For families left behind, uncertainty, bitterness

December 19, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

AL BIRAH, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- There was no good-bye.

Hussein Abu Queck told his wife the soldiers wanted to question him. He would be back in a few hours, he said.

Instead, it could be two years. Mr. Queck, 35, was said by the Red Cross to be one of several hundred Palestinians whisked to the border by Israelis and deported to Lebanon on Thursday.

They are trapped, camped in a freezing no man's land between the armies of Lebanon, which will not admit them, and Israel, which won't take them back.

The Israelis say these Palestinians are the leaders -- the intelligentsia -- of a murderous Hamas Islamic fundamentalist group.

Bushra Queck said her husband only sells vegetables from a pushcart.

"He didn't talk about politics," she said. "He was not in any political group. He didn't join any parties."

There is no way of knowing who is telling the truth. None of those deported has been charged or tried.

Mrs. Queck sat in her living room a few hours after learning of her husband's fate. They live in a poor but tidy apartment above a grocery store. The walls are hung with painstaking embroideries of verses from the Koran. Silk flowers sprout from baskets, and on the tables are small porcelain figurines of kissing ducks.

They have four children, ranging from 7 years to 7 months. The children do not understand where their father went, she said. Bushra Queck knows where, but does not understand why.

"For the Israelis, everyone who goes to the mosque to pray is Hamas," she said bitterly.

In the cold apartment, she and her children huddled around a small kerosene heater. Their breath was visible in the air.

Hussein Queck would bring home about $300 each month to pay the rent, fill the kerosene heater, and put food on the table. Now his wife wonders how she will find the money. She does not believe she will see her husband in two years.

"Deportation is forever. This is the Israeli way," she said.

The Geneva Convention treats deportation as a grave human rights violation. To be plucked from home and homeland, forcibly banned from family and job and all that is familiar, weighs heavy in international law.

Israel insists it has not broken the convention because these deportations will expire in two years. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin noted acidly that Israeli border policeman Nissim Toledano, killed last week by an armed faction within Hamas, "did not have the right to appeal his death."

The prime minister, defending Israel from the international outcry, argued that deportation is the option that "least damages human life and property."

He did not mention families. Ala Abdel Wahab, 26, is among the deportees, to the astonishment of his extended family, one of the largest in the Al-Birah town near Ramallah.

Ala and his brother, Omar, are the mainstays of a busy insurance company and travel agency that support several households. Ala and Omar were taken out of their homes by soldiers last week. The family does not know if Omar, 24, was deported, as the Israeli government has not told the families who was sent north.

"They were not Hamas. None of the family ever had anything to do with politics," said their aunt, Afef, 42. Since their father, Anwar, died three years ago, the two young men had immersed themselves in the business, working long hours to keep the companies from debt, the family said.

Jumana, the 26-year-old wife of Ala Abdel Wahab, had put their three children in bed and had just turned out the light Monday when the soldiers arrived. They told Ala to dress. They were taking him to prison.

Why? Jumana Wahab asked. For "troubles," they replied.

She expected a short, routine detention. Instead, he was sent to Lebanon.

Mrs. Wahab is a U.S. citizen; her father runs a restaurant in Louisiana. She met Ala when he studied physics in the United States, and she returned to Al-Birah as his wife.

She wears the long Islamic dress and head covering. She and her husband applaud the religious roots of Islamic groups like Hamas, she said, "but being a supporter of Hamas is different than being a member."

Israeli officials acknowledged the 1,500 arrests last week and the deportations are attempts to weaken Hamas because it opposes the Middle East peace talks.

"For sure, right now I hate the peace process," Jumana Wahab said. "They said they are going to get rid of anyone who has anything to do with Hamas because of the peace process.

"Right now, we are suffering because of the peace process," she said. "This has caused us pain."

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