Where To Now?

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A young girl washes a work horse in the Mediterranean, near Gaza City

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The vigor is evident late at night in Gaza's poor Zeitoun neighborhood, as 1,000 Hamas men pour out of evening prayers in the Imam Shafai Mosque. They have listened to Sheik Abdel Aziz Rantisi, 55, one of the most powerful and radical leaders of Hamas. Rantisi told them, "My beloved ones, you will continue your resistance to the day of victory." Now their march begins, from the mosque to the house of a bereaved family. It is not the slow shuffle of protesters on the Washington Mall or Trafalgar Square; these men move almost at a jog. Rantisi is sandwiched between two bodyguards, in front and behind him, each with a Kalashnikov. The march glides fast through the dark and kicks up a billow of dust from the unpaved street, so that the green Islamic banners carried by adherents appear to ride on a cloud.

Except for Rantisi, the crowd is young, mostly students and men under 30. If they did not already believe that Hamas has the answers to their grievances, then they would come to feel it in the torrent of youthful muscle and belief that cascades along the dirt road.

The Convert to Peace
Sheik Abdullah Nimr Dar-wish knows that hate can be overcome. Charming and intense, he offers himself as an example. Hate was the cocoon that nurtured him, until he flew free of it. Darwish, 54, believes his personal history is an illustration of why no one should give up on the Palestinians, even now when they have drifted so far from where the world thought they were headed.

When Israel was founded in 1948, Darwish's family remained in their village, Kafr Qassem, though it had become a part of the Jewish state. Darwish grew up with Israeli citizenship, though his village, like the other Arab communities within Israel, lived under military law for the first 20 years of the new state's existence. One day when he was 9, Darwish was riding home from the cabbage fields with three other relatives on a small donkey cart led by his Uncle Ghazi. While they had been tending their crops, Israeli authorities had placed a curfew on Kafr Qassem; unknown to the farmers, the deadline for the curfew had passed before their cart approached some Israeli soldiers in the twilight. The soldiers did not say anything; as Darwish remembers it, they simply shot Uncle Ghazi and the two other men. The donkey bolted for home, and Darwish fell back among the cabbages in the cart. That's how he survived. When he got home, the terrified boy sobbed to his father: "The Jews killed Uncle." There were 47 villagers slain that day in similar circumstances. Even now, Darwish says, "I live through that massacre every day."

Revenge was the future Darwish saw for himself. In 1971 he formed the Islamic Movement, a group of Arab Israelis that advocated armed struggle against the state. Israeli authorities threw him in jail, where, he says, he was tortured. But when he was released he faced the same dilemma that confronts Palestinians now: accommodate Israel or face ceaseless suffering. In the early 1980s Darwish began making contact with Israeli peace activists; those relationships, he says, helped him take on "the mentality of coexistence." Now he lectures three times a week to Israelis, advocating greater tolerance between the country's 1.2 million Arab citizens and the Jewish majority of 5.3 million. Frequently, he visits Arafat and urges him to conciliate, just as the sheik himself did years ago. Arafat recently asked Darwish how he could get the Israelis to trust him again. "Well," Darwish said, "you could stop shouting about a million martyrs marching on Jerusalem." Darwish says Arafat's aides were angered by his criticism, but within a week Arafat had dropped the martyrdom mantra from his public addresses.

Sheik Darwish has learned to live with the ghosts of the massacre that haunt him. He looks them in the eye and respects the role they played in his journey, but they don't rule his life. Now an entire people faces that same challenge — to succumb to the hateful anguish of loss, or to honor the sacrifice of the departed with peace.

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