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The print shop has been around since 1975, he said, and before the current Intifada most of their business was commercial printing for Palestinians who live inside Israel: posters for electoral campaigns, award calendars for soccer teams, candy boxes. That business has dried up, since most Palestinians can’t travel between Israel and the West Bank anymore. Now the shop does mostly local printing, whatever work they can get.
Shaheed posters are commissioned by the organization the dead guy belonged to — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. The family has nothing to do with it. The organization picks the picture, and the background, and pays for the posters.
“I need a written letter from the organization saying, ‘Print 1,000 posters for martyr x, y or z,’” he said.
What if the person didn’t belong to any organization? I asked. In that case, the poster is funded by the National and Islamic Powers Council, an umbrella group of leaders from all the organizations.
The posters are a quick-turnaround business, he said, because they have to be up before the person’s funeral, which is at most two days after their death. The number of posters printed depends on the importance of the person killed. Usually it’s between 1,000, for ordinary people, and 2,500, for suicide bombers or commanders killed in targeted assassinations. If a person was important enough, the guy said, posters are printed for him in other cities too, but they’re printed in each of the cities separately, since even movement within the territories is difficult.
The price is the same for every organization, he said. He wouldn’t tell us the price.
I wanted to see on a computer how the posters get laid out, so the guy sent us to the print shop’s other office, with all the computers and equipment.
We walked through a warehouse full of large, complicated-looking, black-and-steel machines, and then into a backroom with three Macintosh G4s on a long table, plus a scanner and a Hewlett-Packard printer.
Two brothers — although they didn’t look it — sat in the middle of the room on rolling desk chairs, smiling at us guardedly. I sat down and the translator disappeared for a while. Luckily, one of the brothers spoke decent English.
Qassem (as I’ll call him) started right in by saying that they don’t specialize in the posters.
“We make books, everything,” he said, getting out of his chair to show me, as an example, an empty box that said “Thyme.” “We can print anything. We don’t have contract to do posters.”
He was clearly nervous, which is understandable since rumors here can lead to years of imprisonment without charge, or death.
“The Israeli army came here before,” Qassem said. “They came and take my house. They sleep one night in my house. They ask me, ‘You print [these posters]?’ I say, ‘I print.’ He told me, ‘Why you print?’ I told him because there is no law to prevent me from printing this.”
He explained that before the Intifada, any political material to be printed had to be sent first to the minister of information to get permission. “Now, no law,” Qassem said. “I cannot tell these people, ‘I cannot print for you.’ Go in the street: no laws.”
The soldier pressed him: Do you print for Hamas? For Islamic Jihad?
“I said, ‘I print for all.’ He told me, ‘They pay money?’ I say ‘yes.’ He said, ‘They come here with threats?’ I say ‘no.’ The soldier thought we forced to print posters for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. I said ‘no.’ I do it because there is no law and they pay money. I told the soldier, ‘Bring me [Ariel] Sharon’s picture, I will make you a poster.’”
Qassem’s brother Ali (not his real name, either), who understands English but doesn’t speak it well, broke in at this point, and Qassem translated.
Qassem went further. “These people —martyrs for us, for all Palestinians, they are the best. The elite.”
Qassem is 50, older than Ali by three years. He has dark-brown hair and a mustache and wears big square glasses. He talked more than Ali but had a more reserved manner. Ali is thin, with reddish brown hair that he’s losing on top. He was expressive when he talked, leaning toward me and gesturing. Both Qassem and Ali had more smile lines on their faces than worry lines — not common among Palestinians — and they both smiled a lot as we talked. I liked them.
Qassem had been an agricultural engineer in Saudi Arabia when the Palestinian Authority came to the territories. He decided in the mid-1990s to go work with his brother, and moved his family back to Jenin. Business was good: That’s why five years ago they needed to buy a big new office in addition to the small place next to the mirror store. Relations with Israeli colleagues were good too.