Monday, September 15, 2008

Gaza lies: "Shalit gets birthday cake every year"

The Sunday Times had some real reporting over the weekend, as Christine Tooney goes to Gaza to find out what she can about Gilad Shalit.

Her main finding is that terrorists are liars:
“Nobody from the political or military wing of Hamas knows where Shalit is,” [Mahmoud Zahhar] says, disingenuously, sitting by my side in a starched safari suit. “Only the small group who kidnapped him know. They are very secretive.”

He says he has no idea of the conditions in which Shalit is being held, only that they must be better than those of the more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners whose release Hamas is demanding for his safe return.


While Zahar and Yousef are reluctant to discuss Shalit, members of the Doghmush clan are happy to brag about how well he is being treated. I meet them in a garage of one of the many buildings the clan owns in the Sabra district. Abu Khatab Doghmush, a 51-year-old clan elder, is sitting with family on a sofa pushed against a wall.

Abu Khatab insists that the Army of Islam is not holding Shalit. “The only faction that controls his life now is the Qassam Brigades,” he says, his heavy gold watch flapping against his wrist. “But I can tell you that Shalit is living in a paradise. Our religion of Islam demands that we look after prisoners even more than we do our own people.” He rejects speculation that Shalit is locked deep in an underground cell booby-trapped with explosives: “He’s not being kept in a closed room all the time – this would not be healthy. He can go out and take fresh air.”

Abu Khatab then makes an extraordinary claim: “Every year a party is held to celebrate his birthday. Yes, there is a cake and candles, music, everything.” Shalit, born on August 28, 1986, has now spent three birthdays in captivity.

The claim that Shalit is being well treated is repeated by everyone I meet. His plea that he needs hospitalisation is dismissed by Abu Khatab. “No, it is I who require hospitalisation,” he says, kicking off his plastic sandal to reveal a foot eaten away by gangrene.

...Over the days that follow, repeated attempts to talk to the al-Qassam Brigades are rejected. Again and again I am referred back to Hamas political leaders such as Zahar as the only ones able to speak about Shalit. With Zahar and others claiming only al-Qassam knows anything, the circle of professed ignorance and denial is closed.


When Abu Mujahed arrives, I am taken aback. We have spent time watching young PRC recruits training – all wear black balaclavas and carry AK-47s. But 24-year-old Abu Mujahed wears a beige suit and brown shirt, a look that would not be out of place in a cheesy video on an Arabic music channel. He has come straight from his brother’s wedding, he says, before explaining in clear English (he is studying multimedia technology at university) precisely how a prisoner exchange should work.

“After the Israelis free the first 100 Palestinian prisoners, Shalit would be moved to Egypt. Once he’s in Egypt, the Israelis would have to free 1,000 more of our brothers and sisters before he is released. We were very close to agreeing a deal a year ago, then the Israelis stopped negotiations. We were amazed that they were prepared to go back to zero. It is the Israelis who are putting obstacles in the way of an agreement.

“If we do not see some results soon, we will be forced to close the file,” he concludes ominously.

When I ask how much he knows about Shalit’s whereabouts and the conditions he is kept in, Abu Mujahed repeats the mantra that he is being treated well, “according to our religion”. Only a small group know where Shalit is held, he claims, and they communicate by means of dead letter drops, mobile phones being too easy to track.

In the end, the people who claim to know how Shalit is being treated profess ignorance as to his whereabouts and those who know his whereabouts don't say how he is being treated, meaning that everyone is lying.

It is rare to see real reporting nowadays; this is an excellent article.