In the Palestinian West Bank town of Birzeit early last February 27, the Israeli (IDF) Occupation Forces (IOF) acted determinedly, under the media spotlights, to feed Amnesty International with a show case study to vindicate the report it released only hours earlier, entitled “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank,” and to refute the Israeli official diplomatic denial of the contents thereof.
Under the command of Col. Yossi Pinto, a Nahal infantry force of the Binyamin Territorial Brigade, joined by the Border Police’s elite Counterterrorism Unit, Yamam, according to Israeli The Jerusalem Post on the same day and “200 Israeli soldiers, dozens of jeeps, two (military) bulldozers and many Shin Bet [internal security] officers” according to Amira Hass of Haaretz on this March 3, including some 28 – more than thirty army patrol armored vehicles according to the count of Arab natives of Birzeit who spoke to this writer, were amassed in this Birzeit University town, raising a hell of explosives and gunfire and disrupting its peaceful countryside early spring morning.
Amira Hass was on the scene. Wondering what was all that military mobilization for, a former mayor of Birzeit told this writer that he heard her asking in repudiation, “Was it (the late al-Qaeda founder Osama) Bin Laden inside?!”
Their mission, according to Israeli military spokespeople, was to arrest a “wanted individual” who, according to the Shin Bet internal security agency, quoted by Hass, had “intended” to carry out an “aggressive operation” against Israeli targets. An Israeli army spokeswoman said the man was “suspected” of “terror activity.” www.israelnationalnews.com on the same day quoted “the IDF Spokesman's Unit” as saying that he was “a wanted man suspected of terror activity.” Gideon Levy in Haaretz on this March 2 quoted “the military correspondents” as repeating what the “IDF claimed” that the man “had the intention to carry out a terror attack in the near future.”
Hass wrote: “In the unofficial Israeli law code, unproved “terrorist intentions” are enough to be punishable by death. In Hebrew, “terror attack” is a magic phrase that exempts the Israelis from wondering why an arrest needs so many troops and fanfare, and has such a murderous end.”
Gideon Levy sarcastically repeating the self-described as “the most moral army in the world” wrote that the Israeli army “is also an army that reads intentions,” but Levy did not add that this army has had it as a rule to act accordingly as well.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said: “After the suspect was called to turn himself in, he barricaded himself inside his house, effectively resisting arrest. Under the premise that he had weapons in his possession, the forces used different means to complete the arrest, including live fire.”
The “suspect” was 24-year old Muatazz Abdul-Rahim Washaha, an unemployed Palestinian native of Birzeit.
Hass questioned the accuracy of this statement. Claiming that the victim had “barricaded himself” in would make people “think he built a fortress and surrounded himself with explosives. This is very inaccurate,” she wrote.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office said that the “troops forcibly entered the building and found his body.” Hass said that “this is a lie.” “The elite police unit had shot Washaha at point-blank range dozens of times, according to the pieces of brain that covered the room, not to mention his legs, arms and fingers that were nearly severed from his body,” she added. Washaha's head was split open after being struck by a projectile, a doctor at the Palestinian Ramallah Hospital told AP on the same day.
It was left to Levy and others to specify the details of “live fire.”
Levy reported that “the most moral army in the world fired an (M72 LAW) anti-tank missile at the house in which a wanted young Palestinian was hiding … ran a bulldozer over the top of the house and destroyed it,” using “a drill it calls a ‘pressure cooker’ – a rather disgusting drill it invented for itself.”
When the tactic of “pressure cooker,” which involves shooting at the walls of the house that is surrounded, failed to persuade the suspect to come out and turn himself in, the IOF troops at around 7 AM bulldozed part of the outer wall of the house and fired projectiles into the building. Fire erupted in the house. At 11 AM, they issued an ultimatum, “giving Muatazz two minutes to surrender, without result. As the ultimatum expired, the army fired several artillery shells from close distance. They then stormed the burning house, killing Muatazz,” Jan Walraven reported in the Palestine Monitor on this March 3.
The four – apartment building was bulldozed and shelled out of use and its contents burned and vandalized. Four families suddenly found themselves on the street, waiting for charities.
Washaha did not “resist” his arrest; he simply refused to give himself in. Released from an IFO jail only a few months ago, he knew very well what being imprisoned by the IOF meant. “I will be free here. Leave and do not worry about me. I will stay here and not surrender. I will not return to prison,” he told a Palestinian civil defense worker who rushed in to extinguish the fire caused by the Israeli projectile. Those were his last words, quoted by The Electronic Intifada on last February 28.
“They could have taken him as a prisoner, but they did not want him as a prisoner they wanted to kill him,” his father Mr. Abdul – Rahim said. Similarly, his mother, Mrs. Eitzaaz Washaha, told Anadolu Agency: “Israeli forces could have arrested Washaha, but they were determined to kill him. My son wasn't armed. He was killed after the house was bombed.”
An Israeli Shin Bet officer, who goes under the name of Alon, gave permission to kill Muatazz because he refused to appear for an interview with him, according to Hass. “This was regarded as a personal affront by Alon,” she wrote. The victim’s brother, Tha’er Washaha, told Haaretz he implored Alon for permission to go inside and convince his brother to come out; Alon refused.
However, despite the officially acknowledged “suspicion,” an official army tweet, quoted by Los Angeles Times on the same day, convicted him as a “terrorist who resisted arrest.”
Pro – Israeli media and Israeli media, the latter being subjected to well – known strict military censorship, echoed this unconfirmed conclusion; for example, www.algemeiner.com on the same day headlined its report to conclude that a “Wanted Terrorist (was) Shot Dead by Israel Defense Forces.”
Disinformation was demonstrated by Israel Hayom, reportedly close to prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office; on the same day Hayom reported that “a firefight broke out” between the holed in victim and the besieging army brigade, but the witnesses on the site confirmed the Reuters’ report that “no shots were heard from inside the home before the Israeli forces opened fire,” a fact that is confirmed by the other fact that the raiding Israeli forces did not suffer the slightest casualty, which also refutes the IOF’ claim that the man had an AK-47 rifle, another “story” that “Israel accepted … with a yawn,” according to Levy of Haaretz.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) in a statement condemned Washaha’s killing as an “assassination,” a “crime” and a “deliberate” killing. PA’s spokesman, Ihab Bsaiso, said it was an “example of the violence perpetrated on a daily basis against our population.” In a letter sent to the UN Secretary-General, the President of the UN Security Council and the President of the UN General Assembly, Palestinian Ambassador Feda Abdelhady – Nasser said Washaha’s killing indicates Israel’s “pre-meditated intention of killing him.”
Israeli journalist Hass agrees further that his killing was a “cold-blooded assassination”; “The Israeli army did this deliberately,” she wrote. “Israel's goal” was “to embarrass the Palestinian Authority and undermine its status” among its own people and Israel was “successful” as the “Palestinian Authority officials were absent from Washaha's funeral” the next day to avoid the angry crowds, estimated at more than five thousand, who were demanding an end to peace negotiations and to PA’s security coordination with Israel.
Gideon Levy had another interpretation for the motives of “The most moral army in the world,” which was the title of his opinion column in Haaretz; “The Israel Defense Forces has also created a heartwarming name for all this: the “Tool of Disruption” – storming a civilian community for the purpose of causing panic and fear, and to disrupt its life,” or “Sometimes these operations are conducted … as a training routine in order to preserve the readiness of the forces and a demonstration of sovereign power” toward the Palestinians living under the Israeli military occupation since 1967, he wrote.
Amnesty’s Report Vindicated
Washaha’s extrajudicial execution came on the same day the Amnesty International (AI) released its 87-page report recommending that the U.S., EU and the rest of the international community should suspend all transfers of military aid to Israel because “without pressure from the international community the situation is unlikely to change any time soon,” Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said. “Too much civilian blood has been spilled … (and Israel’s) unlawful killings and unnecessary use of force must stop now,” he added.
The AI reported it had documented the killings of 22 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank in 2013 and in all the cases the Palestinians did not appear to have been posing a direct and immediate threat to life: “The circumstances of all their deaths point to them having been victims of unlawful killings, including — in some cases — possible willful killings.”
“Several victims were shot in the back suggesting that they were targeted as they tried to flee and posed no genuine threat to the lives of members of Israeli forces or others,” the report said. “In several cases, well-armored Israeli forces have resorted to lethal means to crack down on stone-throwing protesters causing needless loss of life” and “there is evidence that some individuals were victims of willful killings, which would amount to war crimes,” it added.
Since the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry succeeded in resuming the Palestinian – Israeli peace talks on last July 29, the IOF killed more than 42 Palestinian civilians; Washaha was among the latest.
Using “excessive force,” “arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters” and displaying "callous disregard" for human life, Israeli soldiers and police officers have been operating with “near total impunity,” in a “harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries,” “as a matter of policy,” while the Israeli investigative system is “woefully inadequate,” said Luther.
The AI report accused Israel of “war crimes and other serious violations of international law.”
Israel's Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, said that Amnesty was “obsessive” with a “focus on Israel” and accused the London – based rights organization of having “an agenda that has more to do with politics than human rights.” His embassy in London told The Jewish Chronicle that the AI’s report was merely a “stunt” filled with “unverifiable and often contradictory accounts.”
In Birzeit on that sad morning of last February 27, the elite military disproportionate force which the IOF used to liquidate Washaha acted as if it was intentionally determined to undermine the credibility of Israel’s official diplomacy, represented this time by ambassador Taub, and to vindicate the contents of Amnesty’s report which he tried to deny or at least to question.
Ironically, Israeli PM Netanyahu, less than a week later, was in Washington D.C. lecturing a receptive American audience at the annual conference of AIPAC about drawing a “clear line … between life and death, between right and wrong” and about the “moral divide!”
* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. firstname.lastname@example.org