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A threat to peace

GAZA CITY, GAZA — Gaza City, Gaza -- ONE OF THE first things the Palestinian father of one of Gaza's "suicide bombers" told me when I visited the dead boy's home here was how the Islamic Jihad visited the family the day after the boy's death.

"They told me, 'He wasn't your son, he was our son; we brought him up secretly,' " said Ismail Hamad, a sturdy, bearded former teacher dressed in dark traditional robes. "They even organized the mourning ceremony." He paused. "It was like a wedding ceremony," he added.

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How did he feel when he heard that November day, on television, that his 21-year-old son Hisham, explosives strapped around his waist, had died pedaling his bicycle into an Israeli army post south of Gaza? That three Israelis had also died?

"I was sad and pleased at the same time," he said. "I was sad because I missed him, but I was pleased because he moved from a life of oppression to a life of justice."

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The Hamad family live in one of those white-gray, spooky and skeletal buildings that make one think of decay. Dust is everywhere in Gaza city, almost no roads are paved, and the poverty seems endless. The Hamads had no idea their son was involved with either of the two major Islamic fundamentalist movements -- Hamas and Jihad -- which have been responsible for 116 Israeli deaths since the peace process began in September 1993. He appeared to be just a normal Muslim boy -- but then others were secretly raising him, as they are so many others here.

The Hamads were even more amazed, after his death, to discover he had read his "personal will" aloud on a tape. They insisted upon playing it for me on their boom box. It was Hisham, in a strangely singsong voice, "thanking Allah . . . with tears in my eyes . . . saying that meeting God is better for me than this life . . . in this land of Jihad in our fight against the sons of the pigs and the monkeys."

The use of tapes and recorders was, I was soon to find out, not at all unusual. Indeed, the Islamicists, who fully intend to carry these people back to the origins of Islam more than 1,000 years ago, are coldly determined to use modern technology and communications to do so.

Before I left, the father, who said he had been exiled from his home, which was taken by Israel in its war of independence, suddenly looked at me accusingly and demanded: "Where was the media in 1948?"

This Palestinian family and the son they knew so little represent one face in the multifaceted, fanatical movements that, with their vicious, ugly and self-righteous bombings, now threaten the peace process that the Israelis and Palestinians are finally engaged in. I found another face a mile away.

Dr. Saud Shawa is a handsome, bearded, meticulous veterinarian. He speaks English flawlessly. He believes the Islamicists should learn languages. They didn't know languages in 1948; that's one reason he believes the Palestinians lost to Israel. His office is as neat and organized as the streets outside are filthy and chaotic.

"Nothing will stop the Jewish state except an Islamic state," he began, "but not on the model which we can see Saudi Arabia, for instance, but along the steps of the original state of the prophet Mohammed.

"We hate nobody," he said at one point. "Elections are not a goal, but a procedure," he said at another.

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And what of these "peaceable people," when it comes to Israel?

"All the Palestinian people are proud of those two young men, those two holy fighters who carried our spirit in their hands," he LTC said, referring to the brutal attack Jan. 22 by two Gaza Islamicists on young Israeli recruits at Beit Lid junction where 21 were killed.

"Those two reached the internal front of the Israelis, the same army which beat six Arab armies in six days in 1967.

"Did you know that it is all written in the Holy Koran that we will defeat Israel and enter the Holy Mosque El Aqsa in Jerusalem by our own efforts?" he demanded.

At this point, he reached across his impeccable desk and switched on the computer. First was a colorful design of Islam. Then, verses from the Koran in Arabic script came onto the screen, and he read, on a modern American computer screen, how the Koran predicted more than 1,000 years ago that someday Muslims would "enter the temple, destroying all that fell under their power."

Analysts estimate that between 35 percent and 40 percent of the Gazan Palestinians are now members or sympathizers of Hamas or Jihad, who believe in this supranational Islamic state and world. They reject totally the peace process engaged in by the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel.

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To their enemies, from Algeria and Morocco to Egypt, Jordan and Israel itself, they are a new, complex and lethal mix of destruction, idealism and modern technology that the world must soon learn somehow to deal with.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.


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