Hamas figure dies in Nablus, condolences cause traffic jam

It was so hot. It was the second hot day, after a long and dreary winter, one of the worst in recent years, most people here agree.

And then, unexpectedly, there was such heavy traffic. It came to a standstill in the village of Huwwara, just south of Nablus. It was so hot, and the traffic was so bad…

The reason, I was told, was the large number of people coming to Nablus to give their condolences and pay respect for the death of a religious scholar and Hamas figure who was also an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council:

    * Bumper-to-bumper traffic going thru Huwwara village to Nablus after news of death of Sheikh Hamed al-Betawi – background story here.

    * Unprecedented traffic between Ramallah + Nablus afternoon said to be officials going to pay condolences on death of Hamas scholar

    * Can demonstration of respect upon news of death of Nablus’ Hamas MP+scholar be extrapolated to predict results of next elections [if held]?

    * Religious leaders and scholars are due to drive to Nablus on Friday to express their condolences upon death of Hamas MP + religious scholar

    * Completing the picture, Ma’an reports that Fadel Beitawi, 33 [son of Hamas Sheikh] was detained Monday [just three days before his father’s death] by IDF after a pre-dawn raid on home in Nablus

    * Though Sheikh al-Betawi himself was arrested by the IDF several times, the arrest of his son coming so soon after the Sheikh’s recent heart surgery could not have helped his medical condition.

    * Despite who he is, the Sheikh did get a permit to go for treatment to a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem, on part of the Mount of Olives, where he is reported to have died.

    * IDF presence discretely reduced along the way to Nablus [+ back], as what must have been thousands went for condolences on death of the Hamas learned scholar and MP, Sheikh Hamed al-Betawi.

Hussam Khader: extension of continued Administrative Detention halved under appeal to Israeli Military Court

An Israeli military judge in Ofer Military Prison/Court has halved the extension of Hussam Khader’s sentence of Administrative Detention — a victory of sorts.

So, instead of serving a second 6-month [renewable] sentence of Administrative Detention in an Israeli jail,  as determined two weeks ago in Ofer, the Israeli military judge reduced Hussam Khader’s present term to just 3 months [December, January + February].

One has to ask, however, why Hussam Khader is now serving any time at all…

According to news reports and to Hussam Khader’s family, this was done as a result of an appeal filed by his lawyer, Jawad Bulous.  Bulous, who has offices in East Jerusalem as well as in his home town in Israel’s Galilee,  has been retained by the Palestinian Prisoners Society or Club, headed by Qaddura Fares in Ramallah.

Hussam Khader, a Fatah leader and activist from the Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, who was born in 1961, was taken from home and his terrified family in a 2am raid on 2 June this year.

This one-hour night raid on 2 June was unusual because it was conducted by massive numbers of armed Israeli forces operating in near-total SILENCE — which we reported on earlier, here,

It was Hussam Khader’s 25th arrest by Israeli military forces in the last 35 years.

Hussam was also deported by Israeli forces, once, dumped onto Lebanese soil, during the First Intifada, and returned five years later as the Oslo Accords went into effect.

He was imprisoned for six years during the Second Intifada —  when he was a member [elected in 1999 balloting] of the Palestine Legislative Council [PLC] set up under the Oslo Accords — on charges of  somehow funnelling Iranian funding to Fatah militants,  which he denied.  After interrogation during a near-legendary 45-day period of sleep deprivation in 2003,  and further months of  extended interrogations,  Hussam says he accepted a plea bargain to end the torture and possibly reduce the time he would be separated from his family.  He later said he was told by Israeli officials that the dossier that was used to convict him was compiled by Palestinian Authority or PA Security officials.

He was sentenced to serve six years in Israeli jail.  He was released a year early, in September 2008, for “good behavior”.

Because he was in jail during the 2006 PLC elections,  Hussam has not been an elected MP in recent years, but continues his political campaigning.

He is most known for opposing PA “corruption” — and was defeated when he ran for membership in the Fatah Central Committee in the movement’s Sixth General Conference [the first in 18 years] in Bethlehem in August 2009.   There was a clash in the Conference’s supposedly closed-to-the-press opening session, when Hussam rose from his seat in the audience to ask Mahmoud Abbas, who was presiding, about various matters.

Abbas interrupted Hussam and told him to “sit down and shut up”.

I asked Hussam in the Peace Center Bethlehem’s Manger Square [opposite Nativity Church] set up for media during the Fatah Sixth Conference, what he did.  “I sat down and shut up”, he told me.  Why did you do that, I asked?  “Out of respect”, he answered.

But, he then went out of the conference and up to Manger Square, where he gave serial interviews to every television camera and crew set up on the site, and then moved to the print media seated inside the Peace Center…

Hussam also told me, a few days later, that his greatest regret was the price his family had paid — and he said he had promised them, when he was released from Israeli jail the previous September, that he would make up to each of them for the five years without them during his imprisonment.

He lost the election in  the Sixth Fatah Conference in Bethlehem, but did not leave Fatah.  He worked for months, years, to repair some of his relations with the Fatah leadership and, despite his contacts with members of other Palestinian groups including Hamas, he strongly backed the Abbas-appointed PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

As Fatah-Hamas reconciliation contacts continued in the spring of this year, Hussam Khader made headlines in the Palestinian and international media, with statements expressing hope for national unity combined with scepticism, but always urging that Salam Fayyad be kept in office in any transitional technocratic government.

Then, just under a month after a reconcilation agreement was signed by Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Politbureau Chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo [on 4 May this year], Hussam was rearrested in the eerie and terrifying silent night raid on his home.

He was held in the IDF military base in Huwwara for over a week, then transferred to the Israeli military court in Salem.  Weeks later, with his two teenage daughters and his just-teenage son in Court, and while Hussam was waiting in a nearby room without seeing his children — and even without being brought in to face the Judge — he was sentenced to six months of Administrative Detention.

Administrative Detention is a phenomena of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory since June 1967.  In Administrative Detention cases, the evidence and even the precise charges against the Palestinian accused are kept secret — making any defense completely impossible.

In cases of Administrative Detention, the only information given to the Palestinian accused, and to his or her lawyer[s], are that they are believed to be “threats to peace and security in the area”…

Meantime, it is interesting to note that Hussam Khader was not allowed to travel, in the first year following his release from Israeli jail in September 2008.  He was not informed about any restrictions on his activities after his release [on “good behavior”], so he was shocked and outraged when he was stopped at Allenby Bridge when he tried to depart to address a conference in Germany to which he had been invited.

Somehow, and apparently without much further information being officially communicated to him, Hussam tried again to leave [in late 2010? ] to attend conferences in Lebanon and Syria.  There was no problem.  He was not stopped.  He went, and he came back, safely and without any problem, on two separate occasions.

It appeared that this travel may have been eased because he was going with the blessing of — and perhaps as an envoy of — Mahmoud Abbas…

The first trip was in the Summer of 2010, to a Conference in Damascus. The second trip was in November 2010, to a meeting in Lebanon on Palestinian refugees.

Hussam was thrilled, overjoyed, at the apparent restoration of his freedom — at least, to the extent possible under occupation.

Now, however, it appears that the reason for his terrifying re-arrest in June 2011 — and for the seven months he has now spent mostly in Israel’s Megiddo Prison north of the West Bank — are contacts he had with other attendees at and around these conferences, including with members of Hamas, many months earlier.

These contacts were not secret. Hussam talked about them publicly.

It seems that Hussam Khader may have been jailed, since June [a month after Mahmoud Abbas signed the Palestinian reconciliation agreement with Khaled Meshaal in Cairo], because of these contacts which were somehow approved by Mahmoud Abbas …

If these contacts were a security threat to Israel, there is no doubt that such a long time would have passed before any Israeli action.

This suggests that it is not Israel which feels Hussam is a “security threat”…

And, so far, no one in the Palestinian leadership — particularly, not Mahmoud Abbas — has said anything about Hussam Khader’s Administrative Detention.

On Press Cards here: the value of a PA Press Card

Here is a tale that illustrates a number of things.

Nablus, 3:30 pm on a sunny and relatively quiet Friday afternoon, at the entry to the city: an unmarked black SUV-type van, with very dark windows, was parked at 90 degree angle to road.

The unmarked black van had a Palestinian Authority [PA] license or number plate [white, with green numbers on white background], with the number 7-8600-91.

I glanced at it as I drove past, never having seen any of the usual white and marked PA security vans parked at the entry to the city — they used to be further in, at the point where you would turn if going to the Balata Refugee Camp, but never here.

But this was not a normal PA security van — it was black, unmarked, with very dark windows. Just one.

It could be PA, but not the usual security.

However, I thought, it could be Israeli … they could be using false PA plates. But, it was just one van, and the Israelis don’t ususally station themselves around the West Bank so exposed.

Suddenly, just after I passed, it pulled out right behind me, and drove quickly right up on my tail, flashing its headlights on high beams. As I slowed down, it zipped around to cut me off in front, blocking me diagonally.

Immediately, four men in civilian clothes (nice clothes, too — there were some honey- or cognac-colored suede jackets, trousers, normal shoes in good condition) jumped out of the side doors of the black unmarked van with black windows. At least two men remained inside, in the front seat of the van.

The four rush, but do not run, to my window. They’re suddenly right there. They don’t show any ID, but they don’t show any weapons, either.

In Arabic, they demand to know where I’m from. New York, I say. Then they ask to see my “hawiyya” [Palestinian ID card]. I tell them I don’t have a “hawiyya”.

I thought the best first thing to show, in the circumstances, might be my PA Press Card.

Luckily, I was right. Oh, a journalist! they said, and backed off. That was an immediately improvement in the situation. But, I felt I had to ask them why they had chased and stopped me, in such an alarming manner.

What was the reason? Why had these plainclothed officers in an unmarked black car with black windows chase + stop me for no apparent reason without showing ID? Why did they never give me any explanation? They didn’t even relax and smile, and say “Welcome”, the way the green-uniformed PA Security did at the very few Palestinian checkpoints that exist in the West Bank [at several places in Jericho, at the northern entrance to Nablus coming on the road from Shavei Shomron, and maybe one or two other spots]…

They just backed off, got into the unmarked black van, and drove away…Scary.

At least, it showed the utility and usefulness of PA Press Cards…

What is the occupation like? Aftermath of a 2 a.m. raid in Nablus + arrest of Hussam Khader

Amira, the 17-year-old daughter of Hussam Khader, said she had been studying for her final exams until midnight, then went to sleep, and was in a deep stage of sleep when she was awakened just two hours later to find a man in her bedroom, next to her bed, with a black mask over his face. He told her, in Arabic, to be quiet and not make any noise — he held his finger up to his mouth in a sign to hush. She realized it was an Israeli soldier in an olive green uniform and a big black weapon.

Then, she realized there were many men in her bedroom… She said she could not get up out of bed, at first, as she felt such fright her legs would not move, and she could not stand up.

She was brought downstairs, where her grandmother and her younger brother were sitting where they were told to stay, in the salon. Her father was being questioned by soldiers in the kitchen. She begged the soldiers not to take her father away again — his most recent imprisonment was from 2003 until 2008. For her, it was terrible to see her father being taken away,again…

She remembered all the jails she had visited him in, during his last imprisonment, and the humiliating and brutal treatment even the visitors received.

It was her laptop which was taken away — along with two desktop computers, and a number of flash drives.

She had her economics exam a few hours later. She said she did not think she did very well.


Ma’an News Agency reported Thursday morning that “Fatah lawmaker Hussam Khader, a long-time proponent of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, was taken from his home at 2am, officials said. Witnesses said 50 Israeli military jeeps had arrived in the Balata refugee camp, surrounded the home and searched its contents before taking Khader to an unknown location. [UPDATE: Hussam Khader was still in detention in the Huwwara holding center on Thursday evening] An Israeli military spokesman said he could confirm three detentions in Nablus overnight, but said he was not aware that any were PLC members. All three were taken for security questioning, he said. Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that An-Najah University professor Ghassan Thoqan was taken from his house in Nablus, as was Yasser Badersawi, the director of the Right of Return and Refugee Affairs Center. The spokesman confirmed, however, that Hamas lawmaker Abdul Rahmad Zeidan, also elected to the legislature in 2006, was detained from his home in Tulkarem. The spokesman said he could not yet comment on why the man was taken. Tayseer Nasrallah, member of the Palestinian National Council, said the detentions were an attempt by Israel to disrupt the Palestinian reconciliation process, pointing in particular at Khader’s detention and his historic support for unity”. This Maan News Agency report was published here.


Hussam Khader has been jailed 25 times since he was 16.

Once, he was deported to Lebanon.  Of all the bad things that happened to him, that was the worst, he once said.

When Hussam was taken away before dawn on Thursday morning, he was concerned about his family. He told them they had been through it before, and they must now be strong again.  In September 2008, when he was released a year early from his last imprisonment, he promised his family that he would make up for the time he had lost with them by being in jail

Continue reading What is the occupation like? Aftermath of a 2 a.m. raid in Nablus + arrest of Hussam Khader

Quote of the Day – 16th in our series: "Memory is a political issue"

Today’s quote of the Day – the 16th in our series — comes from remarks made by Israeli historian Tom Segev, interviewed by Ed Sanders in the Los Angeles Times about the significance of the 1961 trial in Jerusalem of Nazi officer Adolph Eichmann, months after Eichmann was captured and secretly abducted from a hiding place in Latin America by Israeli Mossad agents.

As’ad AbuKhalil (The Angry Arab News Service blog) linked to the interview, criticizing Sanders for asking, in a question, why Eichmann was the only person ever to have ever been given the death penalty and executed [he was hung] in Israel.

As’ad noted: “the writer then said: ‘Since Eichmann, Israel has not put anyone else to death. Why?’. Excuse me, but Israel has killed thousands since then but it does not put people to death after a trial anymore. In the case of Arabs, it kills them without trial. Eh, what does it call that? Targeted assassinations?”   This is posted both on the Angry Arab blog, and on his website here .

The interview, apparently inspired by an exhibit in an Israeli museum, is a fascinating exchange.

Sanders wrote: “Fifty years ago this month, Israel seemed to grind to a halt as people huddled around radios, listening to testimony in the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Captured by Israeli secret service agents in Argentina in 1960, Eichmann was tried, and eventually executed, as a chief architect of the Holocaust, in which 6 million European Jews were killed”. The interview is published here.

At the time of the Eichmann trial, Sanders reported, about one-fourth of Israel’s population were Holocaust survivors.

In the interview, Segev told Sanders:
“In a Cabinet meeting minutes three or four days after Eichmann’s capture, [Prime Minister] David Ben-Gurion talks about the need to bring the Holocaust closer to the new Israeli generation, which knows nothing about the Holocaust. Most of the meeting dealt with PR…. All the details are related to selling two ideas: A.) this is a sovereign country with a right to judge the criminal who hurt our citizens. And B.) that Israel represents the Holocaust victims. Israel may not represent the entire Jewish people. This would be too sensitive, especially vis-a-vis Jews in America. But it [Israel] does represent the 6 million victims“.

Continue reading Quote of the Day – 16th in our series: "Memory is a political issue"

Dangerous murders of Israeli settler family in Itamar near Nablus, dangerous reprisals against Palestinians. But where is proof of Palestinian guilt?

Five members of an Israeli family — including both parents and an infant — living in the northern West Bank settlement of Itamar, not far from Nablus, were brutally murdered in their home on Friday night.

The bodies were discovered when their 12-year-old daughter returned home. Two boys (ages 2 and 6) may have survived, according to unclear Israeli media reports in English.

The northern West Bank was put under lock-down.

All top Israeli officials have called for condemnation of this heinous crime, and said it must be punished and revenged.

Revenge has been and is being carried out against Palestinians.

But, so far, little to no proof of any Palestinian involvement has emerged.

There are footprints, reportedly, leading from a point where the Itamar security system was apparently breached … to the Palestinian village of Awarta.

UPDATE: By March 16, no one — not even a Palestinian — had been charged with the murder, despite intensive Israeli investigations. Awarta is still under lock-down. Thai workers who live in Itamar were reportedly rounded up for interrogation, and there were strong rumors that one of them, who had worked for the family and who was owed 10,000 or 20,000 shekels, was suspected, but there are still no charges against anyone…. At least one Israeli report indicated that the house was still locked from the inside when the murders were discovered. Everybody who was asked and even those who were not asked had dutifully and also sincerely denounced the murders. But those who believe that it was an act of terror committed by Palestinians, well, they still believe it. (See comment below). And, reprisals by settlers against Palestinians are continuing…

UPDATE TWO: The IDF lifted the lock-down on Awarta on Wednesday, more than five days after it began. Reports now indicate that some 40 residents are still being detained.

UPDATE THREE: The Board of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel has issued a statement saying that it “is deeply disturbed that Israeli officials are once again accusing the international media of being biased against Israel. In the latest instance, officials attending a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday dredged up ancient and unfounded conspiracy theories about an 11-year-old case [the death of Muhammad al-Durra, killed while crouching beside his father beside a concrete block in a hail of gunfire in Gaza] and without providing any evidence, tried to equate it to coverage of the weekend knife attack in Itamar. We strongly urge Israeli officials to refrain from making unsubstantiated blanket statements against the international media — a diverse group of hundreds of journalists from around the world — and encourage parliament to seek out more credible witnesses in the future”…

The FPA statement is apparently a reference to remarks made at a Knesset committee on (Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs) this week by Danny Seaman, who served for ten years as head of the Israeli Government Press Office and who is now the Deputy Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Information. The Knesset Committee Chairperson, Danny Danon of Likud, reportedly said — according to an account apparently compiled by the Committee spokesperson — that a court battle concerning the film footage of the Gaza gunbattle between the IDF and Palestinian policemen, pursued by French Jewish businessman Philippe Karsenty (now running for the French Parliament, who was present and who was one of those addressing the Knesset hearing this week) “succeeded in proving provocation and conspiracy by foreign journalists. ‘Our enemies have no problem using unacceptable and dishonest means to attack us, so that cases like this where it is possible to reveal the truth are very important for the battle over the legitimacy of the State of Israel’. Danny Seaman, who said he became convinced after his own lengthy investigation that the video footage of the shoot-out in Gaza had been at least in part staged, and who has previously spoken publicly about this in various fora for several years, told the Knesset Committee that he now also believes “there is a direct link between the position taken by the French media on the Muhammad al-Durrah incident that seeks to represent Israel as murderers of children, and their failure to cover the terrible massacre in Itamar”.

From here, it is hard to see that there was any lack of coverage of the murders of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar (much less that this is due to French television’s report on the death of Muhammad al-Durra — though Karsenty has even questioned whether or not the Palestinian child’s death was faked as well). However, it is true that the top news worldwide in the past week has been the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, followed by continuing events in Libya and Bahrain.

Meanwhile, no Israeli government official has yet said explicitly that Palestinians committed the murders in Itamar, either, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that the Palestinian Authority leadership must explicitly condemn the killings — and must also end what he said was a “campaign of incitement” against Israel…

Continue reading Dangerous murders of Israeli settler family in Itamar near Nablus, dangerous reprisals against Palestinians. But where is proof of Palestinian guilt?

Nablus: not allowed to visit Joseph's Tomb!

Yesterday, while in Nablus, we went to Joseph’s Tomb – just on the edge of downtown Nablus, and near Balata and Askar refugee camps.

There was no one else there as we parked next to the low white-washed domes.

But there was a Palestinian Security post right across the streets. One soldier/policeman came with his big gun, and said we were not allowed to be there. He gestured at the top of the mountain facing us. There I saw one of the concrete cylindrical Pillbox” towers used by Israeli forces. The Palestinian policeman said the Israelis either had, or would momentarily be, calling him on the radio to say we weren’t allowed to be there.

But, I said, the Oslo Accords provide for free access to all religious sites.

Oslo Accords, Shmoslo Accords, we couldn’t be there, and we had to leave immediately, without even getting a peek inside.

What is this?

Continue reading Nablus: not allowed to visit Joseph's Tomb!

The upcoming Hamas-Fatah football match in Nablus

News of what is described as an imminent Hamas-Fatah football match in Nablus came via Twitter, and Tweets from journalists working for major TV organizations.

It does sound like a great story.

Im Zainab did a bit of intrepid field reporting on Saturday, and learned that the match will probably be played in early June, in Nablus.

But there will not be a Hamas team playing off against a Fatah team.

That would attract a great deal of news interest, but it would probably be too much. (In fact, it is unimaginable. The recent Egyptian-Algerian soccer crisis comes to mind, but that would probably seem mild by comparison to the potential ramifications in the occupied Palestinian West Bank).

No, apparently, there will be two big teams composed of an assortment of “national forces” — among them Hamas.

There could be Hamas players on both teams, in fact.

Recently, Hamas-Fatah “reconcilation” talks have been carried out in the West Bank, where there is a greater likelihood of success if only because the Hamas politicos do their best to seem moderate, conciliatory, and critical of Hamas politicians in Gaza and in exile (mainly in Damascus).

If they were not moderate and conciliatory, they would risk being arrested in the persistent round-ups (either by Israeli or by Palestinian forces).

Imagine what would happen if an all-Hamas football team were crazy enough to actually try to win against an all-Fatah team!

This situation is dangerous…

YNet reported this tonight: “More West Bank violence: Two Israelis traveling on Hawara Road in the West Bank on Tuesday found themselves in the midst of a hail of rocks as nearby Palestinians pelted their vehicle with stones.  The two Israelis sustained light injuries, but were able to get out of the car and opened fire at the attackers”.  This news is reported here.

This is near Nablus, where four Palestinian teenagers were shot dead on Saturday and Sunday.

These two Israelis … “were able to get out of the car and opened fire at the attackers”!

Can the Palestinians do the same? Unthinkable…

UPDATE: On 24 March, Amira Hass reported in Haaretz that “A recent Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court verdict indicates that settlers may fire in the air to repel unarmed Palestinians, a ruling that a Palestinian rights advocate called a dangerous precedent. Magistrate’s Court Judge Hagit Kalmanovitch ruled last month that Abraham Hofi, of the settlement of Halamish, was not guilty of issuing threats or mishandling a weapon when he fired in the air from his father’s balcony on May 6, 2005, after observing three Palestinians shepherding a herd some 100 meters from the settlement fence. The Palestinians, two minors and an adult, testified that Hofi fired at them and that one bullet struck close to the herd. When the Palestinians remained in the area, Hofi and several other settlers went out to confront them … Michael Sfard, legal adviser to Yesh Din, a Palestinian rights group that collected the testimony from the Palestinians involved in the case, said the verdict set a dangerous precedent. ‘It invites civilians to use firearms in non-threatening situations, when the right thing to do is to call the authorities’, he said”. This post can be read in full here.