," he reiterated several times in his conversation with Haaretz. "Some Jews are all right and my father valued them, like Neturei Karta," he conceded, referring to a fringe ultra-Orthodox sect that is rabidly anti-Zionist. "But most Jews are the enemy. Even in your soccer matches, you scream that you want war," he added, prompting knowing nods from his friends. [See: "Soccer Fandom and Citizenship in Israel" by Tamir Sorek in Middle East Report 245, Winter 2007, for more on Mizrahi (Arab/Iranian/Berber/Kurdish or "Eastern" Jews) Israeli bigotry as exhibited through soccer rivalries.]

They are all dressed like Israeli youths their age. Yet throughout the eight years of the intifada, they have not seen a single Jewish Israeli. The Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in East Jerusalem, just a few kilometers away across the separation fence, might as well be on another planet. The son said that his father was not a member of Hezbollah, but did identify with the organization. He did not deny that his family received a telephone call from Nasrallah's office in which Hezbollah offered it financial assistance.
One of Shehadeh's friends said that many Palestinian opinion leaders are now joining the ranks of the Shi'a. He named 'Isa Batat, one of the Islamic Jihad's senior commanders in the Bethlehem area, who is serving a sentence inside an Israeli prison, and Muhammed Kawamleh, a Jihad member who is still wanted by Israel's security services. Turning to the political implications of his father's assassination, Shehadeh Shehadeh said: "What have you achieved by killing my father? You made a mockery, as always, of the Palestinian Authority."

Muhammed Shehadeh, 45, was a former member of Fatah who later became a senior officer in the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad. He was killed last Wednesday night along with 'Imad al-Kamel, 'Isa Marzouk and Ahmad al-Balboul, also from Bethlehem. They were ambushed in one of the town's suburbs by Israeli troops dressed in civilian clothes and driving a civilian car. The Israeli raid came at a delicate time for the PA and its president, Mahmoud 'Abbas of Fatah. Egyptian mediators were trying to broker a truce that would calm the hostilities between Israel and Hamas in and around Gaza, a truce that Abbas had called for after violence spiraled there earlier this month.

"Our prime minister, Salam Fayyad, went to meet your Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And whom did they send? Amos Gilad [a lower-level official]. Barak won't even see Fayyad," the younger Shehadeh said, referring to last week's meeting of a trilateral monitoring committee on the peace process. "So you killed one Mohammed Shehadeh. But as former Hezbollah leader 'Abbas Mussawi said, each time a drop of blood falls to the ground from the body of a shahid [martyr], God knows how to use that drop. Now all of Bethlehem will become Muhammed Shehadeh."

Outside the Shehadeh household, pessimism, frustration and desperation are everywhere. It seems that the people of this relatively peaceful West Bank city have given up all hope of seeing results from the attempt to revive the peace process that the United States, Israel and the PA began at last year's Annapolis Summit. They view the process as dying rapidly, making way for another round of violence with Israel.

Shehadeh's funeral, which he shared with the other three assassinated militants, was one of the largest the city has seen in recent years. Palestinian security forces estimate that it was attended by no less of 250,000 people. "Me and my friends, we led this current intifada," said Abu Dib, who is serving in one of the PA security forces and says he is wanted by Israel for his role in the violence. "We are tired already. But these boys, they were 10 years old when the clashes began. Now they're 18, and they know nothing but war and violence with Israel." Abu Dib speaks of "a whole new generation that grew up in the territories" and is more violent and radical. "They will be the ones who will lead the next confrontation," he predicted.

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