Family of Dalal Mughraby awaits return of remains
Mother recounts last visit with iconic Palestinian resistance fighter
By Dalila Mahdawi
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
BEIRUT: The last time Amina Hassan Ismail saw her daughter, Dalal Mughraby, she noticed something unusual about her behavior. “Dalal came and told me she was going to visit her friend at the Ghazi hospital in Sabra. She gave me a framed photograph of herself, which was odd. I said to her, ‘Why are you giving me a picture of yourself when I have the real thing?’ … I felt something was strange about the situation,” Ismail recalled, with tears welling in her eyes.
“A few days later, many people came knocking at our door. Journalists came, wanting to know what the mother of Dalal was like, what kind of house she had lived in. I didn’t know what had happened.”
The Mughraby family turned on the television to see Ehud Barak, Israel’s current defense minister, shooting bullets into Dalal’s corpse and dragging her body across the ground.
More than 30 years later, Mughraby’s body will be returned to Lebanon as part of the prisoner swap between Israel and Hizbullah expected Wednesday morning, in which the Jewish state is to hand over five Lebanese prisoners and the remains of about 200 Palestinian and Lebanese fighters killed over the last few decades.
In return, Hizbullah will give back Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, two soldiers the group captured in July 2006, and the remains of other Israeli soldiers killed in the 34-day war that followed the operation.
Three decades on, Mughraby is still reviled by Israelis as the notorious “Coastal Road killer.” But many Palestinians and Arabs regard her as an icon of the resistance and as one of Palestine’s first famous female fighters.
On March 11, 1978, Mughraby was just 19 years old when she led a unit of 11 other Lebanese and Palestinian Fedayeen fighters on an operation that killed 36 people. The unit set out for the mission by boat from South Lebanon, sailing to the coast of northern Israel, where they killed American photographer Gail Rubin and hijacked a bus on the Haifa-Tel Aviv highway. The bus was eventually cornered at a police roadblock by an Israeli Army unit led by Barak, who would later become Israel’s prime minister and then defense minister. Refusing to surrender, Mughraby declared an independent Palestinian state and after a long standoff with the Israeli Army, blew up the vehicle.
In the Mughraby family home in Tariq al-Jdideh, Mughraby’s mother and brother Ahmad sit in a living room decorated with portraits of Dalal and two large Palestinian flags.
Ahmad told The Daily Star that the family feels conflicting emotions over the impending prisoner swap.
“Hizbullah actually asked us in 2000 whether we wanted Dalal’s body to be brought back to Lebanon but we said no. We wanted Dalal to stay in Palestine because she loved and died for her country. She went there to fight for the Palestinian people, for their rights and for Palestinian children. We are proud of what she did for her country.”
It is not clear what has changed in the last eight years, but, according to Ismail: “We are so glad she is coming back now. Dalal was both Palestinian and Lebanese – she belonged to both countries. As a mother, I will be very happy to have Dalal so near me after all this time. I think it is what Dalal would have wanted too.”
Ahmad chimed in with words of agreement. “We are happy because after 30 years, we have started to talk again about Dalal, about the Palestinians. We will have a big wedding for her when she returns. Although she was never married, Dalal had thousands of children,” he said, in a reference to the children of Palestine and to fighters who have been martyred in the name of the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance.
Over the weekend the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) representative in Lebanon, Abbas Zakki, visited the Mughraby family to congratulate them on their daughter’s anticipated return.
But like Mughraby’s family, the Palestinian leadership has had a mixed response to the prisoner exchange and has previously expressed a desire to have Dalal’s body remain in Palestine. An article in last Thursday’s Palestinian Authority-financed daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda criticized Hizbullah for allowing Mughraby’s body to be buried in Lebanon and called for her body to be buried in Ramallah alongside the late President and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Although her body will rest in Lebanon, Mughraby will likely remain a symbol of the national resistance in Palestine, where a girls’ school in Hebron, summer camps, soccer teams and police training courses, among other things, bear her name.
But Mughraby’s involvement in the national resistance remains a mystery to her family. “We don’t understand how she got involved in the resistance, which is mainly a male domain,” said Ahmad. “We live in a building among Lebanese people, not in the [Palestinian refugee] camps. We just don’t understand how she, who was a smart, thoughtful and helpful girl, got involved. She taught many girls that they can fight for their countries,” said Ahmad.
“Every time people come asking about Dalal, I remember something new from the past,” said Ismail.
“Right now, I can remember Dalal sitting in the garden, smoking behind her father’s back. She looked lost in thought. When I asked her what she was thinking about, she said ‘nothing.’ But I sensed she was thinking about something important,” she said.
“I know now that she was thinking about Palestine.”