I had a long, heartbreaking conversation this morning with Dirar Abu Seesi’s brother, Yousef, who just returned to his home in Holland from a three week stay in Ukraine. He called his visit there “one of the worst three weeks of my life.”
Yousef had traveled to that country for a reunion with his brother, who he hadn’t seen in 15 years. In fact, when Dirar was kidnapped, he was on his way by train to meet Yousef at the Kiev airport for their meeting. Instead of a happy reunion, he spent three weeks running from pillar to post inside the Ukrainian intelligence and police apparatus seeking word of his brother, only to be frustrated at every turn.
The entire Abu Seesi family is heartbroken. Veronika, Dirar’s wife, remains in her native Ukraine. Her six children are in Gaza where they are being taken care of by Dirar’s sister Suzanne. Imagine yourself a wife separated from your children with your husband disappeared into the Israeli gulag. Yousef half-marvels, half-weeps at the innocence (or naiveté) of Veronika who he says “remains convinced that she will be reunited with her husband soon in Gaza.
The brother told me he had to tell his own father, who lives in Jordan, that his son had been kidnapped and was in an Israeli prison. The man, who hadn’t seen his son in twelve years cried for an entire day.
Yousef is convinced (and Yossi Melman covertly confirmed this in his story in yesterday’s Haaretz) that the Ukrainian intelligence services collaborated in his brother’s disappearance. In this YouTube video he confirms this. When he and Veronika made the rounds of the various intelligence and police agencies they were given a complete runaround. It reminded me of a Kafka novel.
The secret police were definitely in on the whole thing. Sitting in the office of a police general, Yousef half jokingly told him he felt like HE could be kidnapped, to which the commander said point-blank: “You definitely could be.” Imagine. Perhaps it’s even worse than Israel (at least for Palestinians). But truly the Ukrainian secret police & Israeli secret police deserve each other. A match made in heaven—or hell, as the case may be.
The authorities gave them nothing but the runaround sending them to different offices, none of which helped them. They even visited one senior intelligence official who promised to help, giving them his phone number. They returned for an appointment to see him and waited two hours. He never showed up. The entire time the other intelligence agency employees peered at them through a window. Other times they would call the official and no one would know who he was. Yousef joked that perhaps HE was kidnapped too. Authorities repeatedly told them not to go public and that if they kept quiet the authorities would find Dirar for them. They even gave them a date, saying they would bring him back on March 9th. It was all a ploy so that they could ensure the Mossad rendered him to Israel before the world could wake up to his plight.
The Abu Seesis sent a letter to the Ukrainian prime minister, who is due in Israel for a visit next week, asking his help. I told Yousef that Veronika should hold a press conference in front of the prime minister’s office and demand he intercede for her with the Israelis.
Israeli government officials, seemingly not hindered by the government gag order which supposedly prohibits the media from using domestic sources to report this story, are bruiting about the notion that Abu Seesi is a senior weapons “engineer” for Hamas, somehow being trained by Iran to develop an indigenous Gaza weapons industry that would be free of reliance on imported weaponry from the outside.
What makes no sense about this theory is why such an arms maker would be applying for Ukrainian citizenship. Does Israeli intelligence see him as a replacement for Mahmoud al-Mabouh roving the world from his Ukrainian base in order to procure arms deals for Hamas?
A new AP report takes us back to a theory that echoes somewhat my own earlier one that Israel’s secret police were targeting the power plant when they kidnapped its deputy chief engineer:
While the reasons for Mr. Abu Sisi’s detention were unclear, it was widely assumed in Gaza that it was somehow linked to his position at the power plant and the successful efforts of Hamas to reduce the station’s dependency on industrial diesel fuel imported from Israel.
In January, the Hamas authorities said that they had managed to adjust the station’s turbines to run on regular diesel fuel, which is smuggled into Gaza from Egypt, saying that Israel was not letting in sufficient amounts of fuel. Mr. Abu Sisi left Gaza twice last year, for a work conference in Egypt and to perform a pilgrimage to Mecca, according to his relatives.
If this theory is correct, it would mean that those who maintain Israel’s stranglehold around Gaza would be in such a fit of pique at the prospect that Gaza’s power plant might be able to return to full function by liberating itself from reliance on Israeli fuel sources that they’d be willing to engage in major violations of international law merely in order to punish the mastermind of such self-reliance. It seems far-fetched. But I’ve never to underestimate the pettiness of the Israeli military-intelligence juggernaut. The Wall Street Journal echoes this theory in its own reporting.
An alternate theory crossed my mind: Israel has continuously come up short in its efforts to liberate Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier captured four years ago by Gaza militants. Israeli intelligence services may intend this as a message to Hamas that they can and will go to the ends of the earth to kidnap figures who play critical roles in keeping whatever remains of the enclave’s infrastructure running. That would make the crime one of vengeance and warning intended for Hamas’ leadership, as if to say: our reach is wide; the idea that anyone anywhere can protect you is laughable. When you are in a foreign country we will get its authorities to collaborate in apprehending you; and you will disappear into the maw of our security system only to be heard from again when we wish. If it’s true, it’s a chilling message. And one that merits the fierce determination of the international human rights community to combat it.
If you are an Israeli security hawk, I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of this man and his family. Even if he is Hamas’ top rocket engineer (a claim I reject), is this the way to treat both him and his family including his six children? Do you deal with your enemies by disappearing them, by laughing at their family while they traipse from one meeting to another with Ukrainian security officials who are also in on the joke? Do you turn a father’s old age into ashes by seizing his precious son so that he doesn’t know if he will see him ever again?
This brings to mind perhaps the earliest Jewish act of extraordinary rendition: when Joseph’s brothers grew jealous of him they sold him into Egyptian slavery. When the brothers told their father, Jacob, of the fictitious death of Joseph, the man wept just as Dirar’s father did.
Joseph, who had meanwhile become the second most powerful figure under Pharaoh, got his comeuppance when the brothers turned to Egypt during a famine in Canaan, seeking food. Joseph, recognizing his brothers as his supplicants, arranges for a ruse and kidnaps Jacob’s most precious remaining son, Benjamin. Joseph wishes to punish his brothers both for their earlier treatment of him, and by forcing them to contemplate having to tell their aged patriarch for a second time that they had allowed one of his sons to perish.
To me, Dirar Abu Seesi isn’t that dissimilar from Joseph sold into slavery or Benjamin kidnapped. Extraordinary rendition, whether in the age of the Bible or 21st century is foul and cruel and wreaks heartbreak on all it touches. It may yet wreak such havoc on those who thought it was a cracker jack idea to kidnap the Gaza engineer and throw him into the Israeli gulag.