How could it have been different?

Adnan Ghoul

On October 21, Israel assassinated Adnan Ghoul, the number two man on its hit list in the Palestinian territories, after three previous assassination attempts on his life over the past four years had failed. Sixty-eight years ago, however, claimed an Israeli newspaper article two days later, Ghoul’s grandfather had saved a neighboring Jewish village from any harm during the Palestinian revolt of 1936.

The fates of the two Ghouls is an interesting illustration of the understandings of the two peoples about their histories. The Israeli writer, the grandson of one of the leaders of that Jewish village, was nonplussed as to how a grandson could turn out so different, and relatives of Adnan for their part could not see how that author did not understand that it could not have been otherwise.

Israel considered Ghoul, 47, Hamas’ chief manufacturer of Qassam rockets. He was killed, along with his companion, Imad Abbas, when an unmanned Israeli surveillance plane fired a missile at his car, which also injured six passersby on Yaffa Street in the Tuffah Quarter of Gaza City.

“He was in his car with his bodyguard, speaking on the phone with his wife when the two missiles were shot,” says Marwan Jaber, Ghoul’s cousin. “Of course, both people in the car were killed.”

According to Marwan, Ghoul had been active for the past 20 years. “He was part of the resistance since 1979 when he joined the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, where he had gone to study. He came back the same year and worked with that group until 1982 when he and his brother Omar, who is now in an Israeli prison, formed a military cell that targeted occupation soldiers.”

In 1986, Adnan joined Islamic Jihad until he escaped pursuing Israeli forces by sea and settled in Damascus. There he joined Hamas and received military training until his return to Palestine - he was smuggled back in by sea across the Egyptian borders, in 1994. He, along with now-incarcerated Hamas leader Hassan Salameh and Mohammed Deif, Israel’s most wanted man, created the military infrastructure of the Izzedin Al Qassam Brigades, and Adnan became the head of the engineering department in the Brigades, according to his cousin.

Adnan was the father of five girls and four boys, two of whom, 18-year-old Bilal and 15-year-old Mohammed, were killed by Israeli forces in two separate assassination attempts on Adnan. He was not able to attend either of his sons’ funerals for fear of being targeted again.

His family history became the subject of interest in the Israeli media after an article in Yedioth Ahronot by one Professor Amiram Shkulnik said the Ghoul family had once saved a Jewish village from harm during the Palestinian revolt of 1936-39.

“In the past, the Ghoul family had various connections with Jews, the exact opposite of today,” wrote Professor Shkulnik on October 23 two days after Adnan’s assassination.

Shkulnik claimed that Adnan’s grandfather had been the mukhtar of an Arab village named Aqir that had good relations with the neighboring Jewish town of Aqaron, now Kiryat Aqaron.

Shkulnik pointed to the “unique friendship” between the mukhtar - Adnan’s grandfather - and the head of Kiryat Aqaron - his own grandfather who passed away two and a half months ago. He said that back in the 1930s, the two men had exchanged walking sticks as a symbol of friendship and used each others’ canes for the rest of their lives.

Shkulnik wrote that Ghoul’s grandfather defended his Jewish neighbors during the Palestinian revolt of 1936. According to legend, Adnan’s grandfather had sat down in the town square, stick in hand and rifle on his knees and informed the villagers that whoever wished to harm the Jews of Aqaron would have to go over his dead body. Not one villager from Aqaron was harmed in three years of the revolt.

However, in May 1948, Shkulnik wrote, Unit 52 from the Zionist Givati Squad arrived to Aqir and informed its residents that they would have to leave and move southward to Gaza. Adnan’s grandfather was said to have picked up his stick and walked to Kiryat Aqaraon to meet Shkulnik. “It is your turn now to defend us,” he had said to him.

Shkulnik picked up his cane, and walked to the tents set up by the Givati Squad just outside Aqir. He told them how the village had defended its Jewish neighbors and what Ghoul had done during the revolt - how he had isolated the two towns from the entire conflict. His efforts, however, were in vain and the people of Aqir were forced to flee, ending up finally in Gaza.

The conclusion professor Shkulnik reached was to ask whether Adnan Ghoul had ever heard the story of the cane - and if so, had he realized the stark difference between himself and his grandfather?

Adnan’s relatives were not impressed.

“This is a true story,” says Marwan, “but it did not happen with our grandfather. It actually happened with another Ghoul family that lived in Aqir. We are not related to them - they are from Aqir and we are originally from Herbia.”

“Still,” maintains Marwan, “it is amazing that Shkulnik should wonder about this even if the story was about his grandfather. How can he wonder why there was such a difference in the behavior between the mukhtar of Aqir - who he claims was Adnan’s grandfather - and Adnan, when he himself gave the answer. The difference is the Israeli occupation and its practices against the Palestinian people. Did he forget that his grandfather could not return Ghoul’s favor? Did he forget that he could not prevent the Israeli forces from exiling the people of Aqir?”

A family friend of the Ghouls, Basem Hamad agrees. “If Ghoul senior knew the bitter reality of what was to happen to the people of his town, he would never have defended the Jews. This is a classic Israeli response. They always drown the area in a cycle of violence.”

Hamad continues, “If the Israelis want to find the right answer to Shkulnik’s question of why there is such a difference between the mukhtar and Adnan, they should start understanding the language of the negotiating table, not the language of war and bloodshed.”

At present, Marwan Ghoul sees no end to the cycle of violence. “Everyone knows that by assassinating leaders, a new generation will emerge that is even more vengeful.”

Following Adnan’s assassination, Hamas announced that its response would be “painful” for the Israelis. Sami Abu Zahri, a spokesperson for the movement said Hamas considered the assassination a “continuation of the targeting of the people and its leaders.”

Abu Zahri also stressed that such crimes would only result in more determination by the people to join the ranks of the resistance until the enemy is eliminated.

This article was originally published on October 27, 2004, by Palestine Report, found at Also in this week’s edition: PR interviews attorney Mohammad Dahleh on the effect of the wall in Jerusalem and profiles Musa Arafat.