Sunday, September 19, 2004

Palestinian clan gives up daughters, saves homes

"May your house fall on you" ranks as one of Arabic's cruelest curses. In the sleepy hamlet of Assira a-Shamaliya, near Nablus, last Wednesday, two families of the Jawabra clan paid a heavy price to avoid this blight: They handed over their daughters, suspected of planning a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, to the IDF.

Before daybreak, a Shin Bet security service field agent known locally as Gilad pointed to the predawn sky.
"Hear that," he said on separate visits to the two families, "that plane will destroy your house if you don't surrender your daughter to the authorities."

By noon the families of Lina and Adilah Jawabra – cousins, roommates, and terror suspects – dropped off their daughters not at their elementary education class at Nablus's an-Najah University, but an IDF checkpoint.

Dozens of terrorists, including the intifada's first female suicide bomber, were recruited over the past four years at the university.

The IDF and the Shin Bet are increasingly using the controversial tactic of house demolition to persuade suspected suicide bombers to surrender, partly because it occasionally works, said a security official Sunday night.
On Thursday, another Palestinian man surrendered his grandson outside of Nablus, the security service reported, but it would not give his name citing "security concerns."

Intelligence officers often act like salesmen and apparently Gilad is good at what he does. He told both families that if their daughters really have nothing to hide they might as well come in for questioning.

In the space of a few early morning hours, Gilad managed to convince both branches of the Jawabra clan to set out for Nablus at dawn, retrieve their daughters, and drop them off at brigade headquarters at the Beit Iba checkpoint west of Nablus.

As Adilah's father, Hassan, recounts, Gilad told him soothingly that "you have a good daughter, but she has gotten herself in with the wrong crowd. Now you are all in trouble."

The decision, really a terrible trade-off, recalls Hassan, was by far the most difficult of his life.

Gilad gave Lina's family 30 minutes to make their decision, at which time he drove to Hassan Jawabra, who was not offered the same luxury. Within minutes Hassan had Adilah on the other line. Ignoring her protestations of innocence, her father told Adilah that as per Shin Bet instructions he and his nephew, Ayman, were on their way to pick up the girls.

Hassan had lived all of his 71 years in this house, and since 1973 has spent every spare penny renovating it – although the top story remains unfinished, he conceded abashedly. Bent by decades of construction work, Hassan wears a gossamer shawl over his large skullcap and quickly loses track of a guest's conversation. In his reedy voice, Hassan spoke from a living room empty save for a few plastic chairs and a foam mat.

"We decided the way we did," intoned Hassan, "because we believed she is innocent and felt, if we took them ourselves to the army, the girls would not be harmed."

The instance of female recruits for suicide missions, still a taboo for the majority of Palestinians, has jumped from 4 percent to 8 percent in the past year, according to the latest data from the Shin Bet.

Lina's brother, Ayman, and her mother Rashika also proclaimed that their decision only partly concerned the razing of their house. Ayman, a builder by trade, spent the better part of the last six years paying for and building the family's three-story house, still in a skeletal state.

While accompanying this reporter to his car, Ayman proudly showed off the mosaic wall he had built at the home's entrance. He then insisted that he be photographed before a strip of turquoise chips he painstakingly pieced together to read "Welcome" in Arabic.

Composed mainly of farmers and construction workers, the Jawabra nuclear family has no links to terrorist organizations, family members said Sunday.

The Shin Bet said it would not elaborate on the methods it uses in particular cases, but admitted that threats of house demolitions occasionally yield terrorists' surrender. It also hinted that the assassination the night before of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Hani Aked hastened the girls' surrender.

But it was the call from their families, said Hassan Jawabra and his nephew Ayman Jawabra, that persuaded the girls – who denied all the allegations against them – to turn themselves in.

"Had she died," whimpered Hassan, no longer wiping the tears from his sea-green eyes, "it would have been better for me." What Hassan did not say is that time in prison makes religious women undesirable and unmarriageable.

Across the room from Hassan sat Bushra Sawalha, who had lost her daughter Kamli in December 2003 when IDF troops opened fire on the car she was traveling in. The soldiers had intelligence that she was a suicide bomber. Turns out she was not, and the IDF later apologized for the killing.

Wearing men's shoes and tending to her slain daughter's toddler, Sawalha spat, "I only wish my daughter had died as a martyr [a suicide bomber]. This is the only way to treat the Jews."

Ignoring the interruption, Hassan continued: "If [the allegations] turn out to be true I will slaughter her. We paid for her tuition to study, not to..." His voice trailed off.

His wife, whose weight and diabetes keep her confined to the family homestead, then interjected, "I wish they had taken me, or better her father, instead of Adilah."
While he wept, she beat her face with the palms of her hands. "Look at him," she said, "he is old, and now weeps every night."

Dalia Kerfpein, Director of the Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, said that such Shin Bet tactics are "not at all unusual. The threat always happens, but the families do not always surrender the kids."

At press time the two young women were held at Neveh Tirza women's prison in Ramle.

Both sides of the Jawabra families also declared that they would kill the men who recruited their daughters. But this, of course, is only if the allegations prove true, both added.