Palestinian 'Brothers' Pitted Against Each Other
CAPT. Fayez Mamlouk, commander of a unit that protects PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, has paid a heavy price for his service to the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dream of a Palestinian state.
Captain Mamlouk spent the last three decades with the Palestine Liberation Army fighting battles against Israelis in the West Bank and Lebanon, against the Jordanian Army in Jordan, and against a Syrian-backed rebel element of the mainstream PLO faction, Fatah, in Lebanon.
But today he has a new opponent: fellow Palestinians who support militant groups opposed to peace with Israel, such as the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. They portray Mr. Arafat as a puppet of the Israelis with whom he signed a five-year deal for limited self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho in 1993.
The Islamic militants' campaign of suicide bombings against Israeli soldiers has all but halted the peace process. Israel demands that Arafat rein in the militants and deliver the security dividend that Israelis were promised by their leaders before more progress can be made.
Mamlouk spent the years leading up to the Gulf war in a Palestinian military camp in Baghdad, Iraq, where he had been trained after leaving Gaza in 1967. During the Gulf war, Mamlouk lost a daughter and his son was seriously injured when a US-made bomb that one of his sons had found in the garden exploded and ignited a gasoline drum.
Mamlouk has been rewarded for his sacrifices by being put in charge of Force 17, a unit of the Palestinian Police in charge of Arafat's security, including possible attacks on him by militants.
Reunited with his family in the Gaza City home he left 28 years ago, he retains the hope he experienced when he returned to Jericho in May last year when Israeli soldiers withdrew under the 1993 Israel-PLO peace accord.
''There will not be a civil war here,'' Mamlouk says. ''I don't believe Arafat will allow this to happen. Israel is trying to create this kind of war. If Israel wanted to avoid a civil war here, it could remove the Israeli settlements in Gaza,'' says Mamlouk, referring to some 4,500 Jewish settlers who have made the Gaza Strip home.
Under the the Israeli-PLO accord, the future of Jewish settlers in Gaza and the West Bank does not have to be finalized until final status negotiations scheduled for May 1996.
But the settlements irk the militants, who say that Arafat should be tougher and require all Israelis to withdraw from Palestinian population centers now. The militants say they will continue attacks on Israelis until they withdraw.
Since seven Israeli soldiers and an American citizen were killed in suicide bombings near Jewish settlements in Gaza a week ago, Arafat has stepped up his campaign against the militants by arresting more than 200 and demanding that militants hand in all unlicensed weapons by May 11.
Mamlouk, who is policing the handing in of weapons by militants, defended the crackdown on Islamic militants and Arafat's special security courts, which convicted three Islamic militants last week for planning attacks against Israel. The courts have been condemned by Palestinian and international human rights groups as ''undemocratic'' and likely to undermine the rule of law in Palestinian self-rule areas.
''We hope that these courts will improve the security situation,'' Mamlouk says. ''The courts have been established to create law and order and to prosecute those breaking the law.''
The courts, headed by policemen, were set up in February when attempts to try Islamic militants through the civil justice system were stopped after militants intimidated the judges.
Mamlouk says that he does not have a fight with members of militant Islamic groups as such, describing them as ''my Muslim brothers.''
''I work according to the law. If Hamas works against the law, then I will have to work against Hamas,'' Mamlouk says. ''I have to protect the ordinary people.''
Mamlouk says that the disillusionment with the peace accord among Palestinians is understandable as the limited self-rule has not delivered the expectations that Palestinians had of it. But he is confident that the Palestinian police have the support of at least 70 percent of Palestinians.
''The nature of people is that they want everything to be done fast,'' he says. ''Israel has left behind a shattered [Palestinian] society that is riddled with collaborators. It will take a long time to clean things up and to really change this situation.''
Mamlouk is part of a Palestinian police force of 9,000 armed fighters who patrol Gaza and Jericho, and another 9,000 in auxiliary positions.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin says that Arafat's response is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. He said that it could take ''months'' before it could be determined whether Arafat's Palestinian Authority -- the council set up to administer self-rule -- is effective.
''A bloody conflict, which has been raging for 100 years ... can only be resolved by means of a process -- not a stopwatch,'' Mr. Rabin told Labor Party legislators Thursday.
''I made it clear that we will continue the dialogue with the Palestinians, but only based on the premise that they do their part ... in assuring us that they are operating decisively against armed groups under their jurisdiction...,'' he said while visiting injured soldiers Thursday.