This is a letter posted by an Israeli citizen who is friends with a Palestinian who lives in Gaza.
The names have been changed to protect identity.
I hate the Hamas. Not only because they want to kill me (I am Israeli). My hate stems first and foremost from the atrocities they commit to their own people. In Gaza.
How do I know this? Because I have friends in Gaza and they told me.
The Hamas turned the lives of the people of Gaza to a living hell. Specifically, the Hamas stripped them from human rights, took away their dignity and turned them into human shields in the war with Israel. The Hamas abuse the people of Gaza in order to ruthlessly enforce its doctrine. Whoever resists, risks losing his/her life.
The Hamas does not represent the people of Gaza. The Hamas is a monster the people of Gaza are terrified of.
Yes, that is worth repeating. The people of Gaza are terrified of the Hamas as much, or more than, they are terrified of Israel.
This is the story of my 21-years friendship with Sahil (names were changed to protect identity). We met in LA, it was an exhibit for the 90 year anniversary of Harley Davidson.
I was wearing a T-shirt with Hebrew writing on it, and at some point I noticed a person staring at me. I don’t recall how we started talking. When he told me his name was Sahil (clearly an Arab name) I was apprehensive, but soon our mutual interest for motorcycles took over and the conversation naturally flowed.
He was from Gaza. He worked in construction in Israel for a few years and saved money to study electrical engineering in the U.S. He actually lived in Tel-Aviv for a while when he was working in Israel. Israel is a very small country, and it didn’t take long for us to find mutual acquaintances.
That’s how our friendship started. We would meet to grab lunch together because we couldn’t meet and go drinking at night, “Muslim laws don’t allow that!” he would say, and I had to sadly accept that drinking nights were not happening with Sahil.
After a short while he introduced me to Nasrin. Nasrin was from a well-to-do family in the west bank. Let’s just say she had a very comfortable life. She was an exchange student at Berkeley CA, incredibly smart. They were an adorable couple.
After a while it was time for me to go back to Israel, but we stayed in touch over the phone.
Sahil was very excited about the Oslo accords, which were being negotiated at the time. He would say “Your General Rabin is a good guy, you’ll see he will build something good around here”.
I had my doubts, and we had some lively discussion on the peace process.
The Oslo accords were finally signed in 1993. A week later he called me, excited to tell me that he was moving back to Gaza, where his family lived. He sounded very happy.
“I have a surprise for you”, he said. “Nasrin and I decided to get married. Her family wasn’t too supportive at first but, praise Allah everything worked out”.
I couldn’t make it to the wedding.
In the following years he told me about Gaza, how it is being built, about Nasrin’s first pregnancy, about the generous financial support they got from Nasrin’s parents to build their new house, and that her parents were also begging them to leave Gaza and move closer to them, in the west bank.
Then came the El-Akza intifada (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of 2000). I called Sahil to ask how he was doing. This was ironic as I, a reserve soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), was in a tank at the time observing Ramallah, another Palestinian town. He did not sound friendly at all this time. He said, “Your president, Sharon, is a pig, he will ruin everything”. I didn’t know what to say, so I just asked him to take care.
Our talks continued at low frequency. One day he said he had enough of the Palestinian authority, that they were all corrupt. They are taking all the aid money to themselves and are driving in their Mercedes in Palestinian towns, while the rest of the people lived in poverty. “If Nasrin’s parents didn’t give us money we wouldn’t have enough for food” he said. He was unemployed for 6 months at the time, as it was forbidden to work in Israel. “But now” he continued, “The Hamas is here and they will take care of the corruption, I will vote for them in the next elections”.
I was very upset to hear this. I told him that with all due respect for Hamas I do not trust them, they scare me (maybe because their goal is to destroy the state of Israel). Sahil did not agree. He said the Hamas are very religious people, honest people.
“Do you know how much charity they give?” he asked. “They fixed all the houses of the elderly in my town”.
“Sahil”, I said, “this charity they give comes with a price. They have an agenda”. We argued. But Sahil voted for the Hamas anyway.
In those early days he said the Hamas was good for Gaza. They took care of the corruption of the Palestinian authority (Fatah), which he referred to as “criminals” (which, I agree, they were). The Fatah were chased out of Gaza.
Then the rockets on Israel started.
It was difficult for me to talk with Sahil when, from his hometown, rockets were being shot into Israel. I told him so, I said “In Sderot (an Israeli town close to the Gaza strip border) there are citizens, innocent people, children”. He said, “What do you want? You guys shoot too”. Our phone calls became more and more scarce.
One day, after a long break in our phone calls, I called.
He wouldn’t admit it at first, but then, he said that the situation was getting dire. The Hamas instilled a reign of terror in Gaza.
“No one can speak up,” he whispered over the phone.
One day he called me. This time he was really worried. He said his oldest son joined the Hamas youth movement. He tried to stop him, to no avail. Sahil admitted that he knew the kids were brain -washed at the Hamas youth movement. He didn’t want his son to be a martyr (the ultimate goal the Hamas preached).
“I gave this child everything”, he said, “ I kept him protected from all the bad influences prevalent in Gaza. He is an excellent student. Why does he want to go with them?”
Operation Cast lead (the Hamas-Israeli conflict of 2009) came to us as a surprise. I asked Sahil to be careful. All he could say is that everything is in Allah’s hands. As a reserve soldier I was recruited for this operation, but luckily I was far from Sahil ‘s neighborhood.
Sahil called me when I was on duty, he was in panic: “The Hamas are on the roof of my house!” he whispered. “The Zionist tanks are shooting all around! Its just a matter of time until the shoot a missile right into my house!”
“Run away!” I told him. Take Nasrin and the kids and run!”
“I can’t run” he replied. “The Hamas told us that whoever runs away will be declared a coward and will be prosecuted. I can’t risk that”.
I tried to contact my friends in the IDF who were operating in Sahil ‘s neighborhood. I didn’t even know where his house was but I tried to save it.
Operation Cast Lead ended. But the forceful reign to the Hamas in Gaza didn’t. Sahil would tell me about his life in Gaza of the Hamas. He would talk about people who dared question the Hamas and subsequently disappeared from their homes in the middle of the night. Hamas imposed new rules; they could easily get people into one of the two new jails they built for allegations such as “adultery”, “treason” and worst of all – collaboration with America or the Zionist enemies. He told me of his son, who was required to learn how to shoot and fight. About People in the Hamas who would rape young women and then lock these women in jail for “adultery”. He said that women are forced to wear a head cover. If they don’t, they are disciplined by public flogging.
In contrast, Hamas members would ride around town on motorcycles, Land Rovers or Mercedes cars. Their favorite pastime was to drive around town and beat people up just for the fun of it.
During operation Pillar of Defense (the 2012 Hamas-Israeli conflict), Sahil ‘s house was hit and the roof was destroyed. My heart broke to hear of all the valuable and ancient rugs and furniture Sahil and Nasrin got from Nasrin’s parents, now lost.
Sahil said he wanted to rebuild the house, but there was no cement available. The Hamas had all the cement. I asked, “What are they doing with so much cement”, but he did not reply.
A week later Nasrin called me herself (an unusual thing to do for a Muslim woman). She spoke English, as usual, but she was in palpable distress. “They took him!” she gasped. “They took Sahil. I don’t know what they want of him”. Sahil ‘s dad tried to stop them and they beat him up – an 80-year-old man! I am afraid of what they will do to Sahil.”
“They arrested him?” I asked. “Why”?
“They said he is a collaborator with the Americans and the Zionists. He spent some time in the U.S (where he studied), so that was suspicious. They said that he is trying to poison the youth. But I know the truth”, She continued, “It is because he wouldn’t let our son go to a youth meeting. I am so scared!”
Three months later Sahil was released. His release was made possible after his family managed to raise enough money to give to the right people. When I talked with him, he sounded like an old man. He said his oldest son calls him a traitor and a collaborator with the Zionists. They are now estranged.
He was also worried about their daughters, the oldest is 16. He was afraid the Hamas would take them. Also, when Sahil was in jail, the Hamas police came and took all of Nasrin’s valuable jewelry. This jewelry was intended to be the dowry for the girls. Now they had none.
One day, Nasrin called again. She said that Sahil would not tell me, but he was badly beaten in jail, and that they broke both his legs. The Hamas wouldn’t allow him access to proper medical care for his injuries, and now he is severely disabled and cannot walk unassisted.
Our last phone call was 11 days ago. I begged Sahil to run away. Somewhere, anywhere. To Egypt perhaps? He said “forget it” the Hamas won’t let anyone leave. And the Egyptians arrest anyone who tries to. There is nowhere to go.”
Since then, I tried to call Sahil and Nasrin multiple times. They don’t answer the phone. We are not Facebook friends because Sahil didn’t want to get in trouble for having an Israeli friend.
I hope and pray they survived. One of the reasons I wrote this post is in hope that they, or someone who knows them, would see it and contact me with information about Sahil and Nasrin.
I also know there are many Sahils and Nasrins living in Gaza. I just hope that at some point they can get organized and resist the Hamas in order to create a better society, one that allows free speech, provides jobs, one that will create a better future for their kids (and ours)