The first five pages of Chapter Nine The Period 1992–1993 (HTML text)
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Membership of the Preparatory Committee of the IAF
1992 was a year that witnessed major events amongst which were my appointment to represent Hamas in the preparatory committee of the IAF. I immediately took this post, and had already attended many of the sessions of this body. The first was well attended by most of the Islamic forces and some independent Jordanian personalities. Salafis, Sufis and the Tabligh movement were all represented, and among the attendees were some dignitaries such as Kamil al-Sharif, Hamdi al-Tabba‘, Laith Shubeilat, Ra’if Najm, ‘Izzat al-‘Azizi and Yusuf Mubaideen. With Dr. Muhammad Abu Faris, Kamil al-Sharif and ‘Izzat al-‘Azizi, I participated in a sub-committee that wrote the first draft of the fundamental internal law of the IAF. There were two views within the MB Movement on the composition and orientation of the Front.
While some wanted it to be dominated by the Brotherhood by having 70% of its membership, others, including myself, were satisfied with 50%. However, when it was decided that the majority should go to the Brotherhood, some of the representatives of other organizations as well as a group of independents became less enthusiastic for the idea itself than they were at the preliminary sessions. Nonetheless, the IAF was eventually formed with a sizable majority for the MB Movement; in fact, it had effectively become the political arm of Movement and some of the independents. Subsequently, laws were issued to the effect that anyone who belonged to a Jordanian party should not have any organizational relationship with any other organization. Thus, being the spokesman of Hamas, I resigned from the IAF. However, I continued to be physically present at its headquarters, which benefited the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas in a number of ways. First, I had the opportunity to be in close contact with many people, including 26 members of the Jordanian parliament, which gave me the chance to update them on daily basis on the latest developments in the Palestinian issue, which furnished them with fresh, documented information that enabled them to confidently talk on all the relevant issues.
Another benefit was that I established contacts in the media with journalists, news agencies and, subsequently, television stations, as well as parties and factions, which were all vehicles to reach the world community. My presence in the IAF continued until 1997, after which I established my own consultancy office that was, however, closed down in 1999 as we will explain later. Incidentally Hamas had a number of other offices: one for Khalid Mish‘al, another for Muhammad Nazzal, Hamas’ representative in Jordan, and a third for Musa Abu Marzuq, while the office of ‘Izzat al-Rishq was in the premises of the magazine Filastin al-Muslima. However, all these offices were closed down during the 1999 strike.
Skirmishes with Fatah in GS
In July 1992 Fatah launched a serious attack on Hamas in GS that aimed at its total liquidation. By June 1992 Yitzhak Rabin had succeeded Shamir as the prime minister of Israel, and this coincided with the ongoing secret negotiations that had ultimately led to the Oslo Accords, signed in Washington on 13/9/1993. During this period Fatah attacked a consolation hall of the relatives of Dr. Muhammad Saqr, the president of the Islamic University, which developed in to a violent engagement throughout the GS for three days amid total media blackout.
While deliberating with the PFLP, a member of its delegation told me of important events in GS that he did not quite spell out, and added that they had approached Fatah enquiring about the events but they totally denied their existence. However, it soon became evident that Fatah’s motive was to crush Hamas in GS once and for all. Nonetheless, under the leadership of ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Rantissi, Hamas faced this potential calamity with determination and steadfastness, in which one of its members was killed and hundreds were wounded. With limited means compared to Fatah’s huge armament and facilities, Hamas managed to foil the attempt, and it controlled a number of the refugee camps. It was only then when Hamas appeared to have the upper hand that Fatah offered the option for the two organizations to work together to stop the bloodshed. Knowing that Hamas is ideologically an offshoot of the MB Movement, Fatah sent a delegation to the latter’s General-Guide in Jordan Muhammad ‘Abdul Rahman Khalifah requesting his mediation. But Abu Majid declined to play this role, though he offered to put the delegation in touch with me.
Subsequently, an engagement between Fatah and Hamas delegations took place in Abu Majid’s office. Hamas’ delegation was composed of me, ‘Izzat al-Rishq and Ziad Abu Ghneimeh, while its counterpart was headed by Muhammad Jaradah and included Ghazi al-Husseini and Khalid Musmar, in addition to Abu Majid and some key personalities, such as Birgis al-Hadid. The sole agenda was to stop the bloodshed. However, I explained to the intermediaries what had exactly happened and who started the troubles, which was useful as some of them were in the dark as to the sequence of events as a result of Fatah’s hegemony over the media. We finally agreed on a compromise formula whereby Hamas undertook to instruct its members in GS to stop the bloody confrontation, while Fatah would admit that the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas is a national Palestinian faction. Jaradah and I signed this agreement, and communicated it to the Brothers in the interior.
But, the next day, I read in a newspaper that Najib al-Ahmad (father of ‘Azzam al-Ahmad), the director of ‘Arafat’s office in Amman, had issued a press release stating that Fatah and ‘Arafat did not recognize this agreement. Nonetheless, a number of influential Fatah leaders and subjects, who were extremely concerned that the conflict might spread to Jordan, approached me to say that they supported the agreement. A day or two later, Sheikh As‘ad Bayyoud al-Tamimi launched another attempt to stop the violence over a working dinner that he gave in his house in Jabal al-Hussein, and to which he invited some key personalities from Fatah and Hamas, including myself, Kamil al-Sharif and Salim al-Za‘nun.
The Events of Marj al-Zuhur
The direct spark for these dramatic events, in which 415 Palestinian educators, politicians and Du‘at (Islamic preachers) were forcefully expelled from their land, was the capture by ‘Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades of the Israeli Sergeant Nissim Toledano in Lod. They offered to free him in return for the release of Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, and the written offer was forwarded by ‘Ezzedeen al-Sheikh Khalil (who was killed three years ago in Damascus at the hands of the Mossad) to the Red Cross in Beirut to hand to the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But, as usual, the latter refused the demand of releasing Sheikh Ahmad Yasin at 9 p.m. in return for the release of the Israeli soldier. Hence, Toledano was killed, and his body was found on 17/12/1992 on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. In retaliation, the furious Rabin ordered the arrest of 385 members of Hamas and 15 from the PIJ, of whom some were taken from prisons and others from their own homes.
In total 415 Palestinians were sent blindfolded and handcuffed to the freezing mountainous region of southern Lebanon, Marj al-Zuhur. These prisoners later revealed that the trip took 10 hours during which no food or drink was given to them, and they never knewwhere they were or where they were being taken to. However, on their arrival at Marj al-Zuhur, they elected ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Rantissi to be their spokesman, established for themselves a camp and insisted they should stay there until their return to their land.
At this juncture, an important question poses itself, namely, who helped Yitzhak Rabin to select these members by name and location? No doubt, the Israel Security Agency—ISA (Shabak), has a role in this, but equally there must have been some Palestinian agents who gave names to the Israelis. The blow to Hamas was unprecedented, as the elite leadership was expelled from the interior.
Rabin assumed that this strike would end Hamas once and for all. But this ordeal soon turned out to be a gift from Allah. Thanks to the persistence of those deportees who, irrespective of the severely cold climate and great hardship, insisted on staying in their camp from which they addressed the whole world on the cruelty and inhumanity of the Israelis. For over two months, the main item on the news was the group of Marj al-Zuhur.
Hamas had, of course, kept in touch with them, and provided them, through Syria and Lebanon, with some help. For the sake of history, I should record that the Syrian regime and the Lebanese government both played an honorable role by securing food and facilitating contacts with the deportees. Marj al-Zuhur had, thus, become a symbol of dignity for a group of Palestinians with whom the Arab and Muslim nations had interacted positively. After three months or so, the media attention on Marj al-Zuhur waned.
Meeting with ‘Arafat and the Relationship with Fatah
Despite the differences and the grudges, the Hamas leadership in Amman decided to seek a meeting with Yasir ‘Arafat in order to make use of the international connections of the PLO to rally global support to secure the return of the expelled Brothers. Moreover, Yasir ‘Arafat could not afford to decline cooperation on an issue that was a rallying call for all Palestinian factions and the entire Palestinian people. Through the Palestinian embassy in Amman, we sent a message to ‘Arafat requesting to meet and he agreed. But we insisted on a formal and written invitation from him personally, refusing to engage with the delay tactics of the Palestinian embassy that told us that the air tickets were ready for us to travel. We finally received a handwritten message from ‘Arafat inviting us for a meeting with the Palestinian leadership in Tunisia. This was my first visit to Tunisia.
Hamas’ delegation was headed by Musa Abu Marzuq and composed of ‘Imad al-‘Alami, Muhammad Nazzal and myself among others. We arrived at Tunis airport, where we were received by someFatah officials who hosted us in a house. Nasr Yusuf and ‘Abdul Mun‘im Abu Sardanah visited us to say that ‘Arafat was busy, and that we may spend two days touring the country’s tourist attractions. At this juncture, I showed Nasr Yusuf ‘Arafat’s message, and told him that we did not come to Tunisia for sightseeing but to see ‘Arafat. If he was not available, we would return to Amman. An hour later he returned to say that we could see ‘Arafat that night… and we actually did!
During our three-day stay in Tunisia, we had three meetings with ‘Arafat and his aides, and we discussed three burning issues: First, the expulsion and the return of the brothers, Secondly, support and intensification of the Intifadah, and thirdly, the issue of the PLO and the incorporation of Hamas in to it. Surprisingly, the so-called meeting of the Palestinian leadership was loosely delivered and open to about 40 people, representatives of the factions, members of Fatah Central Committee, some members of the PLO Executive Committee and some independent personalities.
Moreover, it was highly undisciplined as people kept coming and going. On noticing that everyone was writing during the deliberations, I turned to ‘Arafat to say, “You also write Abu ‘Ammar, are these the minutes of the session?” He said they were, and I asked for a copy when he finished his note taking. He replied that each person should write his own minutes. This reflected the lack of discipline at meetings of the Palestinian leadership, and betrays the fact that they were artificial, with decisions taken in closed rooms. Even before the beginning of the session, ‘Arafat bitterly confronted Taysir Khalid of the DFLP, which I interpreted as warning message for us to “behave,” otherwise he would do likewise to us.
Thus, I told him that it was unbecoming that he would treat Taysir Khalid in this manner, and he should apologize. We do not accept this manner of factional interactions and ‘Arafat cooled down a little.
The Brothers put the issue of the expulsion on the table, which had at that juncture led to the suspension of negotiations in Washington. One of the Brothers present said that those expelled persons should return, to which Mahmud ‘Abbas responded by asking us whether we would agree to the resumption of negotiations in exchange for their return. Having a strong hunch that by this remark Mahmud ‘Abbas wanted to drag us to the negotiations, I immediately stated that we did not agree to negotiations, but as for the return of those deportees, this was a duty that every Palestinian should undertake.
During this session I noticed that the group of Mahmud ‘Abbas, Hassan ‘Usfur and Ahmad Qurei‘ were laughing with each other to which ‘Arafat had remarked sharply, calling them a “gang” and telling them to shut up.
Since the confidential negotiations of Oslo between the PLO and the Israelis had by then already started, ‘Arafat’s phrase “gang” seemed to reflect his internal conviction, but, of course, nobody that time paid attention to the phrase at the time. A committee composed of Yasir ‘Abd Rabbuh of the PLO and ‘Imad al-‘Alami of Hamas was formed to draft the final communiqué of the discussions. After six hours of tense bargaining, no agreement was reached, notwithstanding the attempt of the master manipulator ‘Abd Rabbuh to carry with him the alert and firm representative of Hamas, al-‘Alami.