Saturday, December 26, 2009

Murder and Revenge in the West Bank


Last Thursday, Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai, (pictured above) a 45-year-old teacher and father of seven, was killed when someone opened fire at his car near Nablus, on the road between the Israeli settlements Shavei Shomron and Einav in the West Bank. Chai was a long time resident Shavei Shomron. He was alone in his car when shot; there were no witnesses. Shortly after the shooting, both the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

On Friday, hundreds of mourners gathered in Jerusalem to bury Chai. In eulogizing his father, Chai's 16-year-old son Eliyahu urged mourners not to consider seeking revenge for the attack. "The difference between us and them is that we are people, Jews, holy," he said.

By Friday night 120 Palestinians had been rounded up by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in its own investigation of the attack. One suspect identified by the PA had turned himself in and was being interrogated.

At 3 AM on Saturday morning, Israeli forces burst into the homes of three Palestinian militants in Nablus and shot them dead. The IDF claims these where the very men responsible for the killing of Rabbi Chai. How they know this, and for certain is not clear. The three Palestinians killed were Raghsan Abu Sharah aged 40, Anan Sabah aged 36, and Raed a-Sarkaji aged 40.

The IDF claims the men were shot dead after failing to surrender despite repeated demands. However, according to B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights monitoring group, in two of the three cases the troops behaved as if they were preparing for an execution, not an arrest. Relatives and eyewitnesses told B'Tselem that the two were unarmed and did not attempt to flee, and that the soldiers weren't trying to stop them, but rather shot them from close range once their identity was revealed. There were no witnesses to the shooting of the third man.

A senior IDF officer quickly rejected claims that the militants had been executed, telling reporters of Israel TV that "the soldiers called on the terrorist to surrender and turn himself in. He refused and hid in his room and sent his wife out toward us. In cases where there is a threat to our troops [sic] and a wanted militant refuses to surrender, IDF forces are permitted to open fire in order to neutralize the threat. I am pleased that none of our fighters were hurt, but the risk factor was very high in this operation."

Another senior IDF official admitted to Israel Radio that the three militants had not fired at Israeli troops and that two of them were unarmed, but that the Israeli soldiers knew that the terror squad that had carried out Thursday's attack was highly skilled and had access to firearms and therefore posed a threat. He stressed that the operation was carried out in accordance with IDF regulations, and that the soldiers first fired protest dispersal ammunition, then fired at the walls, and only later fired at the militants.

In one case, according to other reports, the soldiers fired an anti-tank shell into the wanted mans house before storming it.

According to IDF spokesman the defense establishment is investigating why the three, who are considered fairly mature, decided to execute the attack themselves, and why they acted so shortly after being released from the Israeli prison. The spokesman did not say how they knew for certain that these men where in fact the attackers.

The raids where coordinated and all took place in the dark of the early morning. "It was important to act simultaneously, because we believed [emphasis added] there was a connection between all three suspects," explained a senior officer.

The fact that the terrorists are not young, said the officer, indicated they have an extensive background in terrorist activities, as well as experience and knowledge. "They acted in order to cover their tracks. The risk level in this operation was high because the three had access to weapons and would not hesitate to use them," he said, in attempting to justify the army's killing of all three in the act of arresting them. [None of the three used any weapons during the attempted arrests, and only one was found to have weapons in his house.]

Asked why the IDF could not have left the arrests to the PA which seemed to be acting aggressively to investigate the killing of Chai, and already had one suspect under arrest, a senior officer of the IDF Central Command replied, "They acted with determination, but alongside that we have the responsibility to act against whoever executed the attack and settle the score with them."

Ten thousand people are reported to have attended the funerals of the three slain Palestians in Nablus. The Aqsa Martyrs Brigade - to whom the three slain men belonged - threatened swift retaliation to the killings of the three. "The occupation (Israel) is opening the gates to hell," said Abu Mahmoud, a senior al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades commander. Fatah's armed wind vowed to respond "in the language of blood and fire."

* * *

After writing the above, I came across this, from Israels largest circulation daily Yediot Akhronot. It sheds further light on the possible motivation for the IDFs aggressive tactics, and possible negative repercussions. (A translation of the full artical can be found on Coteret)

...one of the terrorists was released from an Israeli prison last January after having served a seven-year term. Against the backdrop of the fears about the consequences of the Shalit deal, the death of a recidivist terrorist who was released from prison sends a message to anyone who might be released in the framework of a deal: you’re being watched, no matter where you go.

There have been increasing numbers of people within Fatah who have called on the movement to take the militant route ever since the Fatah Central Conference that was held earlier this year. The operation yesterday also sends a clear message to those extremists who are trying to undermine Abu Mazen and who long for the days of the armed struggle.

But justice needs to be meted out intelligently and prudently. While it is true that the operation in Nablus does not violate any agreement between Israel and the PA, and the IDF is entitled to decide to send large numbers of troops into the city to go in pursuit of suspects, in these sensitive political times and against the backdrop of the persistent security and the ongoing and sincere efforts by the Palestinian Authority to deal with the terror organizations—perhaps an operation on this scale ought to have been approved first by the political echelon in Israel.

There are quite a few security officials who now lament the fact that Israel destroyed Fatah and all of its institutions during the second Intifada. The dosage, they say, was excessive. Fatah hasn’t been able to recover, and the Palestinian Authority, which relies on it, headed by Abu Mazen, has been trying for the past five years to gain momentum, without much success. On the way, it also lost one of its wings in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority was not negligent in its investigation. Dozens of people were arrested, including people who fled the IDF’s manhunt in Nablus. The law and public order that has been maintained in Nablus is considered to be one of the most salient achievements of the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli security policy. Israel has an agreement with the PA: Israel will refrain from taking dramatic action in Nablus and other cities, except under irregular circumstances. The PA has asked to be given more and more security responsibilities in Area A. This weekend Israel gave them the figurative finger. The operation in Nablus overtly undermines the standing of the Palestinian Authority. Is that in Israel’s interest? ...

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