during my time in palestine, and especially during my time in nablus, i learned that the al-aqsa martyrs brigades was a fighting force to be reckoned with. when you don't take the time to understand the politics of palestine, the politics of the anti-occupation movement and the nuance of the intifada in general, its easy to miss.
nablus, and especially nablus' old city and balata refugee camp are said my many to be the most militant areas in the west bank. in addition, the nablus area is a stronghold of the al-aqsa martyrs brigades. while fighters affiliated with hamas, islamic jihad, the popular front for the liberation of palestine and a few others exist in the nablus region, fatah's main armed wing, the al-aqsa brigades dominate. so because of the high concentration of wanted al-aqsa fighters in nablus, the city, and its three refugee camps and neighboring villages the area is invaded nightly. these nightly raids are designed to provoke, capture and kill fighters. these fighters are wanted, day in and day out. they are routinely targeted and assassinated by undercover army forces ands are regularly drawn into street battles where they are out numbered and killed.
in my time in nablus i saw many armed men. these men were consistently identified to be as al-aqsa brigade fighters from fatah. most had day jobs and families. many were cops with wives and kids. some were unemployed masons, mechanics, machinists and other tradesmen, and of course, some were single men who sold candy, cigarettes or tea in the markets. the al-aqsa fighters of nablus were everywhere. they walked the streets in armed groups. they assembled in cafes or in the market, and at night, they patrolled for invasions and remained in precise positions in and around the city in some clandestine network of scouts, relays and infantry forces.
they were always the front lines. the men of the al-aqsa brigades of nablus clashed with occupation forces nightly. they rarely, but occasionally, killed occupation soldiers, but more often, were captured or killed in their attempts to repel invasions and during the street clashes that ensued during these cat-and-mouse maneuvers. from 2002-2004 fatah’s brigades were the leading dispatchers of suicide bombers. many suicide bombers were recruited by the brigades and many attacks were planned by this specific segment, the al-aqsa brigades of nablus. for years they have been enemy number one for occupation forces.
i made friends with men who turned out to be fighters with the al-aqsa brigades. i did not know this at the time as i met them outside of this role. i met them as neighbors, street vendors and people who i would see on my travels or ask for directions. some of these men have since been killed by occupation forces, and many have been seized in nighttime incursions. the hardest thing about not being in palestine is worrying about these men and reading the news searching for their names to make sure they are still alive and free. i will always carry their names and faces in my heart as i continue to stand in solidarity with those who resist occupation.
if only the men who were killed had waited a little bit longer to meet their fate, they would have been saved. if they had held out a few more months, maybe they would have seen a time when the streets they called home were not filled with hummers and soldiers. if these men had not been killed would they have lived forever as patriots of a new government?
i wish the fighters of palestine victory because i believe their cause to be just. for their fight to continue, they must live as wanted men.
so imagine my relief when i heard that israel had struck the grounds for a deal to pardon 178 of al-aqsa's most wanted fighters!
WOW! nearly overnight the al-aqsa brigades went from the biggest "threat" to the occupation to deserving of pardons?
according to palestinian media sources and israeli newspaper ha'aretz, occupation forces are suspending their nightly invasions into the west bank to capture fatah fighters and will even "pardon" underground fighters for past crimes provided they are not presently a "ticking bomb," meaning that they are not engaged in an action constituting an imminent threat. so if last week they were shooting at soldiers they can be pardoned. but if last week they were shooting at soldiers and tomorow they plan to carryout a bombing in nazaretz, they can be captured. in exchange the al-aqsa martyrs brigades agreedes to suspend anti-occupation attacks. so the deal works when both sides leave the other alone. israel agrees to not invade and provoke a fight, and fatah agrees not to send fighters on the offensive.
according to ha’aretz: “it appears that the IDF will adopt a policy that distinguishes between Fatah and other organizations. As far as Fatah militants are concerned, the IDF will arrest those described as "ticking bombs," a euphemism for militants presenting an immediate threat and whose plans to attack are imminent. Fatah militants who have signed a commitment to refrain from terrorism, and who are among the list of 178 Palestinians, will not be arrested unless there is specific information that they are planning to carry out an attack. Regarding other organizations, it is also expected that the IDF will also limit its efforts to carry out arrests, but to a lesser extent.”
all in all it seems like a fair deal. but why is this offer only being made to fighters affiliated with the fatah party? if fatah's brigades were such a threat these last 5 years of fighting, how can they be OK now?
the answer is this: this is yet another step in a long series of actions designed to isolate, alienate and destroy hamas. by pardoning the al-aqsa men and allowing the fatah fighters to be folded into the legal security forces of the US-backed, palestinian government of mahmoud abbas, the majority of the remaining "illegal terrorist fighters" will be from hamas. this pits palestinian faction against palestinian faction as (legal) fatah forces are then tasked with rounding up and arresting (illegal) hamas fighters. israel helps fatah destroy hamas, and fatah can return to ruling the palestinian government as it did under yasser arafat for decades.
so to put this coup into a larger time frame, let's refresh everyone's memory....january 2006 hamas was elected into office in a democratic election with a very high voter turnout. immediately after they took office, israeli occupation forces captured and jailed a large portion of hamas' elected officials. the US then led a campaign of economic sanctions designed to bankrupt the hamas government over the proceeded sixteen months. palestinian taxes paid to israel were not returned to pay federal worker (teacher, nurses, cops, bureaucrats, etc) salaries but were instead held in a form of ransom-escrow by israel.
then israel bombed infrastructure in gaza associated with hamas's. they bombed the infrastructure affiliated with hamas’ attempts at establishing a legal security force. they bombed hamas affiliated universities, charities, and so on. they fired missiles into cars driven by hamas fighters and invaded hamas strongholds to provoke fighters to their deaths. hamas fighters were targeted for assassination and inter-factional fighting was encouraged. the US openly backed, funded and armed fatah fighters in street clashes with hamas. the US sent weapons to fatah’s al-aqsa martyrs brigades (for a discussion of this i wrote visit here:)
at the end of the factional fighting in the west bank and gaza, close to 200 palestinians were dead and hamas controlled gaza while fatah dominated in the west bank.
throughout this power shift, numerous attempts were made by hamas and fatah to reshuffle their representatives in the pursuit of a government of "national unity" that would be agreeable to the two parties, and more importantly, agreeable to the US and israel. through negotiations, hamas and fatah eventually formed a multi-party government which retained some of the original hamas members. months after this, mahmoud abbas, the palestinian president and fatah head, dissolved the hamas-led government, throwing the hamas-affiliated prime minister from power and completing the US-backed coup.
now that fatah is back in power and hamas is weakened, israel has stopped some of the economic sanctions on the palesinian people and is reducing the pressure on fatah fighters.
its funny how one day you can be called a terrorist for shooting at soldiers trying to invade your neighborhood, and the next week, your enemy would offer you a pardon and an opportunity to become a cop, soldier or bureaucrat in a government your former armed group is affiliated with.
so this leaves me with a few questions:
does this mean that the al-aqsa brigade fighters in nablus will cease responding to israeli invasions?
will israel really stop invading nablus?
does this mean that the next time i am in palestine and see the fighters i once knew, they will be employed in the city library, or fire station or as traffic cops? i wonder.
- from washngton, dc:
commander of the capital city martyrs brigades
(not affiliated with fatah)
for more information on these recent developments with the brigades, visit:
Ha'aretz: "Al-Aqsa militants pledge to PA to cease terror attacks"
Ma'an: "Al Aqsa Brigades abandon armed struggle against Israel"
Ha'aretz: "IDF says it has cut down on arrests of West Bank militants"