Militants Munif Remawi (left) and Mahmoud Remawi (right) had no objection to giving their real names or being photographed. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle
United, ready: 2 fighters back truce -- but only to a point
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Page A - 3
Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Ramallah, West Bank -- Mahmoud Remawi was a year away from a law degree when his university career was interrupted. Munif Remawi was studying sociology.
The two cousins still look like the carefree students they once were, chatting animatedly in a Ramallah cafe. But the pistols tucked into their waistbands beneath their baggy tops as they snatch a rare hour in the fresh air betray their new lives. Both are in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah party that dominates the Palestinian government.
Unlike many of their comrades, the Remawis have no objection to giving their real names or being photographed. "Our names and faces are known to the Israelis. They are already trying to kill us. It makes no difference," says Munif, 27, with a shrug and a half-smile.
For security reasons, their sojourn in the cafe is too brief for them to order lunch. But their message is clear: Time is running out for new Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The current cease-fire is for a limited period only," says Munif. "Unless the political dialogue produces real results from Israel, the intifada will resume."
Until last month, the two Remawis were hidden away with about two dozen of their Al-Aqsa comrades in a crumbling building in the Mukata, the presidential compound in Ramallah, where they enjoyed the protection of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then Abbas. They emerged, usually under cover of darkness, to attack Israeli settlers and soldiers before fleeing back to the Mukata for safety. Many of them have been hunted down and arrested or killed by Israeli security forces.
But after several Al-Aqsa gunmen smashed up a restaurant frequented by the Palestinian leadership and fired shots at Abbas' office building, the Palestinian president ordered them out of the compound.
Al-Aqsa supported the candidacy of Abbas and the tahdiyeh (calm) proclaimed in March after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit between Abbas and the leaders of Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
"I signed a document declaring that I submit to the authority of the Palestinian Authority and whatever agreement it makes with Israel or any other country," says Munif. "We all signed this document to prove that we are trying to be positive, that we are suspending attacks on Israel. But the Israelis are continuing with their policy. They are continuing to kill us, arrest us and grab our land to build the wall and the settlements." He was referring to the barrier Israel is erecting to divide Israel from Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and the announced expansion of Jewish settlements close to Jerusalem.
"We are united behind our leaders," says Mahmoud, 26. "If the politicians succeed in making the necessary progress toward independence, the liberation of our capital in Jerusalem and the right of return for the refugees in exile, there will be no reason to continue the intifada. But if there is no progress, the intifada will be resumed."
The two young men say they would like to go back to their studies and their lives, but feel compelled to continue the struggle as long as the Israeli military dominates the Palestinian territories.
Mahmoud, who is from the village of Beit Rima north of Ramallah, says he saw his family recently for the first time in three years. He has been engaged for four years to a woman from Jenin but has been unable to visit her, let alone get married.
"It's impossible for us to lead a normal life and get married as we want to," says Mahmoud. "The families of our fiancees keep finding reasons to postpone the wedding. They'd rather keep their daughters from becoming widows."
They refuse to talk about the specific operations in which they have been involved, and their only sign of discomfort is when asked if they approve of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
"Most revolutions in the world might have made mistakes, and it is right to see the results of the actions and correct them," says Mahmoud. "But for Palestinians who see their families cut down in their own homes, we have no other way to fight the Israeli Apaches (attack helicopters) and F-16s (fighter jets). These attacks restore the balance of fear, so Israeli civilians will put pressure on their government to stop the military attacks against our people."
In fact, the opposite happened. The worst month of suicide attacks -- March 2002, when dozens of Israeli civilians were killed, culminating in the suicide bombing that killed 29 people attending a Passover seder in Netanya -- triggered an all-out Israeli invasion of West Bank cities and a monthlong siege of Arafat's headquarters.
As the brief encounter ends, Mahmoud, the student-lawyer-turned-gunman who wants to get married, delivers a more hopeful message.
"Our struggle is not in order to die. It is in order to live in freedom and make a future for our kids," he says.