The 124 Hanafi hostages escaped with their lives early yesterday in large part because they followed a basic rule of survival in such situations: They decided not to fight their captors.
Those who initially resisted were beaten; those who acquiesced generally suffered no more than verbal abuse.
There are numerous books and federal studies dealing with how individuals should react to terrorists, but with how individuals should react to terrorists, but [WORD ILLEGIBLE] was [WORD ILLEGIBLE] indication that many, if any, of the hostages were familiar with them.
"In a way it's very simple - We all became sheep," said Mimi Feldman, a secretary at B'nai B'rith. Over and over she tried to reconcile the fact "that there were so many of us and only six of them, and yet we were completely in their power.
"People talk about Nazi Germany; they ask why the Jews didn't fight back, why didn't they do something," Mrs. Feldman said. "If these people had been at B'nai B'rith, they would understand."
Instead of resisting, the Hanafi captives allowed themselves to be tied up with telephone cord, string, and in some cases, their own neckties. For nearly 40 hours they endured their captor's epithets, rambling philosophical discourages and constant threats of execution ("the general would like to chop your heads off").
To have reacted otherwise would have meant "dire consequences" for the prisoners, a federal specialist in crisis situations said yesterday. "It is foolish to resist. (The captors) might become panicky and cause injuries. It is safe to play it very low key," said Dr. Calvin Frederick of the National Institutes of Mental Health.
Submission is also the guiding rule of behavior recommended in a voluminous federaln task force report on terrorism released last week.
Avoiding a confrontation also gives police more time to negotiate for the release of hostages. "The longer they (the captors) are cooped up, the more likely they'll release their hostages," said former Washington Police Chief Jerry V. Wilson, chairman of a federal task force on terrorism. "We found that after the first day, we can pretty well predict that the hostage will be released."
A factor for some of the Hanafi hostages was that hostages were being held at three locations.
"We were aware thart any action we took, even if it looked practical, like grabbing their guns, would affect the other centers," the Rev. Robert Tesdell explained following his confinement in the Islamic Center. "I tried to study the windows, though I didn't want to look at them too intently. But there was no practical way to do anything, even when all of them were out of the room. It would have been really bloody."
Those who disobeyed the Hanafis drew their wrath. Sidney Closter, B'nai, B'rith's chief fund raiser, walked out of a meeting Wednesday and was confronted by a gunman who shouted, "Freeze!" Closter ducked under a desk, and the gunman shot at him. He backed up against some steel file cabinets. Another shot. Trying desperately to get to a phone, he scrambled into another office and drew another shot. A colleague persuaded him it was useless to resist.
David Leshnick another B'nai B'rith official, locked his office door when he saw the gunmen coming. "This guy hollered, 'You m- f-, you better open the door or we'll blow your brains out," Leshnick said yesterday. He said he refused and the gunman shot the lock off the door, burst in, grabbed him by the neck and said, "Come on, you damn Jehudah, I'm going to blow your head off!" Instead, Leshnick was punched in the mouth. Others who resisted were pistol-whipped.
Many of the captives sat in silence, dwelling on their fate. "I was absolutely convinced I would die," said Billy Camp, one of the B'nai, B'rith hostages. "All I could think about was how they would kill me and where the bullet would go."
The captors repeated brandished their machetes, and one bragged that he could cut off a head so fast the victim would'nt know it, Mrs. Feldman said. Hostages were told that if police failed to remove snipers from the roofs of nearby buildings, the hostages would be hung by their feet.
One man, tied to a chair, wet himself and was subject to merciless taunting, she said. Someone would ask for a drink of water and one of the gunmen said sarcastically, 'How about an ice cream cone?" When one asked to go to the bathroom, a gunman said, "Yeah? How about a shower?"
Forced to hear outrages in silence some of the hostages made themselves doze, or wept for loved ones. Mrs. Feldman said she tried to ease the tension with gallows humor. "Don't they know I don't work overtime?" she cracked.She recalles that other women looked at her with disdain.
After a while, she said, unconnected thoughts began to creep into her mind. She worried that she had ruined her husband's plans for an upcoming trip for them to Acapulco. She thought of the Delmonico steak she had bought - she hand't put it in the freezer and was afraid it would spoil.
One theory among students of terrorism is that victims often identify and sympathize with their captors. There appeared to be little of that in the expressions from the former hostages yesterday.
While one man said he wouldn't mind meeting the Hanafis under different circumstances, most interviewed agreed with the sentiments of a 60-year-old B'nai B'rith secretary: "I felt badly about the murders when (of seven members of the Hanafi family in 1973) when they happened, but I don't have an ounce of compassion for them now. I cannot have any compassion."
Some of the hostages were able to talk somewhat amically with their captors, while others, like Dr. Sidney Clearfield of B'nair B'rith, reported that the Hanafi leader, Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, kept hitting him in the stomach merely because he said he didn't like the way I was looking at him."
There is some disagreement whether it is wise for a hostage to attempt to talk with captors. Dr. Fredrick of NIMH advises against it, urging the prisoner to keep a low profile. However the 600 page Report of the Task Force on Disorders and Terrorism, chaired by former Chief Wilson, recommends that hostages:
Express serious, noncontentious interest in their captors' political and personal beliefs," and "attempt to persuade captors that alternative means of achieving their aims exist."
Such persuasion attempted by the three Moslem ambassadors who negotiated with the Hanafis succeeded. But when some hostages tried earlier to impress their captors with the wisdom of adopting alternate means, they got threats and tirades.
Mr. Tesdell, the Disciples of Christ Minister who was held captive at the Islamic Center, argued that the Hanafis on points of theory.
"I asked, 'How are you so sure that Allah wants you to kill people?" They said, 'The book. The book tells us.'
"I asked, 'But how do you know it's Allah's will?' They said, 'Our leader Hamaas says so. Hamaas doesn't lie.'
"I said that I understand that in Islam you're supposed to love your brother and be kind to your neighbor and they said, 'well, that's right, but it also says to make holy war against the unbelievers.'"
For his efforts, Mr. Tesdell said, he believes he moved himself high on the list of people who would have had their heads chopped off.