Palestine Pulse

What it's like to fight for Hamas

Article Summary
Abu Abdel Rahman, a fighter with Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, still dreams of fighting against Israeli forces in the last Gaza war.

As soon as the war ended, Abu Abdel Rahman, not his real name, a 26-year-old fighter in the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, emerged from the tunnels where he had directed operations against Israeli forces. He returned to his normal life, splitting his time between work in the Palestinian police force, studying and his family. The war, however, has not left Rahman. "Since the end of the war, I've been plagued by nightmares. I dream that they've opened the tunnel and found us inside, and kill us," he told Al-Monitor.

Sitting with Rahman is not easy. He watches everything around him, noting every movement, and he falls silent when a stranger approaches nearby. "I can't [let anyone] recognize the sound of my voice," he said. Before taking a seat, Rahman removes all his electronic devices and leaves them at a distance from where he eventually comes to rest.

Rahman offered a number of details about the war. "We were able to blow up six military vehicles from inside a tunnel that was only 70 centimeters [27 inches] wide and 140 centimeters [55 inches] high. Every bomb planted in the ground had a number. When a military vehicle stopped above the bomb, we would detonate it based on the number. If it was above a no. 1 bomb, the wire connected to it had one node. If the vehicle was above a no. 2 bomb, it had two nodes," he said, explaining how fighters knew which detonator was paired with which bomb.

"One of the mujahedeen would stick his camouflaged head out of the tunnel to observe the location of the vehicles. When a vehicle was above a bomb, we would detonate it. At that time, we would let out cries of 'God is great' inside the tunnel, which was dozens of meters under the ground," he said.

Rahman continues to record his wartime memories in a small notebook. One this day, he remembered how he and the other mujahedeen divided the little food and water they had. He also recalled how they prayed sitting only on their knees. His head is crowded with such memories as he goes about the daily routine that he returned to as if the war had never happened. He is somewhat absent-minded because he is still caught up in moments of war, not always paying attention to what is around him.

Rahman attends al-Quds Open University, where he becomes just another student discussing his field of study, economics, with his colleagues and professors. None of them knows that he is a member of the resistance. The same is true when Rahman walks down the street and runs into people. None of them knows that he only miraculously survived the war, at one point being trapped for five days along with 14 other fighters in a tunnel that had been bombed by warplanes.

"If we could go back to those days in which we fought fiercely, I wish we could've prevented the enemy from entering the Gaza Strip. I think about my friend Abu Ahmed, who was trapped alone inside the tunnel after it was [first] bombed. We were unable to save him, and time passed before us as he died. I'm proud of what we did during the war, but when I see the people [fellow Palestinians] I feel nothing but humility," Rahman said.

Yet, despite his feelings of pride, Rahman does not want more war. "I do not wish for it to return at all. I am constantly worried for my family. I fear that [the Israelis] will uncover my identity and target my home." Rahman feels that his life is proceeding along two parallel paths — one consisting of his life, studies and family, and the other one of death and resisting the occupation. "The second path will not go away as long as the enemy remains," he said.

Rahman's wife seems to be constantly worried, as if her happiness can only be temporary, only linked to the period of peace. Speaking about her, Rahman said, "I always try to make things easier for her and to spend as much time as possible with her and my son."

Rahman joined the Qassam Brigades at an early age, after being influenced at the mosque next to his home. He has only participated in fighting in the recent war, pointing out that the 2012 war did not involve a ground invasion. During the 2014 war, Rahman managed and implemented military operations from inside a tunnel. He escaped from the damaged tunnel toward the end of the war.

He explained, "After the occupation bombed the tunnel another time with rockets containing deadly gas, four of us were trapped by collapsed sand. We communicated with the leadership, using a special underground network, and they commanded us to all evacuate. They would cover us with mortar shells fired from a different location. Ten of us were able to escape running. We expected to be bombed at any moment, but we made it to a safe area. As soon as the truce took effect two days later, we were able to rescue the four [fighters] who had been stranded."

These days, the Qassam Brigades sometimes station Rahman on Gaza's eastern border with Israel, in preparation for any potential escalation. In meeting and talking with fellow fighters, Rahman has discovered that the nightmares of war are visiting them as well.

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Found in: tunnels, resistance, palestinian-israeli conflict, palestine, israel, gaza strip, gaza attacks

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse and a journalist from the Rafah refugee camp based in Gaza.

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