HEBRON, WEST BANK
When Jibril Rajoub arrives at a demonstration of Palestinian stone-throwers, the crowd parts. With a boxer’s physique and a sandpaper voice, he shoves protesters aside, reminding them who’s boss. Mr. Rajoub is the Palestinian Authority’s “preventive” security chief, charged by Yasser Arafat with keeping order and thwarting terrorist attacks on Israelis.
As far as Israel is concerned, his job includes keeping a lid on Hamas, the Muslim militant group that uses suicide-bombers to end the peace process.
But this isn’t the only Rajoub who stops crowds.
His brother, Sheikh Naif Rajoub, is an influential Hamas preacher who encourages his mosque’s faithful to support Hamas and its fundamentalist Islamic views.
In separate interviews with the Monitor, Jibril Rajoub is irritable and humorless, but the austerely thinner Sheikh Rajoub seems in good spirits.
While the eldest Rajoub is being pressed by Israel and the US to crack down on Hamas after a recent suicide bombing by one of its members killed three people in Tel Aviv – and two more failed attacks by Islamists this week that failed to kill any Israelis – the youngest brother is pleased to see that Hamas’s predictions of doom for the peace process seem close to being realized.
Colonel Rajoub does not deny that two of his four brothers belong to the organization Israel says he must help Mr. Arafat decimate if negotiations are to resume.
Rather, Rajoub sees no contradictions in his role as a security boss who is expected to protect the peace by reining in Islamic opposition leaders – who also happen to be part of the family.
A broader rift
Theirs is a story that has played itself out through thousands of Palestinian homes where some siblings came to support Arafat’s secular, nationalist Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – and through it the 1993 Oslo peace accords – while others joined the ranks of rejectionist groups like Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement.
It also represents a broader rift brought about by Arafat’s “land-for-peace” bid at Oslo, which left those Palestinians bent on eliminating the state of Israel at odds with his suddenly diplomatic approach: Carve out a homeland, and learn to coexist.
The Rajoub brothers’ tale began in the village of Doura, a conservative hamlet that sits atop the fertile mountains of the southern West Bank. Raised in a traditional family of 11 sons and daughters, Colonel Rajoub is the only one among them who doesn’t still live in town.
He and the brother five years his junior would take different paths: Jibril was arrested as a teenager for throwing a grenade at an Army jeep and spent 17 years in an Israeli prison (“He got his ideas there,” quips Naif) before becoming a self-described Arafat disciple in Tunis, from where Arafat ran the PLO.
Naif, in contrast, became enraptured with religious ideas and went to the University of Jordan at age 16 to study sharia, Islamic law.
Years later, Jibril Rajoub returned with the charge of making former guerrillas and street fighters into a plainclothes, intelligence force that critics say is as brutal as the dreaded mukhabarat, or secret police, of other Arab countries.
Naif Rajoub came home to become a popular imam whose well-attended sermons at Doura’s Grand Mosque preach no to reconciliation with Israel, yes to the establishment of a strict Islamic state in all of what was Palestine.
These days, critical eyes are on Col. Rajoub, who has tried to moderate a thuggish image of late by trading in his usual black leather jacket for more professional sport coats. Having left devout Doura, he now lives in the more liberal West Bank town of Jericho. All over the region, his employees are known simply as “Rajoub Men,” and many sources say they operate in areas under Israeli control, including Jerusalem.
But Col. Rajoub says his beat is still limited to the 3 percent of the West Bank under sole Palestinian command.
“It’s our responsibility to impose law and order within the areas under our rule according to the agreement,” he says. One condition of Oslo was that the Palestinian Authority (PA) take a hard line against Muslim fundamentalist groups, and prevent them from carry out acts of terrorism.
“The situation is very difficult, but we have to prevent violence in Area A, which is under our control,” say Rajoub. To him, that means preventing violence in the rest of the West Bank and inside Israel isn’t his headache.
“This is not our responsibility!” Rajoub exclaims in an interview at his new headquarters in Hebron, turned over to the PA about two months ago under the Israeli redeployment deal. “The general atmosphere is the result of stupid and crazy Israeli decisions, and because of that the atmosphere is poisoned.”
Because of those decisions, he says Palestinians should be allowed to protest, but should do so with some restraint. “They have the right to demonstrations, but they have to reject violence,” he says, noting that he, unlike some PA leaders, does view stone-throwing as violence.
For a while, the Israeli media had a bit of a love affair with Col. Rajoub. He had learned fluent Hebrew in prison, understood the Israeli mentality, and became an essential player in intelligence-sharing.