The first five pages of Chapter ElevenThe Period 1997–1998 (HTML text)
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The Major Events of 1997
In 1997, I left my office at the IAF headquarters, and established an engineering consultancy office in Wasfi al-Tell Street “Gardens.” After twoyears it was closed with red sealing wax, and its image was later exhibited on television stations. The detention of Hamas supporters continued in 1997, though at a slower pace than in 1996. Two contradictory ideas emerged on the prospects of the Jordanian parliamentary elections that were due during the year; namely, to boycott or to participate in them. The overwhelming majority favored the former, and the MB Movement publicly opted for this course. Two factors were behind the boycott: first, the one-man one-vote system, and, secondly, the repercussions of the treaty of Wadi ‘Arbah, and its impacts on the Jordanian political scene, coupled with the infiltration of the Israelis in the affairs of Jordan.
The focus of the MB Movement was to pursue alternative popular activities to engagement in the parliament, namely the intensification of our involvement in mosques, universities and philanthropic works. These fields were all closely watched by the government, and the role of the MB Movement in mobilizing them was sharply curtailed. In May 1997, Musa Abu Marzuq was released from detention in the US, thanks to the effort of King Hussein, who instructed that Marzuq be allowed to return to Amman, Jordan, therefore averting the danger that he be handed to the Israeli enemy. In September 1997, in particular two successful self-immolation operations were launched that primarily aimed to warn the Israeli enemy that the resistance would continue as long as Israel kept imprisoning Palestinian detainees, including Sheikh Ahmad Yasin. The first operation was undertaken by the Martyr Unit of the ‘Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, and the second was in Jerusalem.
Friction with the Intelligence Department
On Thursday, 4/9/1997, in the midst of this security and media squeeze on Hamas, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Rantissi, to whom I feel particular admiration, publicly affirmed the above operation and the necessity of releasing the detainees. I said to myself that since al-Rantissi, who had been a regular victim of the Israeli prison system, said this, then I should do likewise.
Two days later, on Saturday, I called the Reuters News Agency and a television station for an interview. Sulaiman al-Khalidi was present and the photographer was Khalid al-Ramhi. I emphasized the right of the Palestinian people to resist the Israeli enemy, and to respond to its massacres by launching self-immolation operations. I also added that by the latest operation undertaken two days previously the members of Al-Qassam Brigades had sent a clear message to the Israeli public that they would not sleep peacefully at night as long as there were Palestinian detainees in their prisons, whose relatives are not allowed to sleep peacefully at night. On my return home just before 10 p.m., I, as usual, skipped through various television stations, including the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) that broadcasts in English. It started its service by portraying my photo and broadcasting my message. I immediately felt that this would have its impact here in Jordan. Around 11:30 p.m., there was a knock on my door. When I enquired who was there, the answer was “It is (A.Th.) and (A.N.) who want to have a cup of coffee with you.” I said it was too late at night, and if they want to have coffee with me, I would be in my office the following day. They kept insisting that I open the door, but I refused. I asked my son to contact two of the leading members of the MB Movement to tell them that Jordanian security was surrounding my house.
But their response was negative, and so I instructed my son to open the door. Hence, accompanied by two of my neighbors, a group of security officers, led by (A.Th.) and (A.N.), entered my home. They searched the entire house, particularly the bedroom, and, of course, confiscated my two licensed pistols. An officer with the rank of first lieutenant asked me to sign a report. But I refused because the document recorded that they searched the house, and found in it an automatic pistol, and a written paper entitled, “How to Make Explosives.” Staring at this individual, I said that this is a false testimony, and that he must not be part of it because anybody who does will tantamount to a heretic. The officer was shaken by this remark, looked on the ground in shame and did not insist that I sign. Then he asked the two youngsters who accompanied him to sign, but they said, “You have brought us to sign a statement that says no glass is broken, and not to sign on this report.” However, they took them to the police station, brought their parents, and pressured them to sign.
After about three hours a car took me directly to the new building of the intelligence agency in Wadi al-Sayr. Upon my arrival, a senior officer arrogantly asked me, “Who do you think you are? How come that it took you three hours to come here?” I responded by saying “You have no right to arrest me. I did nothing wrong.” While in the intelligence building, and as I was heading to the cells, (A.Th.) offered to take me by his car to my house if I agree to stop issuing declarations as the spokesperson of Hamas.
I gazed at him, and said, “Take me to the cell. That would be better.” The cell was about two meters and a half long and 170 centimeters wide, with an iron bed, sink, toilet and a door with a small opening to enable the guard to constantly watch me. They closed the door of the cell, and subsequently took me to another cell. I spent 15 days there during which I was completely cut off from the world. I used to ask the guard for the time of the prayer, and my only companion was the Qur’an. During my detention I was interrogated several times. They tried to talk about organizational matters, but I refrained from being dragged to them, and we occasionally talked about political matters. I didn’t eat the prison food, instead I paid for the food that they bought me, which was largely very simple food. The head of the prison used to invite me daily for tea in his office where we talked generally, but neither on politics nor on my detention. One day, while I was in his office, dressed in the inmate’s uniform that I had resisted for four days, I came across two senior Jordanian officers. In their presence, I asked him to allow me to read a newspaper that he had, but he replied sharply: “I have no instructions.” So I told him, “I want to read the news of the old grotesque woman, has she left Jordan yet or not?” He asked “Who is this old grotesque woman?” I replied, “Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, the one who is behind my detention.”
The two officers laughed, but they did not comment. Once I came across the deputy head of the prison and I told him, “You look like you come from one of the families of Irbid,” a town in which I lived for three years, and knew its families very well. But this remark visibly disturbed the man, whose expression dropped. Next day, the director asked me “What have you done to my deputy?” When I revealed what I said to the deputy, the director told me, “This is unbecoming of us.” The representative of the Red Cross also visited me. Near the end of my detention I was interrogated frequently but I was finally released on 21/9/1997. On my return home on Sunday evening, I discovered that many of the trade unions and popular organizations had planned a sit-in around my house in a show of solidarity, but had been prohibited from reaching their destination. For six days after my release, I received a flood of visitors, Brothers and friends. Khalid Mish‘al, who had been abroad, visited me on Tuesday, three days after my release. He asked me about my experience in prison, and I gave him the details.
Assassination Attempt on Khalid Mish‘al
On Thursday 25/9/1997, while still engaged in receiving well-wishers, Muhammad Nazzal phoned me to say that an assassination attempt was made against Khalid Mish‘al, and that the Political Bureau will meet to discuss this development. Subsequently, I learned that security forces had surrounded the the Islamic Hospital, and insisted on taking him to the King Hussein Medical Center, where I visited him on Friday morning. Mish‘al had been walking with two unarmed bodyguards, of whom one, Muhammad Abu Saif, an excellent sportsman, was fasting at the time. Opposite to Markaz al-Shamiyyah building in Gardens street, they met two people who appeared to be tourists. One of them attacked Mish‘al, putting an instrument under his ear before they fled. According to one of the bodyguards, Mish‘al suffered from nausea, and was rushed to the Islamic Hospital, where the doctors tried, unsuccessfully, to treat him. On the king’s order, he was transferred toKing Hussein Medical Center.
Meanwhile, Muhammad Abu Saif ran after the two suspects, but a waiting car near al-Sarwat restaurant took them and they were driven away. Abu Saif stopped a private car, explained the situation and they chased after the assailants. Unaware that Abu Saif was behind them, the two suspects were dropped off and headed to al-Madina Street, while the car delivered the weapon to the Israeli embassy in al-Rabiyyah neighborhood. Abu Saif got hold of them, and a bloody fight took place for a while until both sides were completely exhausted. However, by a pleasant stroke of luck an officer of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), who was also a son of the commander of this army, named Badr Na‘im al-Khatib, passed by. On knowing the story, in which Abu Saif reiterated that the two men were agents of the Mossad, the officer took the three of them to Bayader Wadi al-Sayr police station. I visited Abu Saif in the hospital where he was hospitalized for severe blows to his head that had needed several stitches. I admiringly asked him how could a man, who was fasting like him confront these two people.
Smilingly, he responded by saying that Allah had given him this special strength. On Friday, I went to visit Brother Mish‘al at the King Hussein Medical Center, where he was in bad shape, almost dying, and breathing only through tubes. Many people visited him; his father and relatives, members of the MB Movement and a number of the Arab members of the Knesset. I returned home on Friday afternoon to receive many visitors, amongst whom was Sheikh Ibrahim Zaid al-Kilani.
He asked me about the condition of Mish‘al, and he was very moved when I told him that he is seriously ill, and that the doctors said that it would be impossible to treat him without knowing the nature of the fluid that was put under his ear from the above mentioned instrument. He promised to help and asked me to get in touch with him on Friday evening. When I did, he told me that he asked Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, the minister of health, who said that specialists have the instrument, and that they will know, Insha’Allah, the nature of the fluid. On Saturday, I was unable to see Mish‘al because visits weren’t allowed that day, but the following day, I managed to visit him. By then his condition had improved significantly; the machine for artificial breathing was removed, and by Monday, he was almost back to normal.
I talked to him on many issues, and asked him in particular about the possibility that I resume my media activities. He gave me the green light, thus after a complete week of silence I gave my first press release to the Qatari news agency in which I condemned the latest criminal act of the Israelis that was undertaken by these two agents, and demanded that they be tried and imprisoned. After that, we would accept that they be exchanged for Sheikh Ahmad Yasin and all the other Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails. When asked by the same agency if such an exchange was possible, I explained that Mossad members are much more valuable to the Israelis than their soldiers. I added that in return for the release of two Israeli soldiers captured by the Ahmad Jibril in 1985, 1,200 Palestinian detainees were released from Israeli prisons. Meanwhile, before Mish‘al regained his full consciousness, a member of the Political Bureau contacted al-Battikhi, and told him that Hamas would not accept the release of those Israeli agents unless and until they are swapped with Sheikh Ahmad Yasin and a significant number of the detainees.
But al-Battikhi initially denied that they were Israeli agents, even claiming that they could not possibly be Jews as they were not circumcised, and may be pro-Zionist Christians. Unfortunately, al-Battikhi circulated these false rumors, and he was the one who provoked the Minister of Information Samir Mutawi‘ to assert that what had happened was nothing more than a skirmish between Mish‘al’s associates and two Canadian tourists. Since this assassination attempt has taken place on Jordanian territory three years after the conclusion of Wadi ‘Arbah treaty, King Hussein viewed it asan inappropriate violation of Jordanian sovereignty. He was so angered that he approached US President Clinton to say that Mish‘al’s life was on one side andthe peace deal in the region, including the one with Jordan, was on the other side. However, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu moved quickly, and promised to send the antidote. There were rumors that a doctor staying in a hotel in Amman had it. It was given to Mish‘al on Saturday, after his friends and relatives were ordered to leave the hospital, and when I visited him on Sunday, he was breathing normally.
According to some persistent news at the time, Efraim Halevy, an Israeli close to King Hussein who had been formerly working for the Mossad, became the director of Mossad after the assassination attempt on Khalid Mish‘al.