Haaretz correspondents Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel have asked the IDF why it killed — not arrested — three Fatah men in Nablus last week. The three Palestinians were suspected of shooting and killing an Israeli settler driving on a road between two Israeli settlements near Nablus.
In their report, published today in Haaretz, Issacharoff and Harel wrote that “The orders prepared by the Judea and Samaria Division for the IDF operation in Nablus last week by a Duvdevan commando unit stated clearly that the unit ‘was to carry out a raid and capture the wanted men’. This wording of the order was passed on to the unit with the approval of GOC Central Command. It was received on Friday December 25, several hours before the raid on the homes of the three suspects in the murder of Rabbi Meir Hai the previous day near Shavei Shomron. The orders did not include instructions to kill any of the three wanted men. The senior officers who spoke with Haaretz stressed that the soldiers were not given any verbal instructions that were different from those in writing. An evaluation of the testimonies of family members and the IDF officers suggests that this was not an operation to assassinate. However, the three, Adnan Subuh, Raad Sarkaji and Ghassan Abu Shreikh, were killed by the soldiers, even though two of them were not armed, and it does not even appear that they were trying to escape – a fact that the IDF does not dispute. Family members of the dead are alleging that the three were executed, and say that the Israeli claims that the three were involved in the killing of Rabbi Hai, 32 hours prior to the incident, are lies. The weapon that the security establishment in Israel says were used to kill the rabbi was found in the home of the third wanted man, Subuh. A ballistic examination [n.b., carried out after the three Palestinian men were already dead] proved it was the weapon. But it is difficult not to wonder how two unarmed men, nearly 40 years old, sleeping in bed near their children and not behaving as wanted men, were killed without even having attempted to escape. It appears that, like in many other operations of this sort, the reality on the ground, and especially early intelligence on the three suspects, predetermined the result of the operation. The Duvdevan commandos were told that the suspects might be armed and that they murdered Rabbi Hai. Sources in the IDF argue that the information on the role of the three in the murder was ‘certain’. In such case, any unnecessary movement by one of the ‘targets’ may be life-threatening because it might mean they are going for a weapon. Indeed, an examination of the testimonies of the families and the IDF officers involved in the details of the operation suggests that the two wanted men hesitated in surrendering to the soldiers who came to arrest them, and did move suspiciously, which in turn led to the opening of lethal fire against them. ‘We did not murder or assassinate’, one of the IDF officers said. ‘In such instances the security of our forces precedes the security of the enemy’.”
The Haaretz correspondents wrote in detail about the deaths of two of the Palestininian men: In one case, “The IDF officers’ version is that ‘the brother came down first. He came slowly, as he had been told to do, and turned before the soldier in order to show that he had nothing under his shirt. The rest of the family did the same except for the wanted man. After a few minutes delay, two stun grenades were thrown in, and the wanted man came out running down the stairs. The soldiers called out in Arabic for him to stop but he continued running. When he came within 2.5 meters away from one of the soldiers, there was no choice but to shoot him’. The run down the staircase may suggest that he was trying to escape through the yard, without realizing that the soldiers had surrounded it. ‘You must understand that once we surprised the wanted man, each minute that passes he could be surprising us,” one of the officers explained‘. In the other case, the Haaretz correspondents reported, “In this case too, the IDF version is different. ‘The wanted man came out of the room and realized that it was the army, and rushed back inside’, an officer who was on the scene says. ‘The force commander called to his soldiers to make sure he did not have a weapon. Several minutes later he came out again, behind his wife. His hands were hidden. The soldiers called out to him repeatedly, in Arabic, to lift his hands, and he did not do so. There was little choice. The threat to the soldiers was just too great’.” This Haaretz report can be read in full here
In a separate report, Haaretz recounted details from a speech made in Ramallah on Thursday evening by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to mark the 45th anniversary of the founding of the party he leads, Fatah. As Haaretz noted, “Abbas accused Israel on Thursday of trying to sabotage Palestinian achievements – mainly the enforcement of law and order, stability and security in the West Bank – through its military incursions and killing of Palestinians. In an address in Ramallah marking the 45th anniversary of the first attack by his Fatah organization against Israel, on January 3, 1965, Abbas said the Palestinian people would not fall into the Israeli trap and resort to violence to retaliate against these Israeli actions. He said, however, that the Palestinians will continue to fight for their freedom through what he described as ‘legitimate resistance’ guaranteed by international law. ‘As we make achievements’, he said, ‘the Israeli government and the more extreme elements escalate their measures against us’.” The Israeli killing of six Palestinians over the weekend in Gaza and the West Bank city of Nablus was ‘a despicable and atrocious act’, he said. Israel ‘seeks through these provocative and ongoing acts to drag us to a violent reaction to relieve itself from international isolation by making us appear as the aggressor’, said Abbas, urging the Palestinians not to do anything ‘uncalculated’. Israel said the three killed in the West Bank were behind the fatal shooting December 24 of an Israeli settler in the northern West bank, and the three in the Gaza Strip had been killed while approaching the border fence armed with explosive devices” [n.b., the explosive devices were reportedly discovered by the IDF several days after the three young Palestinian men, from a Bedouin village in northern Gaza, were shot. Palestinian sources said that the three were trying to cross the border fence to enter Israel to look for work.]… According to this Haaretz article, Abbas noted that it was also “the first anniversary of a 21-day Israeli offensive in Gaza, which left over 1,400 Palestinians dead, thousands wounded and heavy damage to homes and infrastructure, Abbas said the Palestinian Authority will follow up on recommendations by Richard Goldstone on that war ‘until we bring every war criminal before the International Court of Justice’.” This Haaretz report can be read in full here.