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Mideast Tale Of Brothers At Odds

Palestinian rift divides family

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.

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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

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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.

But since the recent crisis erupted, Israeli Army officials have declared that Col. Rajoub is not doing enough, and view with gravity last week's decision by Rajoub and his Gaza counterpart, Mohammed Dahlan, to cut off all cooperation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has gone so far as to accuse Rajoub and other top brass Palestinian police of orchestrating the recent riots.

"This does not bother me," he snaps when asked of the accusations. "I am doing my national duty as a Palestinian. I have not been appointed by the Israelis and I don't receive my salary from the Israelis. I don't need them to trust me."

Such trust was once vaunted as the very foundation of the peace process. Rajoub blames the end of such trust, and of the joint effort at squelching terror, on the other side. "The Israelis buried security cooperation with the bulldozers. The prime minister started a terror attack in Jabal Abu Ghneim," he says, referring to the controversial, Jewish settlement the Israeli government is preparing to build on - a southeast Jerusalem hilltop they call Har Homa.

"We have to talk to our opposition faction and explain to them the damage that will be caused sometimes by violence," says Rajoub. "Through violence we will lose, and achieve nothing. Yes, I have to tell everybody, including my family. I am meeting with the opposition all the time."

But Israelis don't want to hear about dialogue with Hamas, they want arrests. And as long as the political process lies in tatters, there will be no shakedowns like the ones that took place after the series of suicide bombings just over a year ago, when the peacemaking Labor government was in power.

"It is not in our interest. We will not start a civil war for the sake of such a silly thing," he says of Israel's demand for more arrests.

Across the divide

The younger Rajoub, speaking in much more placid tones, says his big brother never conducted such an offensive against Hamas in the first place.

"He never heeded the Israelis instructions to that effect. The way Jibril treated Islamists has been better than the rest of the Palestinian security apparatus," says Sheikh Rajoub, who wears a full beard and dark, collarless shirt and jacket that seem a nod to the Iranian dress code.

"It's in the best interest of Palestinians that the relations between the PA and Islamic opposition be as good as possible," he says.

And today, he adds, they are better than ever. "No doubt there is more unity. The tension within the Palestinian house has been mitigated by the failure of the peace process. The PA hasn't carried out a sweeping campaign because first, we have a national dialogue, and second, Israel is offering nothing and building settlements," the cleric says.

"The issue of Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the Palestinian question, and Israel continues to settle Jerusalem."

He also says cooperation with Fatah is becoming more important as the process continues to crumble.

"There has been no substantive change since the PA was installed, and all the grand hopes they sought to pass onto the people have turned to nightmares," he says.

As such, Sheikh Rajoub's job is easier now than it was a few years ago. "In the past, there was a preponderance of support for the peace process. You had to make strenuous efforts to convince people that the peace process is going to fail," he says. Their choice today is "capitulation or struggle," and he says more Palestinians are seeing the latter - and Islam - as the answer.

'There will be reactions'

Though he declines to answer any specific questions about the suicide bombings and whether there will be more of them, he warns that the supreme issue of Jerusalem will lead to "reactions" by Arabs and Muslims everywhere.

"We cannot say for sure what will happen, except the ultimate obliteration of the peace process and the eruption of a new, more violent intifadah. We can't determine the exact features of it," he says.

Hamas's ultimate goal is the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state based on religious law, as is the case in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran. Sheikh Rajoub's personal model is Sudan, the African nation where President Jaafar Nimeiry proclaimed Islamic law in 1983.

To that end, he has long tried to convince his powerful brother to turn to a more devout lifestyle, "but with no success," he says, beginning to grin. "He developed his ideology freely and I developed mine." Now, they remain on good terms, but do not discuss politics much, he adds.

Nobody is above the law

While his older brother learned Hebrew and English, Sheikh Rajoub speaks only Arabic, usually in its classical form derived from the elaborate language of the Koran. Yet in his village, and in larger neighboring Hebron, he is considered by some to be the brightest of the Rajoub brothers.

Despite his important family connections, he says he doesn't enjoy any special treatment. Asked to give his opinion of Arafat, he smiles, shakes his head and refuses. Could he face repercussions, even as a Rajoub? He answers unhesitatingly: "There is no question about that."

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