Ma’an Exclusive – “I have waited 30 years to come back to
Palestine, and I won’t leave. I will wait until I get a Palestinian ID card
so I can bring back my wife and children,” said Khalid Abu Isba, one of two
Palestinian fighters who survived the famous attack on a beach in north of
Tel Aviv on 11 March 1978.

In the city for Fatah’s upcoming convention, Abu Isba was speaking during an
interview at Ma’an’s Bethlehem office.

The operation that made him famous was led by the legendary female fighter
Dalal Al-Mughrabi. Al-Mughrabi’s name is synonymous with the 1978 attack,
which is today a symbol of an earlier era when the Palestinian movement was
led by refugees living in Lebanon and other places of exile, struggling to
retrieve the homeland they lost in 1948.

The Palestinians who carried it out called the attack the “Martyr Kamal
Udwan operation,” after the PLO chief of operations killed in an Israeli
commando raid on Beirut in April 1973. The Israelis called it “Coastal Road
Massacre.”

Palestine, Abu Isba says, is the homeland for which he sacrificed in the
1978 operation that saw him injured and detained. During that operation, 13
Palestinian fighters hijacked an Israeli bus, and fierce battle erupted
between them and Israeli forces. Thirty five Israelis were killed as well as
all the Palestinian fighters except Abu Isba and another named Hussein
Fayyad.

Both were injured and detained by Israeli forces. After spending seven years
in prison, both were released in a prisoner exchange deal in 1985 between
Israel and The Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine- General
Command led then by Ahmad Jibreel.

Abu Isba says he was worried Israel would not allow him to come to Palestine
to partake in sixth Fatah conference in Bethlehem. For reasons that may
never be known, Israeli authorities allowed the former guerilla leader to
cross into the West Bank this weekend.

Yet Abu Isba is returning to a Palestine, and a Fatah, that have changed
dramatically in the three decades since the raid on the coast road. Inside
the occupied territories, his movement has become closely identified with
the Oslo peace accords and its offspring, the hapless bureaucracy of the
Palestinian Authority. A weak Palestinian “sovereignty” has returned to a
few square kilometers of the homeland, but the rest has been annexed,
splintered, and subdivided over the Olso years. Fatah is embroiled in a
bitter power struggle with Hamas. It is a movement also seeking to reconcile
its past as a resistance movement with its present state.

While visiting Ma’an, however, Abu Isba seemed happy to be back in one
corner of Palestine. He says he is happy with the young Palestinian
generation. “For your sake, young people, we sacrificed, and we will
continue to,” he said.

”Bring back the Fatah of the revolution”

Asked about his expectations for the Fatah conference, he said, “After the
conference is finished, Fatah should continue with change, close the ranks,
and restore Fatah’s dignity.”

The veteran fighter said he hoped his movement would return to a program of
popular resistance.

“We hope the conference will bring back the Fatah of the revolution, the
Fatah of Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat] and the Fatah of sacrifices after waiting
20 years since the fifth conference,” he added.

Abu Isba applauded the decision to increase the number of delegates to the
conference to 2,260 highlighting that more delegates are still needed in
order to cover all the regions where Fatah is active. He pointed out that
Fatah in Jordan and Lebanon need to have more representatives in the
conference. He mentioned that late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat had
increased the number of delegates to the fifth conference 20 years ago.

With regards to Hamas’ refusal to allow Fatah delegates from Gaza to leave
to Bethlehem, Abu Isba said, “Hamas plans to thwart Fatah conference to tell
the world that Fatah is unable to lead the Palestinian people.”

“They [Hamas] try to impose religion by force, thus, the Palestinian people
in the beloved Gaza Strip will rebel. If Hamas was confident about its
strength, and popularity, they would have accepted president Abbas’ call for
elections,” he added.

Commenting on the Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip last
winter, he said, “Hamas did not achieve anything in that war. They continued
to slam Egypt for refusing to open the Rafah crossing during the war without
considering that Egypt wanted to avoid displacing the Palestinian people….
Hamas is not ready to stage a coup in the West Bank, and if they stage a
coup, they will then start criticizing Jordan for not opening the Allenby
Bridge,” he added.

He said that Hamas lauds Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, who is in prison in
Israel for his actions during the Second Intifada, “But once the man is
released and starts playing a role in PA [Palestinian Authority] politics,
Hamas will have prepared accusations [against him] in advance.”

With regards to Fatah leader Farouq Qaddoumi’s recent accusations that
President Mahmoud Abbas was being involved in an assassination of Yasser
Arafat, he said, “If he [Qaddoumi] had such information, why did he remain
silent for five years? His silence is complicity. There must be
international sides who planned these accusations with Qaddoumi.”

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