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Tali Fahima Crosses the Line
by Rona Segal
first met Tali Fahima, a freedom fighter for some, for others a traitor, about a year ago. I was working as a journalist in a weekly Tel Aviv magazine. She was an anonymous 28-year old legal secretary from Jaffa. A week later, after appearing on the magazine's cover, Fahima became a sought-after guest on political talk shows and a persona non grata almost everywhere else. I gained my colleagues' respect for having revealed her story, and I began to work on a follow-up. Six months later, on August 9, 2004, Tali Fahima was placed under arrest for an indefinite period. She is still in prison.
In the meetings we had before that first publication, Fahima told me her story. She was raised by a single-parent mother in a southern town called Kiryat Gat. In that place, she said, there was only one view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "It's them or us." In the 2001 elections she even voted for Ariel Sharon. "I guess out of fear and confusion," she explained. After moving to Jaffa and getting more involved in political issues, Fahima started to feel that there must be another side to the story. On her own, as always, she began looking for information, first through the internet, then by phoning Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians whom she knew through the portal, "arabia.com." All the conversations took place in English. Although Fahima's last name indicates a North African origin, she doesn't know a word of Arabic. Later on, she said, she came to understand how her family had gone through the same social process as other Jewish immigrants from Arab lands: an erasure of identity in order that they might become "true Israelis." But that was much later. Back then, she wasn't sure why she was so curious about the "other side." She refused to regard herself as a "leftist," pronouncing this word with a habitual tone of disgust.
One day Fahima read an interview with Zacharia Zubeidi, head of the al-Aqsa Brigades in Jenin. Zubeidi is linked to the killing of at least six people in a terrorist attack in Israel. At the time the interview was published, there was a "hudna" (cease-fire) between Israel and the Palestinian organizations, including Fatah, which is responsible for the al-Aqsa Brigades. Zubeidi declared in the interview that he wouldn't respect the cease fire as long as the Occupation remained, regardless of any temporary agreements. Fahima wanted to know what stood behind his recalcitrance. She contacted the journalist who had done the interview, leaving her number for Zubeidi to call back. she was certain she could persuade him to change his mind.
Zubeidi phoned the next day. Fahima was surprised to learn that he speaks fluent Hebrew, thanks to the years he had spent, from the age of 15, as a construction worker in Israel. He told her about his mother, the peace activist, who was shot dead by the Israeli army along with his brother while the two were standing on their porch in the refugee camp of Jenin. He told her how none of his mother's Jewish friends had visited the camp after the killing. He said that all he had wanted to be was a gardener, but his people's suffering obliged him to fight for freedom. Instead of changing his mind, Fahima ended up changing her whole point of view. Later Israel's government-serving press, assisted by "security sources," tried to picture Fahima and Zubeidi's relationship as a romance. The truth, though, was that Fahima fell in love with the Palestinian struggle for independence. Such a reversal was incomprehensible to Israel's security-obsessed media.
fter several weeks of phone conversations, and to Zubeidi's surprise, Fahima showed up in Jenin. "I told him I would. I'm not made of the same material as those 'leftists' who never showed up", she noted proudly. Fahima went through the checkpoint-barrier at Jalameh, near Jenin, with no problems. A Palestinian taxi, sent by Zubeidi, was waiting for her on the other side. She spent 24 hours in the devastated camp: "They live like animals in prison", she noted with emotion. "I could never live like that. I would rather die." Zubeidi, realizing that he was facing a different genre of peace activist, took her to meet the other members of the Aqsa Brigades, then to a mass funeral in the camp. Fahima, intent on revealing everything about this new planet where none of the familiar rules seemed to hold, did not bother to consider the possible implications: that her activity might jeopardize her freedom.
After visiting Jenin, Fahima tried to return to her ordinary life, but reality didn't let her. "Zubeidi got out of a third assassination attempt", the media were saying. She felt she had to do something. That was the reason why she contacted me to tell her story. "If need be," she said, "I would serve as Zubeidi's human shield," not imagining the day when this saying would appear in her indictment. She regarded him as a local hero, helping the poor and the decent people of the camp to resist both inner corruption and intruding Israeli soldiers. Zubeidi is famous in the West Bank for having kidnapped a corrupt mayor, demanding that he return stolen public money, but also as the perpetrator of numerous attacks on Israeli soldiers and citizens. Fahima hated that second part of his résumé, but she couldn't tell the difference between his deeds and those of some Israeli politicians, former generals who carry direct responsibility for many civilian deaths.
In that period of time, Israel's General Security Services (GSS or Shabak) were already familiar with Fahima. They had investigated her relations with Zubeidi and asked her to serve as an informer. By refusing, Fahima set out on the long road of legal persecution. First she lost her job and had to leave her rented apartment. She returned to Jenin, trying to restore a Children's Center that Israeli artillery had destroyed. After a few weeks in the camp, she began to realize what a complex situation she was in. There was a local rumor that Fahima was collaborating with Israel. On the other hand, Israeli forces made incursions in an attempt to snatch her from the camp. Curfews were imposed. Soldiers moved from house to house, searching for the "girl who sleeps with Arabs".
Fahima was finally arrested on August 9 and interrogated for 28 days by the GSS. She was sexually harassed and deprived of sleep and food. She was sentenced to four months of Administrative Detention (an emergency measure requiring no indictment) as a "threat to Israel's security." Public hysteria was whipped up around her case, giving the impression that she assisted suicide bombings. In fact, Fahima's activities were all transparent, mainly humanitarian, and they were covered by the media while she was at the camp.
During the final month of Administrative Detention, she was again interrogated by the GSS. When at last the charges were made, she was accused of "aiding and abetting an enemy in wartime; passing information to the enemy and for the latter's benefit, contact with a foreign agent, illegal possession of weapon, supporting a terrorist organization, and violating a legal order."
These grave accusations were based mainly on a suspicion that she had translated a document for Zubeidi, which a soldier, by sheer negligence, had left behind in the camp. This document was said to include a plan to assassinate Zubeidi. Other accusations against her concern meetings with members of the al-Aqsa Brigades in the "A" areas, where Israelis are not permitted. "These days," says Fahima's attorney, Smadar Ben Natan, "Israeli forces are in contact with Palestinian groups in order to renew the cease-fire. Fahima, in her own way, tried to do the same thing. Why does she have to sit behind bars for that?"
Two months ago, Fahima was almost shifted from prison to house arrest by Regional Judge Zvi Gurfinkel, who found the charges against her "weak and unstable." The State Prosecutor appealed this decision, and High Court Judge Elyakim Rubinstein returned her to prison, saying that the potential threat that she represents has a higher priority. But what threat does Fahima represent? Even after a year of intensive work, the prosecutor's office has yet to prove the charges, claiming only to have "secret material." The truth is, Fahima threatens public opinion much more than public safety. She dared to say out loud that Israel's policy of targeted assassination is illegal by a universal law. She acted on her own, not bothering to study beforehand the rules of the game. For Fahima, when a government liquidates people, this is no game. Yes, she crossed the lines, but just because she didn't see any.