|Image credit: Marco Longaria/AFP/
Once, as the second intifada was nearing its height, I met with a Hamas man in a Gaza City hotel to talk about suicidal killing. He had written his master’s thesis on martyrdom, before turning to the future of Islam for his doctorate, and he brought his Toshiba laptop along to call up verses from the Koran to bolster his end of the conversation. He had unusual, chilling credibility on the subject: unlike other Hamas leaders, he had actually sent one of his own children to his death, in an attack on an Israeli settlement. He was a mountain of a man, with a sly sense of humor, and I always suspected he was one of Hamas’s deadlier manipulators of the young.
When I mentioned that my wife had come with me to Gaza, where I was reporting for The New York Times, he insisted I call her down from our room. She was then almost eight months pregnant with our first child. To demonstrate how cosmopolitan he was, he made a point of shaking her hand, though in theory, Islam prohibits a man from touching a woman to whom he isn’t related.
I kept thinking of this surreal encounter—my very pregnant wife, the courtly Hamas leader, the talk of deadly, suicidal children—when news came in January that Israel had killed the Hamas man, Nizar Rayyan, by dropping a bomb on his house in the Jabaliya refugee camp. With an intrepid Times colleague, Taghreed El-Khodary, I had met with him a few times in that house. Though we would ask about religion, he used to insist that he believed in fighting Israel purely for reasons to do with this world, not the next. His family had become refugees in the Israeli-Arab war of 1948, and though he had never lived there himself, he wanted to reclaim his ancestral home in what is now Ashkelon, in Israel.