Hamas mourns its greatest martyr: Robert Fisk in Marj al-Zohour, southern Lebanon, hears how a Palestinian came to die for the Islamic 'revolution' in Israel
If anyone asked you to identify the brother of Imad Akel - the most important Hamas activist ever shot dead by the Israeli army - you would choose Adel Akel at once from among the remaining 215 Palestinian deportees at Marj al- Zohour. He is short and unsmiling with a muscular face and hard eyes, a red and white keffiyah draped round his shoulders, a man who was thrown into Israeli prisons nine times before the Israelis exiled him almost a year ago.
On the tents, on cardboard boxes, on the wall of their makeshift mosque, even on the rocks, the Palestinians of Marj al- Zohour have pasted portraits of their most prestigious 'martyr', a picture which was transmitted to the camp's fax machine by colleagues in Gaza. The deportees have crayoned in a few features, shading Imad Akel's eyebrows and moustache and thickening his beard. But you can still tell the likeness between the 24- year-old Gazan, the leader of Hamas's Ezzedin al-Qassem brigade shot dead by the Israelis at a road-block five days ago, and his older brother Adel.
'I heard about his death at eight on Wednesday evening, just an hour-and-a- half after he was shot,' Adel Akel said. 'I was in my tent - number 13 - listening to the Israeli radio news in Hebrew and they said that Imad had been killed. How do I explain what I felt? It was like thunder in my mind. But I was expecting this news each and every moment of the day and night. So I cried because I missed him, and the brothers (deportees) arrived at my tent to give me their condolences.'
Adel Akel stood as he spoke, refusing to sit down during our interview, all the time leaning on the table of the camp's 'medical centre' and then taking little walks round the mat which covers the earthen floor.
Imad was the youngest of three brothers - the oldest, Abdul Fatah, is the imam of a mosque in Jordan - and studied to be a pharmacist before religion and anger impelled him to join the military wing of Hamas. Adel Akel's memories of his brother, while necessarily adulatory - first in the class at elementary school, assistant to his own teacher in preparatory school - reveal something of the nature of Israel's remaining enemies in the West Bank and Gaza, of the young men who will go on opposing the Palestine Liberation Organisation-Israeli accord. Imad, it seems, was more interested in geography classes than Islamic revolution until the Israelis arrested him, along with Adel, on 23 September 1988.
'Before that, he really wasn't interested in politics or even religion,' his brother said. 'But some of his relatives were arrested. His cousin Walid Akel was jailed. And other, more distant relatives were shot dead by the Israelis. He started reading the Holy Koran.
'He had no girlfriends and I used to say to him that he should get married and have children but he just shrugged me away and said he would think about that later, when the future was clear. We supported Hamas and were jailed together the first time. Politics was my weapon and it still is - that's why I was imprisoned - but after he was released, Imad became a fighter.
'The last time I saw him was two years ago in Gaza. Imad came to see me one night, and said to me that the Israelis were after him. That's how I knew he had become a fighter. He said to me: 'The Israelis are after me and they will go on following me until I fight back and then I will die at their hands and, for this reason, I will go to paradise.'
The Israeli army says it caught Imad Akel with another man at a checkpoint, that he drew a gun and opened fire but was shot dead by the Israeli soldiers on the road-block. However, his brother insists he was shot in cold blood in a suburb of Gaza City, that a small portion of his body, shot away by the bullets, was buried by Palestinians and that the remainder was recovered by the Israelis who ordered it to be buried in the Jabaliya refugee camp at night in order to avoid demonstrations. 'A few months ago, my parents, Hassan and Fatmah Akel, went to ask (Yitzhak) Rabin (the Israeli Prime Minister) to stop pursuing Imad. He met them and told them only that he should turn himself in.'
Adel Akel believes, like the rest of the Palestinian deportees in southern Lebanon, that he will be allowed to return to the occupied territories on 9 December - 'enough time', as one of them said, 'to hold us for three days and then release us during the Israeli redeployment in Gaza and Jericho, when no one will bother about us'. But there are those who fear that some Palestinians will bother about them far too much.
In the tent mosque was the group's official spokesman, Abdul-Aziz Rantissi, a doctor. How long, I asked him, before he was locked up in a Palestinian instead of an Israeli prison? 'One or two years,' he said, his usual good humour disappearing. '(Yasser) Arafat will need time to threaten people and mislead them over his tricks before he can get away with jailing me. But I think the new Palestinian regime will kill me. I will be assassinated in two years.'
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