By: Avraham Shmuel Lewin, Jewish Press Israel Correspondent
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
“Once, a policeman stopped me. He looked at my identity card and saw that I was a Lebanese Arab. He looked at my kippah and tsitsit and said: “I don’t understand.” I told him, “Forget it, don’t even try to understand. It’s been 20 years that I myself can’t understand it either.” ”
The story of Avraham Sinai is not easy to understand. He was born 42 years ago in a Shiite village in eastern Lebanon. Today he is an Orthodox Jew who learns in a yeshiva and with his wife is raising their seven children in Safed.
On the walls of his home hang pictures of rabbis. The oldest son, Chaim, serves in the IDF in the Givati brigade, and the second daughter will be drafted soon. The small children play games in which Hizbullah members shoot at each other. Only the type of food they serve hints at where he has come from.
Sinai has now decided to write a book about his transformation from a senior member in the Shiite Hizbullah terror organization into an Orthodox Jew in Israel. The book, Shahid from Lebanon, was excerpted in Yediot Aharonot last week, bringing his story to the attention of the general public.
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, son of former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, told The Jewish Press it’s all true.
Rabbi Eliyahu, who serves as chief rabbi of Safed, said that he has followed Sinai’s progress throughout the conversion process and can testify that the man is sincere and that he conducts his life in a truly religious Orthodox manner.
Sinai’s story begins in the early 1980′s, when PLO terrorists were in control of large parts of Lebanon. They would harass the Shiites, he says, “so it was only natural that we would collaborate with Israel against them.”
He writes that his family had “close contacts with Israel’s intelligence and the IDF” and that from the time he was a child he remembers the presence of Israeli soldiers in their home.
“From the time I turned 17 I began helping Israeli intelligence and would pass on vital information about PLO activities as well as other terrorist organizations,” Sinai writes.
He says that the turning point in his life came when the PLO was chased out of Lebanon. “My Israeli recruiters asked me to become a member [of] Hizbullah. At first I refused, that was very scary. By then I had already been married with children and I was well aware of the brutal Shiite mentality. I was afraid to infiltrate Hizbullah but my recruiters pressed me and finally I agreed.”
Sinai’s first job in Hizbullah was to pass on information about the competing Shiite militia, Amal. At that time, the various Shiite factions were fighting each other over who would control the Shiite community.
“They saw that I was reliable and that is how I climbed the ladder of promotion.”
Sinai has no pictures or documents to verify his story about serving in Hizbullah, but he insists that he held his position as a senior officer in the organization for ten years.
He describes his meetings with Abbas Musawi, who was the leader of Hizbullah at that time.
“He would come to our village to deliver sermons. These sermons spewed venom and hatred against Israel. After each sermon I wouldgo over to him and shake his hand, would chat with him, and we developed a friendly relationship. He knew me on a personal basis and we would often discuss terrorist operations.”
In 1992, Musawi was assassinated in an IDF helicopter attack. Information passed on to the IDF earlier helped to identify the car Musawi was riding in. Although Hizbullah never apprehended anyone in connection with the incident, according to Sinai’s account they had their suspicions about his collaboration with the Israelis.
“They interrogated me very intensely but in the end concluded I was innocent,” he writes.
He elaborates upon some of the operations he reported on to Israel.
“It was very difficult to lead a double life. My job was to get to those who plan the operations, to the senior terrorists and not to the mediocre terrorists who fire the rocket or detonate a bomb against Israel.”
According to Sinai, he helped to prevent a number of terrorist attacks. “Once I knew of a car bomb that was heading towards the Israeli border to carry out a suicide bombing. I contacted my recruiter directly and told him about it. Later, an Israeli helicopter bombed it.
“I also reported to my recruiters of the movement of Hizbullah officers. Many Hizbullah officers were killed after Israel placed bombs where they hid out thanks to the information I passed on. But the bulk of my activities will be revealed only after I am dead.”
During all those years, Sinai knew that his days in Hizbullah were numbered and that sooner or later his collaboration with Israel would be exposed. One day, a family member told him that the Syrians detected conversations with his recruiters and knew the places they would meet.
“I knew that they were after me now and I didn’t return to the village. I just ran by foot to south Lebanon. I bypassed the Syrian and Hizbullah roadblocks by running through the mountains. I was told that my name and picture had been given over to the guards at the roadblocks and if caught they would kill me.
“I will not deny that I was scared. I remember what they did to a man from the Amal clan whom they thought had passed over information about them. They killed him and dragged his body by car throughout the village to demonstrate what happens to a collaborator.”
After he was exposed, he remained in south Lebanon and managed to move his family there. Although Israel and the [South Lebanon Army] controlled south Lebanon then, people from the Mossad told him that it would be safer for him to move to Israel. So in 1997 he left South Lebanon and went to live in Safed.
“At first they suggested that I move to Osefiya, an Arab town in Israel, but I insisted on living in an Israeli town. Even when I was in Lebanon I dreamt of living in Israel. I would sit on the mountains of Jebel Baruch (in south Lebanon) and stare at northern Israel, I dreamt of living there.”
The full scope of Sinai’s clandestine operations in Lebanon were not known to his family. “I knew he was involved in dangerous work but nothing more than that,” says his wife, Ziva.
After Sinai’s dream materialized and he moved to Safed, he decided that this was the time to convert to Judaism.
He told his wife that after everything he went through in Lebanon he had come to the conclusion that the truth is to be found in Judaism.
His recruiters opposed his decision to convert, but he wasn’t swayed.
A senior officer arranged for a meeting between him and the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, and he began the conversion process.
Rabbi Eliyahu relates, “One day a senior officer who learned together with me in the yeshiva comes in to my office and says, “This man wants to convert.”
“The officer told me who he was and what he went through, and after verifying the story I started the conversion process.”
From that time on, Rabbi Eliyahu has been accompanying Sinai in his journey to Judaism, andthey have become good friends.
“I can tell you in all sincerity that this man is for real. He, his wife and children now conduct a real Orthodox home,” Rabbi Eliyahu told The Jewish Press.
In the recent war in Lebanon with Hizbullah, Sinai found himself in a very strange position. As a resident of Safed it was the first time that he experienced first-hand what it feels like when Katyushas fall in Israel. The war, he says, reminded him of his previous life in Lebanon.
Hizbullah’s performance in the field did not surprise him, he said, commenting that they have the advantage of fighting on their own ground.
The Sinais’ home in Safed looks like a typical Israeli house. Hebrew is the only language spoken, and the children don’t know a word of Arabic.
“Judaism today is an integral part of me,” says Sinai. “In my book I want readers to learn about the trials and tribulations and the miracles I went through until I came to where I am today.
Sinai is not worried about whether the book will become a best seller â€“ he knows that one person will surely read the book: Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah.