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Interviews with Three Palestinian Militant Leaders:  and Ali Safuri, Islamic Jihad, Ibrahim Abayat, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and Jihad Ja'arie, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade

Ali Safuri, the head of the Islamic Jihad in Jenin, was interviewed on March 27, 2002.

Ali Safuri, Islamic Jihad Leader

... Can you tell me what happened when the Israeli army came into the Jenin refugee camp with their tanks?

photo of ali safuri Well, we were all present in the camp. ... We knew that at any moment there was the possibility of an incursion into the camp. We were prepared, and the youth and the brothers were quite ready and on full alert. Everybody had a spirit of self-sacrifice. ...

Thanks to God we inflicted losses on them and even the Israelis have admitted to that. They did not get the chance to capture anyone, any fighter, or any wanted person. The tanks and the Air Force bombers were there for sure. The tanks surrounded the whole camp from all sides so that no person could leave the camp. Actually, we had absolutely no choice but to fight until martyrdom. ... And thanks be to God we resisted them and they failed to achieve their objectives. ...

Has Islamic Jihad carried out any military operations from Jenin against Israel?

The Islamic Jihad has conducted many operations lately. There was the martyr Abu Diak who sacrificed himself. We had also operations in Jerusalem and inside the Green Line and here inside the 1967 lands. The operations are almost continuous and constant and almost every day or every couple of days. They have not stopped. ...

If Chairman Arafat were to say now there should be a truce, now there should be a cease fire, and to order everybody on the West Bank to hold a cease fire, would you agree to that, would you agree to stop all your actions if he asked you?

I don't believe that the Brother Yasser Arafat would order a cease-fire after all that has happened to the Palestinian people. Actually, he should not order a cease-fire until the Palestinian people gain their complete rights. We will have no cease-fire and we will not put our gun aside until the liberation of Palestine, with its capital Al Quds Ashshareef [Holy Jerusalem].

Tell me step by step what needs to happen for you, for Islamic Jihad, to then declare peace, to stop military actions?

I am the son of Safooryeh [village in 1948 Palestine]. I am not from the Jenin camp. I want to return to Safooryeh, which is my true homeland, so that I can live in peace. This is what I seek. That every human being returns free and honorable to his homeland to live in safety and peace. This is what I seek. ...

We have managed to plant terror in their souls, as they have planted terror in the souls of our children and elderly.

I have cousins in Beirut, in Syria, in Saudi Arabia, in all the countries of the world. It is their right to return to their country and homeland. The son of Haifa has the right to return to his town. ... The person who comes from America or Russia has the right to live in Haifa and Tel Aviv, and the true son of Haifa and Tel Aviv remains homeless and exiled. Is this justice? Where is justice? Would you accept that for yourself? Would Bush accept this? Or anybody in Europe accept that I come and kick him out from his home, and replace him? No. No human being would accept that, but instead would fight me. ... I too have a right to my country. I will fight until I remove the occupation totally from Palestine.

Right up to the sea?

Palestine from the river to the sea, that is our legitimate right in this homeland. Yes.

You mean all of Palestine?

All of Palestine. And we will not relinquish an iota of soil, because this is pure and sanctified land. ...

And the issue of the settlers?

The settlers have no right here in the West Bank. And they have no right to live in any part of Palestine or the West Bank. They have no right to live here. ...

This is an important political point. Could you elaborate? Do you object to their living in all of Palestine even if there was a Palestinian state established and they lived under Palestinian law? How about the settlers under Palestinian law?

We accept any person to live under a respectable Palestinian Islamic state because that would grant that person full rights. ... We do not object to anyone living under a Palestinian Islamic state. But to come from outside to impose his control on me, this person will not get anything This is what we refuse... . Whoever comes as a guest and lives among us respectfully, we will proudly crown our heads with him [i.e., honor him].

The American government has declared Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and now the Al Aqsa Brigades as terrorist organizations. What's your reaction to that?

... America is always side by side with the Zionist enemy, and always stands in its support and wants to cast our people as terrorists. But the truth is that they are terrorists. This is clear to everybody and to the whole world. By the use of their Air Force planes and tanks they entered modest homes of simple people who do not own weapons. We do not own anything more than this only [indicates his gun]. ... Who is the terrorist? The one who carries this gun is the terrorist, while the one who drives a tank is not a terrorist? This is how America sees things.

America wants to run everything, because America rules the world. But unfortunately, nobody in the world can speak against America because they are afraid of America. But by God's will hopefully America will collapse and will not last long. Hopefully soon, because it is an unjust rule in America and because America stands with the oppressor against the oppressed. They are the terrorists, we are not the terrorists. We're not terrorists. ...

Could you explain to us the issue of the "balance of terror" between the Israeli and Palestinian societies?

...We as a Palestinian people do not own the F-16 or the Apache. We own a simple gun. We own our bodies, our will, and our determination. Whenever the F-16 bomber flies over the city of Jenin to strike a certain target it terrifies the whole city and the whole district and everybody is struck with a horrific fear. ... The same kind of terror and fear needs to be duplicated inside Israel, inside the enemy territory.

What we feel of fear and terror, we must transmit back to them. The method of delivery is through the bodies of the istishhaadeya [martyr] youth who strike deep in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Alkhudeira, because any operation inside Alkhudeira or inside Haifa or in Keryat Shmona will generate terror. This creates terror for those in Keryat Shmona because they are not spared and their turn is also coming. This is a kind of warfare or a type of weaponry that we possess, these martyrdom bodies as weapons. In reality, this resulted in a balance of terror between the Palestinian people and the Zionist entity.

This is a simplified explanation of the martyrdom operations. It is a weapon that is mightier than the F-16. Because until now they, the Israelis, cannot stop an istishhaadi bomber as long as that bomber has managed to reach the target place. ... We have managed to plant terror in their souls, as they have planted terror in the souls of our children and elderly.

What do you think of the Saudi plan for peace?

Nobody has the right to put forward an initiative to solve the problem of the Palestinian people. Nobody except the Palestinian people, because the Palestinian people comprehend their own cause better than anyone. We welcome all people who support what is right. We refuse any initiative that has us bargaining over our own land, regardless of what that initiative may be and who it came from. ...

Why do you refuse the Saudi plan?

... The Saudi initiative includes recognition of the State of Israel. In the Palestinian lexicon, Israel has no place on the map. ...

What will happen next because of President Bush's "war on terror"? What do you think the result of that will be?

In the next stage, the enemy has nothing left to use against us but atomic weapons. The F-16 has hit and the Apache has hit. ... Atomic weapons, and if the Zionist enemy uses atomic weapons, definitely, the Zionist enemy will cease to exist and Palestinian populations will be annihilated. ... If Israel were to annihilate all the Palestinian population here with atomic weapons, Israel itself would be automatically destroyed because of the scope of the atomic destruction. So we are proud to be martyrs and that our sons from outside come and continue our journey and live in this land. ...

Abayat, head of the Al Aqsa Brigades in Bethlehem, was interviewed on March 26, 2002.

Ibrahim Abayat, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade Leader

You're very familiar now with what the Israeli army does and what kind of tactics they use. ... Did you adopt new tactics? Or what tactics did you adopt in order to fight them?

Strategic knowledge of the enemy or opponent is very essential for maintaining and continuing the resistance. If it were not for our awareness and understanding of some of their military plans and strategy, our fate would have been to be killed a long time ago. ...

Such as?

photo of Ibrahim Abayat It is possible to know the scale of the attack on a specific area from monitoring the spy planes, from the number of vehicles, and from the closures of areas. In addition, we would keep track of Israeli propaganda campaigns, which precede any of their military campaigns. The Israelis depend on propaganda as a primary tool they use to try to inflame their public opinion about the Bethlehem district for the purposes of incursion. Usually this propaganda comes before any military action by the Israelis. ...

Do you have any examples of how you foiled their attacks or their tactical maneuvers against you?

There will not be any political solution without resolving the problem of settlements and settlers. As long as there are settlers, the legitimacy of resistance remains.

In the last Israeli campaign, targeting the Bethlehem district, we sensed the type of Israeli attack from the large size of the amassed Israeli forces. There were more than 70 to 120 armored tanks and [armored personnel carriers]. They surrounded the city of Bethlehem from several directions. They were primarily targeting the Dheisha and Ayda refugee camps. ... As with typical Israeli preparations for any attacks into Bethlehem, they bombarded and destroyed facilities there. In addition, the spy planes never left the skies over the Bethlehem area for three days. There was massive military activity on the ground. The Apache helicopters and armored tanks took part in this almost total assault. We couldn't give the Israelis any opportunity to capture the wanted people so we pulled out all of [the wanted people] from the targeted areas.

What was your reaction to the fact that the Americans have declared the Al Aqsa Brigades a terrorist organization?

... We consider ourselves a national liberation movement and we derive our legitimate right to resist the occupation from the U.N. Geneva Convention. ... We had hoped that the United States would have continued to be the shepherd of peace and to maintain its approach to peace. But by this decision [to declare the Al Aqsa Brigades a terrorist organization] the United States has proven it is not the shepherd of peace but the shepherd of the Israelis, the Israeli government and Israeli interests only.

Now members of Al Aqsa are going inside Israel as suicide bombers and blowing themselves up and killing civilians. What's your view on this strategy?

Not correct. The strategy of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is evident to the naked eye through its operations. Our strategy is to fight settlement and settlers and attacking Israeli military posts in which Palestinian civilians are humiliated and demeaned on a daily basis. This should be evident from several of our operations which targeted settlements and settlers, and army roadblocks, specifically. But what we hear about some operations inside the Green Line, these have come about as a result of the immense pressure endured by the Palestinian people lately, especially in the last two months.

These operations are completely unacceptable to us in Al Aqsa, but these operations do find some legitimacy when the occupation kills children and women in our camps in Jenin, Tulkarem, Nablus, Dheisha, and all our other camps and in Gaza. These operations take on a legitimacy as a result of the crimes perpetrated against our people. But the real fact and the consistent strategy is the resistance against settlements and settlers and striking against Israeli military roadblocks that humiliate and demean and insult the sons of our nation on a daily basis.

So, as a leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades, are you against suicide bombs?

The bottom line is that I am just one person among this Palestinian people. What generates vengefulness against the Israelis [is] the silence of the Israeli people in regards to the policies of Sharon, which leads to killing and slaughtering of our fellow Palestinians ... . The silence of the Israeli people demonstrates the approval of the Israeli public of the slaughterings, killing, arrests and destruction of homes and the destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure. There must be a message to the Israeli street: what is happening is not in your interest. You need to stop the raging bull of Sharon, and to limit the scope of his policies and move him from office. ...

Is Chairman Arafat in control of the Al Aqsa Brigades?

Truly, President, brother, leader Abu Amar [Arafat] is a symbol to the whole Palestinian nation. But practically, if there was a decision from President, brother, leader Abu Amar [Arafat] to suspend all operations and have a cease fire -- and this has actually happened, and we have previously followed his instructions immediately -- we would be the first to follow his instructions, because we know well that the decisions of the president are in the interest of the Palestinian people. But I don't think under the current conditions there will be any cease-fire decisions. I mean, on a daily basis, there are scores of martyrs, scores of wounded, several arrested, many houses destroyed. Many trees uprooted. And agricultural lands devastated. I don't believe that in these conditions there will be a decision to have a cease-fire. But if there actually was a decision to have a cease-fire, the first people who would abide by such a cease-fire are the Brigades of the Aqsa Martyrs, as is customary.

You've said that as long as there are Israeli settlers, then you will keep fighting. Do you still stand by that?

This is very much a natural thing. The current problem is the problem of Israeli settlements and the confiscation of Palestinian lands for the purpose of building settlements on them. ... There will not be any political solution without resolving the problem of settlements and settlers. As long as there are settlers, the legitimacy of resistance remains. ...

What's your opinion of the King Abdullah initiative?

Honestly, this is a political initiative. We leave it to politicians. But we hope that it is in the interest of the Palestinian people, and actually leads to restoring Palestinian rights, and will lead to the end of the occupation settlements and settlers. We hope that it truly is in the interest of the Palestinian people.

What needs to happen for the Al Aqsa [Brigades] to stop fighting with Israel?

Our demands are legitimate. We demand the implementation of the decisions of the United Nations Security Council. We demand the restoration of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. We demand the return of refugees, we demand the dismantling of settlements, we demand the establishment of a Palestinian state whose capital is Al Quds Ashshareef [Holy Jerusalem]. These are our demands that were decreed by all the world bodies including the Security Council ... .

Do you want to say something to the American society?

We hope from the American people first and then from the American government that the United States be a shepherd of peace and that the U.S. would put a limit to the atrocious acts perpetrated by Sharon against the sons of our people. We hope that the American street would put pressure in that direction, and that the American government would not be so biased in favor of Israel. ...

Ja'arie, a leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades in Bethlehem, was interviewed on March 26, 2002.

Jihad Ja'Arie, Al Aqsa Brigades Leader

What's your view on the new strategy that the Al Aqsa Brigades are adopting now, the suicide bombings inside Israel which inflict civilian casualties? Do you support that strategy?

photo of Jihad Ja'Arie In the beginning the National Liberation Movement [Fatah] did not use the martyrdom/istishaadeyye [suicide bomber] operations. But in our study of the enormous oppressive Israeli military might used against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian children, we had no choice but to take measure and appropriately respond to the large military operations. When the F-16 Air Force bombers bombard our areas and our people and families, what do the Israelis expect from us? That we answer them back with crude machine guns? Our view was that the appropriate response to such bombardment is to inflict heavy casualties on the Israeli street so that we can almost match what they inflict on us. ...

Therefore that's a reasonable tactic in your opinion? Because of the civilian losses on the Palestinian side, that means that it is legitimate to carry out suicide bombings inside Israel?

Yes, we may be different from other nationalist and Islamic forces in the Palestinian resistance. The nature of our operations is to respond to the instruments of Israeli oppression against our sons, children, and our Palestinian people, and not to protest or oppose any accords or agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority with the Israeli side. And actually it is the opposite. The nature of our operations is that we choose the right operations at the right time as direct responses to Israeli beastly actions against our Palestinian people.

Is Chairman Arafat in charge of the Al Aqsa Brigades?

Most naturally, the President, the brother, the leader -- "Abu Amar" [Arafat's nom de guerre] -- is the president of the state of Palestine and the head of the National Liberation Movement [Fatah], he is the one who makes the first and last decisions on all matters relating to the Palestinian street. We always abide by his decisions and also we abide by all the agreements entered into by the Palestinian Authority. We always abide by the decisions of the political leadership. ...

What about you?

Yes, correct. I myself abide by the all the decisions of the President, the brother, the leader Abu Ammaar.

And all the Brigades of the Aqsa Martyrs?

Yes, correct, because in the end, he is the first and last [ultimate] decision maker in all matters and all decisions and affecting all segments of the Palestinian population.

Could you clarify?

We abide by the decisions made by the President, the brother, the leader Abu Amar except if the Israelis break the cease-fire. For example, by attempting to assassinate one of the leaders of the Brigade of the Aqsa Martyrs or our political leadership or the bombardment of the positions of the Palestinian Authority or the bombardment of Palestinian civilians, there will be the appropriate response to that by the Brigade without having to check with the President, the brother, the leader Abu Amar.

What do the Israelis have to do? What has to happen for the Al Aqsa Brigades to stop fighting?

... We accept peace with the Israelis if they accept and abide by all the Palestinian just conditions. One, the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation from all Palestinian lands occupied in 1967. The dismantling of all settlements built on lands occupied in 1967. Two, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Al Quds Ashshareef [Holy Jerusalem] as capital. We do not object to the existence of two states, an Arab state with East Jerusalem as its capital and an Israeli state with West Jerusalem as its capital. The return and release of all those detained, arrested, and imprisoned. The right of return for Palestinian refugees. Giving independent borders to the Palestinian state.

If the Israelis stick to the withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967 and release all those detained and arrested and give all legitimate rights to the Palestinian people, including the right of return to refugees, we would abide by the cease-fire.

What do you think about the Saudi plan?

I am puzzled! The Saudi plan has been offered since the days of the Resolution 242 and 383. Why is the United States now interested in implementing such a resolution? ... Because it is offered by the Saudi government? This proposition is not correct. America does not want this peace. It is only exploiting the situation to gain support to oppress and strike Iraq.

Specifically, what is your opinion of the Saudi plan? Is it good? Do you approve of it?

Naturally, I would support the return of lands captured in 1967 to the Palestinian people, as expressed in the Saudi plan, if that provides for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. But one point that I reject is the normalization, the complete normalization of relations between the Arabs and the Israelis. For me, I reject this point. I cannot normalize with the Israelis. ...

What do you think of putting the Al Aqsa Brigades on the terrorist list by Americans?

If the Americans believe that our legitimate resistance to occupation is terrorism, we consider that a medal of honor from the U.S. government. We are proud and honored that the U.S. considers us terrorists. But let the Americans look at who really is the terrorist. Who are those who have not followed the international and legitimate declarations 242 and 383? Is it the Palestinians or the Israelis? But if the Americans believe that our legitimate resistance to occupation is terrorism, we consider that a medal of honor on the Palestinian street. We consider the decision of the United States government to put Al Aqsa Brigades on the list of world terrorists to be a medal of honor and we will wear it on our chest.

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