The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (AAMB) is an armed Palestinian resistance movement on several lists of “terrorist” organizations. In 2002 Al-Aqsa was officially added to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. On Nov 29 2004 -while in the West Bank as a human rights activist- I was granted an impromptu interview with a leader and spokesperson for the AAMB in the Nablus region, a centre of resistance to the Israeli occupation. The subject of the interview (referred to only as AA here) was born in a local refugee camp. With his weapon at his side and a translator, AA agreed to answer any questions. What followed was a revealing discussion that broke through a number of stereotypes and left some much larger questions unanswered.
TF: How old are you?
AA: 28 years old
TF: How long have you been a resistance fighter?
AA: Four years with the AAMB.
TF: How did you become involved?
AA: Four years ago each of the resistance groups started new brigades. We demonstrated after Ariel Sharon entered the mosque. The Israelis tried to assassinate many brigade leaders and this is when the resistance grew. Each time there is an operation we try to stop them. Israelis call civilians “resistance fighters” and the media does not show any invasion or incursion unless Palestinians attack Israelis. We are a peaceful people. We don’t want Israel on our land. We want peace with all countries.
TF: What are your thoughts on President Bush’s election victory?
AA: There are no problems between the American and Palestinian people, but Bush’s decisions to support Israel gives Sharon a license and a green light to attack Palestinians. The problems are with the president and the government, not the American people.
TF: Have you had your picture taken for your martyr poster?
AA: Yes, in 2002 I had it done after an attempt on my life. We believe in God. God gives life and God takes it away. We have nothing to lose. I have brothers both martyred and in jail. Being a martyr for the cause of the Palestinian people is a good thing.
TF: Are you currently wanted by the Israeli police?
TF: How do you feel about international activists? Are they effective in supporting the Palestinian people?
AA: Internationals are welcome anytime. We love the people’s support. Even though you are not an army, you still help in your solidarity. Sometimes internationals are standing near the army jeeps so we don’t shoot. Internationals help protect the citizens, but the Israeli army doesn’t careâ€¦look what happened to Rachel Corrie.
TF: Many suicide bombers have come from this region. How do you feel about this?
AA: We have no other way to fight. It’s the only weapon we have.
TF: How is it decided who will become a suicide bomber?
AA: Those who do it believe and trust God. No one is told to do it. No one has told me to do it.
TF: In the last few years there have been several women taking up the cause as suicide bombers, one of them from a nearby refugee camp. How do you feel about this?
AA: I personally don’t agree with it, but a woman who chooses to be involved in an “operation” is showing that she is equal with the men in the struggle.
TF: Why is the Nablus area such a place of resistance to the occupation?
AA: There are four refugee camps full of people wanting to go back to their land. All the leaders of the brigades are from the camps. The Israeli army is killing children and women so we’ll fight until the end. (AA then spoke of the number of people killed during the intifada and the high percentage of these coming from the camps).
TF: What are your thoughts on the upcoming election for Palestinian leadership? Do you support a certain candidate?
AA: The AAMB have decided to support the candidate that the person on the street supports. Anyone who gets the vote of the people we will respect.
TF: What do you do to relax?
AA: I watch Al Jazeera, look at the internet, meet with friends, but I have no peace or safety until the occupation ends.
TF: If there were to be peace, an end to the occupation, what would you do then?
AA: I would join the police. I had a good job before the intifada. I have a wife, children, I want to live in peace.
TF: Do you worry about your personal safety and your family’s safety?
AA: Yes. I can only be in the refugee camps and the Old City. Some nights I sleep in other places. An attack could happen to any family here, not only mine.
TF: Are you ever afraid?
AA: We are always looking to see if there are strange faces. If there are, we will check. My brother and friends help with this.
TF: Is there a message you would like to get out to the North American people?
AA: My message isâ€¦stand near us. We are not terrorists. We need a homeland, a government, safety. All our fighting is small operation compared to Israel. We have bullets, but Israel has tanks, Apache helicopters, chemical weapons, thousands of soldiers. Please support the Palestinian cause. Our situation is unfair. God will help you.
TF: Do you hate the Jewish people because of the occupation?
AA: We have nothing against the Jews. We don’t want Israel’s occupation. We want a homeland. This is not about race. We do not want to kill Jews, just an end to the occupation.
(The final 2 questions were asked lightheartedly, ending the interview)
TF: Why do you wear black? Don’t you think you’d look better in brighter colors?
TF: What is your favorite food?
AA: Chicken. When you come back we will sit right here in my home and eat together. But if I don’t survive until then, please forgive me. I apologize.
Thomas Feakins is a Canadian social worker and activist recently returned from the West Bank.