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War crimes

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see also Verdict: balanced report, unbalanced reaction

Rear Admiral John Kirby, taking questions, 2014. Photo from US Defense Department

US says UN Security Council should disregard ‘biased’ Gaza report

State Department says report, which accused Israel of possible war crimes, is intrinsically unfair

By i24 news
June 24, 2015

The United Nations Human Rights Council report on last summer’s war in Gaza should not be brought to the Security Council for a vote or used by the UN for other work, the United States said Tuesday.

Dismissing the report as having a “clear bias” against Israel, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington viewed the report, which accused both Israel and the Islamist group of possible war crimes, as intrinsically unfair.

“[W]e challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this,” Kirby said during a press conference. “We reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.”

The UNHCR is slated to examine the findings of the report on June 29 and may vote in favor of sending it to the Security Council for further action. Kirby had already iterated on Monday that the US would not take part in that endeavor.

The US does not “support any further UN work on this report,” Kirby said regarding whether it should be forwarded to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

“We’ve made very clear what our issues were at the time about the use of force and we made very clear to the Israeli government our concerns about what was happening in that conflict,” he added. “We have an ongoing dialogue with the government of Israel on all these sorts of matters; that dialogue continued and continues.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected the report’s finding and slammed the UN Human Rights Council for spending “more time condemning Israel than Iran, Syria and North Korea put together.”

“Israel does not commit war crimes, but rather defends itself from a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction,” the PM said.

American jurist Mary McGowan Davis, who headed the independent United Nations probe into the events of last summer’s war in Gaza, has said that the investigation’s report would have looked different if Israel would have cooperated with it.

In an interview with Israeli daily Haaretz, McGowan Davis said that if Israel would have co-operated with the investigation, “we could have met with Israeli victims and seen where rockets landed, talked with commanders, watched videos and visited Gaza. We talked to a lot of witnesses but of course an investigation needs to be as close to the scene as possible and it would have looked different.”

Israel refused to co-operate with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) probe, harbouring grave misgivings about the commission’s impartiality.

Think U.N. Gaza ‘War Crimes’ Report Is Biased? Read It First.

By J.J. Goldberg, Jewish Forward
June 23, 2015

When the shouting dies down and folks take the time to read the actual content of the United Nations report on last summer’s Gaza war — all 183 pages plus side documents — you might see some very red faces in the world of pro-Israel activism.

Well, maybe you won’t. The leaders and friends of Israel’s current governing coalition aren’t in the habit of admitting mistakes, especially where Palestinians are involved. But this one will be hard to dodge.

Israeli officialdom and its boosters greeted the report’s June 22 release with a chorus of outrage. They claim it “accuses Israel of deliberately killing civilians,” denies Israel’s right to defend itself, “barely mentioned” Hamas and even “has blood on its hands for allowing the murder of Jews.” None of that is in the report.

What it does contain is a host of questions about the Israeli military actions that led to the deaths of around 2,200 Palestinians, a large proportion of them civilians. It questions whether Israel’s military goals of stopping rocket and mortar fire and tunnel infiltration, goals it admits were legitimate, necessitated all of the actions that caused the massive civilian suffering.

It reads harshly at times, but the events it describes actually happened. Given the numbers killed and left homeless, it’s appropriate to recall. The finger-pointing is actually rather mild, relative to the magnitude of the suffering. And make no mistake: the finger points in both directions.

The report notes that “the threats to the security of Israel remained all too real.” It describes at length the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, as well as Hamas’s terrifying tunnels into Israeli territory. It describes Israel’s casualties, including children killed, wounded and emotionally scarred. And it charges that the firing of rockets without guidance systems in the direction of civilian residential areas by “Palestinian armed groups” was a blatant violation of international law.

But it cites dozens of cases where Israel’s response might not have been “proportional” to the threat. International laws of war dictate that a military action should be proportional, not to the harm suffered, but to the achievement of a “legitimate military goal.” The investigators studied 15 specific residential buildings out of the thousands that Israel shelled. It found evidence of a military target in nine of them. In the other six it couldn’t find evidence of a military target, raising the suspicion that the building was a purely civilian facility, suggesting that the attack violated international law. Since Israel didn’t cooperate with the investigators, and didn’t allow them entry to Israel or Gaza, the report urges Israel to answer the question of what it was aiming at in each case.

The report praises Israel’s efforts to warn residents by leaflet and telephone to flee before buildings were attacked, even at the cost of losing the element of surprise. However, it claims Israel’s practice of “roof-knocking,” dropping light munitions to warn residents before bombing, was ineffective.

It also raises an explosive question of whether Israel’s top leaders should be culpable for failing to change tactics in midsummer once the high civilian toll of its bombings became clear.

What will evoke the most discomfort and even outrage for many is the report’s lengthy series of grim eyewitness accounts of civilian deaths (“I found the decapitated bodies of my uncle and daughter…”) and destroyed homes. A handful of killings are documented that the report flatly says violated international law, notably a civilian shot twice after falling down wounded, caught on video.

But the report’s most direct, unequivocal allegation of illegality — stripped of “may,” “could” or “should” — involves “executions” of suspected collaborators by “Palestinian armed groups” (its collective term for the military wings of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and several smaller groups). The report describes in detail the arrest, torture and summary execution, often in public, of several dozen suspects, “with the apparent knowledge of the local authorities in Gaza,” the report’s term for the Hamas government. These flatly violated “both international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” along with “Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and “article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions,” the laws of war.
The report quotes the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority — or, as it terms it, the Ministry of Interior of the State of Palestine — as condemning the executions as “illegal.” In what’s either wry humor or clueless diplo-speak, it says the State of Palestine intends to investigate Palestinian violations and impose justice as soon as it regains control of Gaza.

The report also notes allegations by witnesses that Israeli troops used Palestinians as human shields, forcing them to enter buildings before the soldiers in case of booby traps. One specific case is cited. On the other hand, it notes that Palestinian armed groups made an apparent practice of using human shields by sending civilians to the roof of targeted buildings “to ‘protect’ the house” — one specific case is cited, but others are suspected — “in violation of the customary law prohibition to use human shields.”

Israel condemned the report as biased from the moment it was first commissioned by the U.N.’s human rights council last July, during the heat of the war. The council has a long history of obsessively focusing on Israel and ignoring far more glaring human rights violators. It’s been responsible in the past for such miscarriages of justice as the 2009 Goldstone Report, which baselessly accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians in the three-week Gaza incursion known as Operation Cast Lead. Israel refused to cooperate with that inquiry, whose chair, South African judge Richard Goldstone, eventually repudiated many of his own commission’s findings.

The council’s initial choice to head the latest inquiry was Canadian academic William Schabas, a longstanding, vehement critic of Israeli behavior. But Schabas quit the inquiry last February following revelations that he’d done paid consulting work for the Palestine Liberation Organization, a conflict of interest. His replacement was a retired New York state judge and onetime Brooklyn federal prosecutor with a reputation for fairness, Mary McGowan Davis.

The report produced by McGowan Davis and her fellow commissioner, veteran U.N. human rights expert Doudou Diene of Senegal, seems to have caught some Israelis off-guard. Where the Goldstone Report was dismissed out of hand, the Foreign Ministry says it will “study” the new one, despite the bias of the council that commissioned it. Some officials are quietly telling reporters it may have been a mistake to continue snubbing the investigation after Schabas resigned, rather than cooperating so McGowan Davis could hear Israel’s side. Indeed, some warn the report’s relative balance will make it harder to ignore the harsher allegations as they move through international bodies and tribunals.

Israel released its own report on the war a week before the U.N. document came out, on June 14, in an apparent attempt to preempt and blunt the expected the U.N. attack. Simultaneously, a pro-Israel organization in Europe released a report by a so-called High-Level International Military Group, comprising 11 retired generals and diplomats from around the world, headed by a former German chief of staff and head of NATO command. They visited Israel for several days in May and concluded that Israel “not only met a reasonable international standard of the laws of armed combat, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.”

Neither of those reports, however, addressed the specific incidents and patterns that McGowan Davis questioned.

It remains to be seen whether and how Israel will address her questions regarding the military necessity of its actions.

The Palestinians have initiated action against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and McGowan Davis urges Israel to co-operate. But the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over a country that properly investigates and punishes its own crimes. The ball is in Israel’s court. For the rest of us, step one would be to read the darn thing.

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Israel calls on member states to divest from ICC

Beit Lahiya in the far north of the Gaza Strip was badly hit during the 2008-2009 Israeli attacks. / Photo: RafahKid (

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda initiated on Friday a preliminary probe into whether the Israeli army committed war crimes during last summer’s offensive on Gaza. In addition, Bensouda indicated that Palestine should be recognized as a state following the UN General Assembly’s November 29, 2012 vote recognizing a “State of Palestine.”

From February 2009 until April 2012, Palestinians made attempts to bring war crimes allegations against Israel in relation to the 2008-9 Israeli offensive on Gaza. However, the ICC Prosecutor’s Office dismissed such attempts, declaring that “Palestine” was not yet a state and that only states could seek ICC intervention.

Bensouda’s decision does not mean actual war crimes trials are imminent. However, Israeli analysts perceive it as a most serious escalation toward possible war crimes trials of Israeli military personnel and political leaders.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry hailed the decision as a “positive and significant step toward achieving justice and respecting international law.”

The ministry added that the Palestinian decided to join the ICC was intended “to put an end to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Saturday his organization appreciates the move.

“What is needed now is to provide the court with thousands of reports and documents that confirm the Zionist enemy has committed horrible crimes against Gaza and against our people,” he added in a statement.

Not unexpectedly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the ICC move, claiming it is absurd.

“I won’t be surprised if ISIS, Al Qaeda and Hizbollah follow suit,” he added on Saturday.

In response to Bensouda’s decision, Israel is lobbying member-states of the ICC to cut funding for the tribunal.

Israel, which is not a member of the ICC, hopes to dent funding for the court which is drawn from the 122 member states in accordance with the size of their economies, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday.

“We will demand of our friends in Canada, in Australia and in Germany simply to stop funding it,” he told Israel Radio.

“This body represents no one. It is a political body,” he said. “There are a quite a few countries – I’ve already taken telephone calls about this – that also think there is no justification for this body’s existence.”

He said he would raise the matter with visiting Canadian counterpart John Baird on Sunday.

Another Israeli official told Reuters that a similar request was sent to Germany, traditionally one of the court’s strongest supporters, and would also be made to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is separately visiting Jerusalem and whose nation is the largest contributor to the ICC.


Final Words on Sharon By Miko Peled

Sharon pic

Ariel Sharon, visit to the Temple Mount, October, 2000

I never understood how people could rejoice at the news of a person’s death. I happened to be in the UK when Margaret Thatcher died so I witnessed the celebrations. The expressions of joy as the news of the Iron Lady’s death spread around the country shocked me at first, as people were actually throwing parties to celebrate her death. As I visited different parts of the country, particularly Wales and Ireland, it occurred to me that when Ariel Sharon dies we may see similar outbursts of joy taking place.

Sharon has been in a coma since January 2006 when he suffered several brain hemorrhages that left him in a vegetative state. But now there is news that his kidneys are failing and concerns are expressed in Israel that there is a chance he will die soon.

One can imagine the long eulogies we will have to endure once he is laid to rest: “A hero,” “a great leader,” “a military genius,” all of this will be said and more. The press will recount every military achievement, ever battle he won, every enemy, both military and political that he defeated. His resolve as Israel’s leader will be heralded, and, we will be told, he will be remembered for giving his all to his country.

In my book, The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, I mention Sharon several times, in his capacity as a military man who was cruel, brilliant and reckless, then as defense minister and finally as prime minister. But it is important to set the record straight about this man before the nauseating outpour of condolences, replete with hypocrisy and lies, that are sure to follow his death.

Ariel Sharon was an ambitious man. He was brutal, greedy, uncompromising and dishonest. He possessed an insatiable appetite for power, glory and fortune. His tendencies as a cold-blooded, merciless killer were evident from early on in his career when he commanded the Israeli army’s Unit 101 in the 1950’s. Unit 101 was an infamous commando brigade with special license to kill and terrorize Palestinians. It operated mostly in Gaza, but also in other parts of the country and beyond. Unit 101 was so brutal in its practices, and claimed so many innocent lives, that even by Israeli standards it was thought to have gone too far and the unit was eventually disbanded.

Sharon went on to be promoted to other commands in the Israeli army earning a name for himself as a promising commander and all were expecting that he would one day be the Israeli army’s top commander, or Chief of Staff. But this was one job he never got, he did better. Sharon entered politics and was nominated to be Defense Minister under Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In that capacity he lead Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

This invasion left countless Lebanese and Palestinians dead, wounded and displaced. Sharon was also behind the massacres that took place in September of that year in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut, and here once again, even by Israeli standards Sharon had gone too far and was removed from office.

Though Sharon was reprimanded for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and was prevented from serving as defense minister, his political career continued nevertheless and his sphere of influence grew. As minster of Housing and Development he contributed more than any other to the racist, anti Palestinian policies and the corruption within the ministry. It is claimed that during his tenure the ministry’s budget was without limits, exceeding Israel’s entire defense budget. He used his full weight to achieve the colonization and displacement Palestinians from what used to be the West Bank.

Surely the most absurd thing ever said about Sharon, is that he was a man of peace. That he “left” Gaza and that he “gave” Gaza back to the Palestinians. That he did it for peace and in return all Israel received were rockets fired from Gaza. The Israeli disengagement from Gaza was a cynical, unilateral move. It allowed Sharon to get the Israeli settlers in Gaza out of his way, close Gaza like a prison and score a few political points with the US administration. It was a cruel move that allowed him to further suffocate the people of Gaza, people that he was determined to destroy from early on in his violent career. But the proud Palestinians would not surrender and served as a constant reminder of the blood with which his hands are stained.

One could go on and on about Sharon and his crimes. As he lay dying, perhaps within days or minutes of his final breath, we must all remember his victims, the countless dead, wounded and displaced and remind the world that this man was not a hero but a criminal.

As I write these words Ariel Sharon is still alive, if one can call it that, and in many ways the state in which he lives now could be the hell he so richly deserves.

Gaza, a righteous voice


Former Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir Goes to the Great Hague in the Sky

Death of a Proud, Self-Avowed Terrorist:

Author : My Photo

Staunch humanist. Opinionated egoist. Skeptical solipsist. Frustrated optimist. Hobbesian idealist.
Palestine Police Force Wanted Poster offering rewards for the capture of Stern Gang members,
including (at center) Yitzhak Yezernitzky

Sometimes terrible people live long lives. Such is the case with Icchak Yezernitsky, a Russian-born racist, terrorist and eager ethnic cleanser who is better known to the world as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.  Shamir died today, June 30, 2012, at a Tel Aviv nursing home from Alzheimer’s Disease at the ripe old age of 96.  One can only wonder if he had forgotten all the war crimes he had committed.

Nearly every mainstream media outlet has eulogized Shamir with encomiums, or at least profound respect.  Here are some of Shamir’s greatest hits, most of which have been omitted from most of the media’s effusive obituaries:

Shamir was one of the leaders of Lehi (also known as The Stern Gang), a Zionist terrorist militia which rampaged through Palestine in the 1940s.  Were anyone to dispute that Lehi was a terrorist group, Shamir proudly affirmed that particular description in a 1943 article he wrote entitled “Terror.”  Shamir wrote,

Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can be used to disallow terror as a means of war…We are very far from any moral hesitations when concerned with the national struggle.

First and foremost, terror is for us a part of the political war appropriate for the circumstances of today, and its task is a major one: it demonstrates in the clearest language, heard throughout the world including by our unfortunate brethren outside the gates of this country, our war against the occupier.

The Zionist terror campaign of Plan Dalet, put into effect in early 1948 and described by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, consisted of “large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding population centres; setting fires to homes, properties, and goods; expulsion; demolition; and finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning.”

Shamir seemed to relish the opportunity to terrorize, murder and ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population into order to make room for the nascent state of Israel.  The massacre of Deir Yassin in April 1948, during which over 100 unarmed villagers were murdered, was carried out by Zionist commandos of Shamir’s Lehi and Menachem Begin’s Irgun (of which Shamir was a former member).

Following Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence in May 1948, the United Nations reassessed its approach to the partition of Palestine and appointed a mediator, Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte, to come up with new proposal while taking into account “the aspirations of the Jews, the political difficulties and differences of opinion of the Arab leaders, the strategic interests of Great Britain, the financial commitment of the United States and the Soviet Union, the outcome of the war, and finally the authority and prestige of the United Nations.”  Notice that the rights of the indigenous Palestinians were not included in this mandate.

Nevertheless, while Bernadotte’s second proposal was produced in consultation with British and American emissaries, then-President Harry Truman undermined its progress in the UN due to pre-election Zionist influence in the United States.  When Bernadotte finally presented his progress report, “Mediation, Truce Supervision, Refugees, Proposals for Peaceful Settlement,” on September 16, 1948, it included this unequivocal statement:

It is not yet known what the policy of the Provisional Government of Israel with regard to the return of Arab refugees will be when the final terms of settlement are reached. It is, however, undeniable that no settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged by the hazards and strategy of the armed conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. The majority of these refugees have come from territory which, under the Assembly resolution of 29 November, was to be included in the Jewish State. The exodus of Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion. It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries. (A/648 1.V.6)

The very next day, September 17, 1948, Bernadotte was assassinated in West Jerusalem by members of Lehi, acting on Shamir’s explicit orders.

In 1969, Shamir formally joined Begin’s “Freedom Party” (Herut), which Jewish luminaries such as Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt had decried years earlier as “a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties” which “preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority.”

In April 1988, during the first Intifada, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamirwarned that any Palestinian caught protesting would have his “head smashed against the boulders and walls.” He continued, “We say to them from the heights of this mountain and from the perspective of thousands of years of history that they are like grasshoppers compared to us.”

Shamir was a committed colonialist.  Even when, in September 1991, U.S. President George H.W. Bush threatened to withhold “loan guarantees sought by Israel unless the Israeli Government, which has ignored all of his previous appeals to halt settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, freezes building activity,” Shamir never halted further colonization of Palestine.

In June 1993, after being voted out of office, Shamir stated his desire to deliberately subvert any efforts to establish a Palestinian state by carrying out peace talks under false pretenses.  “I would have conducted the autonomy negotiations for 10 years, and in the meantime we would have reached half a million [Jewish] souls in Judea and Samaria.”  Lamenting the end of his administration, Shamir said it was “painful that in the coming four years I won’t be able to increase settlements in Judea and Samaria and Gaza.”

In 2005, Israelis voted Shamir the 29th Greatest Israeli in a poll conducted by Ynet.

Despite Shamir’s history of despicable violence and willful abrogation of international law, Barack Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney released a statement on behalf of the White House at the news of Shamir’s death.

“Yitzhak Shamir dedicated his life to the State of Israel,” the statement read. “From his days working for Israel’s independence to his service as Prime Minister, he strengthened Israel’s security and advanced the partnership between the United States and Israel.”

It is unsurprising that Benjamin Netanyahu praised his Likud predecessor, saying, “He was a paragon of loyalty to the Land of Israel and the eternal values of the Jewish people,” adding that “Yitzhak Shamir belongs to a generation of giants, who founded the State of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people in its land.”

One should remind Netanyahu of Shamir’s proud justification of terrorism or perhaps simply note the words of the mayor of Tel Aviv under British Mandate, Israel Rokach, who in 1944 accused Shamir’s Zionist militia of “lacking even a spark of humanity and Jewish conscience” after Lehi gunmen murdered three British police officers in a public shooting.

Shamir’s daughter, Gilada Diamant, claimed her father “belonged to a different generation of leaders, people with values and beliefs. I hope that we have more people like him in the future.”  Certainly anyone who values human rights, justice, sovereignty, and self-determination for the Palestinian people, the rule of law, the Geneva Conventions, and the Nuremberg Principles does not share Diamant’s hope.

Thomas Friedman once wrote that Shamir “exemplifies those Israeli leaders whose vision of tomorrow is yesterday.”  For all those whose innocent lives were obliterated or whose families suffered at the hands of Yitzhak Shamir due to his commitment to ethnosupremacism, colonialism and mass murder, any more visions of violence and bigotry that he may have had thankfully died today.



Samouni family in Gaza


The story of 4 kids of the extended Samouni family in Gaza. By animated drawings they express what happened to them and their family during operation ‘Cast Lead’

and see Israel closes file on Gaza family killing

Afghan My Lai — Robert Bales was not alone

March 31st, 2012 § 3 Comments

That is according to Afghan child witnesses interviewed by Yalda Hakim for Australia’s SBS Dateline. (h/t Shaheen)

Hakim, who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Australia as a child, is the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses. She said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them. She said she appealed to village leaders, who arranged for her to interview the witnesses.

Noorbinak, 8, told Hakim that the shooter first shot her father’s dog. Then, Noorbinak said in the video, he shot her father in the foot and dragged her mother by the hair. When her father started screaming, he shot her father, the child says. Then he turned the gun on Noorbinak and shot her in the leg.

“One man entered the room and the others were standing in the yard, holding lights,” Noorbinak said in the video.

A brother of one victim told Hakim that his brother’s children mentioned more than one soldier wearing a headlamp. They also had lights at the end of their guns, he said.

“They don’t know whether there were 15 or 20, however many there were,” he said in the video. […]

Gen. Karimi, assigned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to investigate the murders, told Hakim that he, too, wonders whether Bales acted alone and how he could left the base without notice.

“Village elders said several soldiers took part and that there is boot prints in the area,” Karimi told Hakim. He said villagers told him that they saw three or four individuals kneeling and that helicopters were overhead during the rampage.

“To search for him?” Karimi said he asked them.

“No,” he said they told him. “They were there from the very beginning.”


The soldier is a human being, isn’t he?

by Aya Kaniuk and Tamar Goldschmidt on August 27, 2011

علي خليفةAli Khalifa معتصم عدوانMu’tasem Udwan

On Monday, August 1st, 2011, at dawn, the Occupation soldiers murdered Mu’tasem Udwan and Ali Khalifa and seriously wounded Ma’amun Awad.

It was the first morning of Ramadan.

Murder is always shocking. And because afterwards there is nothing. But what shocked me in particular was how Mu’tasem’s mother saw him very soon after he was murdered, lying on the ground by his house door, his brain splashed on the asphalt. This is how she saw him, her son, and somehow this is what shocks me most of all. Because as soon as he is dead, he is already gone and my thoughts go to the holes that he has left behind. But this particular hole, of Mu’tasem’s mother, is what turns off all the lights for me.

On the one hand, what happened that dawn in Qalandiya refugee camp is not extraordinary. Such things happen all the time. The Occupation soldiers invade one Palestinian locality or another, especially at night, under this or that pretext, and then they break doors, and after breaking in they smash things inside the house, closets and plate glass and television sets, and usually pick up one or another youth, about whom this or that has been said, some truth or some falsehood, usually taken as testimony from another boy under some pressure or other, whereby it is reasonable to assume that he would say anything he was told to say and confess anything he was ordered to confess, and usually there are also stones hurled at the Occupation soldiers and mostly the Occupation soldiers shoot at the stone throwers who are usually mere children, and they also fire rubber or teargas ammunition and even live bullets into homes and on the streets just like that, and here and there at the end of all of this people are wounded or killed, and all this is not that extraordinary. Not in the Qalandiya refugee camp, not throughout the Occupied West Bank.

Still, the murders of Ali Khalifa and Mu’tasem Udwan were cast in the camp as a unique event and different from all the other events that have become routine with the dripping of the years.

Again and again people have been saying, “how could they possibly do this”, and “why of all days on the first day of Ramadan”, the religious and the secular ask alike.

And not because the blood of a person murdered during Ramadan is more precious than that of a victim on any other day. But perhaps it is only that people cannot complain to the same extent at any given moment and shout ‘No!’ and that it is unbearable, unacceptable. For if they did that, no joy would be left, no endurance and the ability to exert oneself and bring up one’s children properly in spite of it all, and live in spite of everything, and also it is normally too dangerous to revolt, and involves tremendous effort.

But there are such moments when the truth, always present, emerges and is heard, and time stops.

Ramadan is such a symbolic moment. Perhaps because in Ramadan the shops remain open at night, too, and one has the duty of doing good deeds, and because people need such moments of shift away from the everyday, and this is provided by religion and tradition, and not only for Palestinians under Occupation.

“This is what happened that night”, says Haitham Hamed, our friend. A gentle, special man from Qalandiya refugee camp. “This is what I heard happened”.

“They came for Wajih. Wajih Haitham Khatib. He is a 15-year old boy. More than 200 soldiers came. 200 soldiers to catch a 15-year old boy. 200 soldiers came for one kid and killed two adults. That’s what happened. They always come, all the Israeli soldiers, to the camp. They bring with them all those forces just to pick up a kid or two… And the Border Patrol and… They keep coming from a thousand ways. From down here, from outside, from the settlement above. They come down, or up, and around the camp where the airplanes were (what used to be the Atarot airfield) and from the main road, from lots of roads. This time, too. They came from near the settlement.

And he’s accused – this I heard in the camp – do you know of what? Are you familiar with the settlement next to the camp? Not Psagot, what’s it called? Kochav Hashachar. He’s accused of having burnt the mountain. Burnt the mountain? With all those soldiers and Border Patrol and the guys with the guns and jeeps and fence and guards and cameras all around. He came to them and burnt a mountain there?

What a story. Just doesn’t enter one’s head. But that’s what his parents told me. That this is what he is accused of. That this 15-year old kid went near the settlement and burnt the mountain. The soldiers didn’t know his real address. So they entered more than one house. And in every house they broke stuff. That’s what I heard. And it’s normal for them to break stuff. They don’t know any other way. First they break the doors with their special machines that they bring. They don’t knock. Only this way, without saying a word, they place the device on the door and press a button and – pow – it opens the door. Always. Not once or twice. Like they did at our home, remember? People replace doors a lot in our camp (chuckling).

In short, they came to the camp, and didn’t find the boy. They didn’t find the boy. So if you don’t find the boy, you raise such hell? Right, Tammi? You don’t find the boy so you go ahead and kill two people? And then what did they do? What they did was to pick up his cousin. 22-years old. They didn’t find Wajih so they took his cousin, and said that they were taking him until the kid’s father would turn him in.”

And Tamar said: “It’s shocking, Haitham. Shocking. Not only do they kill them, they take in his nephew… kidnap…”

“Yes,” said Haitham. “And his dad brought him to Ofer prison the next day, I think. So his nephew would be released… Under what kind of law do they do this? Taking his cousin, telling his dad if you bring your own son, you can take back your nephew… What law has such words… For the father to hand in his own child. In his own hands he takes his child to prison. And the child knows he’s going…I can’t lie to you, stones have been thrown at them. They left Wajih’s house on the way to the another one, and stones were thrown at them. But often they entered the camp and picked the people up, and every time stones were thrown at them. But they didn’t always do this. So why did you come this time, in Ramadan? For a boy no older than 15 or 16? And you knew there were people in the street because of Ramadan. And you knew stones would be thrown at you. And I want to say something about the stone-throwing thing. Throwing stones, that’s the maximum. For who in the camp would have the heart to pick up a gun and shoot at soldiers? So maximum they throw stones. Say a Molotov cocktail, right, Tammi? At most, a Molotov cocktail or stones. So a stone was thrown, so what. They don’t kill you with a stone, right? A stone doesn’t kill, only wounds you. So for this you came and killed two?”

“Mu’tasem, Mu’tasem Udwan, the first fellow they killed. He is my neighbor,” says Majdi from the camp, whom we have just recently met. “He lives just 10 meters away. We were all woken up by the shooting… it was war… I went up to the roof. And there was this soldier down in the street. His rifle placed on a tripod… And Mu’tasem opened his door to take a look outside because of the shooting and the noise. Terrible noise… and teargas and lots of shooting. Mu’tasem who looked down didn’t notice the soldier. The soldier shot him in the head, and he fell to the floor. He opened the door of his home and the soldier shot him with a live bullet to the head… and his brain spilt on the ground. And he didn’t have a head anymore. He didn’t have a head…I saw all that from my roof. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. He had no more head… and his brain spilt on the floor. Abu Ali, Ali Khalifa the second one, he lives down hill. But that night he was at the camp. With his friends. That’s how it is during Ramadan. A bit like your Thursday and Friday nights. People hanging out together. All night. And guys beating traditional drums to wake people up before dawn so they might still get bread or other things for the house before the fast…….And then it all began….When the shooting got really heavy he wanted to go back home. To get away. His car was parked near my house. He may have come there because he wasn’t as familiar with the camp as we are, so he came back for his car. And he saw Mu’tasem lying on the ground. All alone. It was just 6 minutes after he was shot. And he went over, to Mu’tasem, he may have thought he was wounded, and wanted to help him. He didn’t notice the soldier…and the soldier shot him too. Two bullets. One came out the other side. And a hole opened up in his abdomen. And then he fell, right by Mu’tasem.”

“That’s how he went… How Abu Ali went…”

“Haitham, did you call him Abu Ali?”

“His name was Ali Khalifa. But he was called this way. Abu Ali, because his name is Ali. So you add the Abu. Like that.”

“Everyone knows these guys”, says Haitham. “The camp is small, but everyone knows Abu Ali most. I knew him well, the day before I saw him at the gas station, washing his car. But earlier too. He was with me in prison. As a boy. At the Russian Compound. He was a good person… He used to help people, the elderly, all of us cannot believe he’s dead, I swear to you. That he’s gone. Unbelievable. And he is a Jerusalemite. A Jerusalemite. He lives down the hill. Not in the camp… His parents pay municipal taxes. I knew Mu’tasem, too, but not well. He’s a nice guy. Really nice. Studied at the university. He was about to graduate in a year’s time. And he didn’t do anything. Doesn’t throw stones. He was at home. Looking out through his own door and was shot in the head.”

“And the one who was wounded, Ma’amun Awad, he was shot inside his car”, says Majdi. “He was trying to get away, and the soldiers wouldn’t let him pass, and he pleaded, and finally they threw a gas canister into his car, and smoke broke out, and he opened the car door to escape the smoke, and they shot him, they had an M-16, and he is wounded now. Badly wounded.”

“Maybe you know him”, says Haitham, “this is Ma’amun Awad, whose father owns a gas station at Semiramis, where the army camp used to be and the soldiers would throw stones at the taxis, remember? Poor guy. Got two bullet. Two bullets sitting in his backbone, and the doctors fear that if they’re removed, he will become paralyzed. They say if the bullets are taken out, he’ll end up paralyzed.”

And we fell silent again. Time passed. Then I asked: “Haitham, after that happened to Mu’tasem, did his family see?” Because I kept thinking of it the whole time.

“Sure they saw. He was shot at the entrance to his house. In the beginning his mother was upstairs, watching everything. She saw someone on the ground, his brain spilt… she didn’t realize at first that it was her own son she was seeing. Poor guy, she said, poor wounded child, crying for him not knowing it was her son. But shortly afterwards she knew. And rushed out. She couldn’t recognize him. his head was blasted, the brain was spilt on the ground. That’s what they say. And from the eyes up there’s nothing… And his mother went mad, poor woman. We all cried for her. Pulling at her hair. She’s ill. She’s ill now…”

“The thing that hurts you about Mu’tasem is that the fellow was inside his own home. Standing inside his home. You know what that means, at home? Where the heart is. That’s the worst. The most painful. Right?”

“I couldn’t eat for 4, 5 days after all of this”, says Majdi, “nor sleep properly… not after seeing his brain splashed on the ground.. his flesh hot. His and Abu Ali’s, hot… Abu Ali’s abdomen on the floor… all the flesh, the meat… After the soldiers left I went down where they lay, Mu’tasem and Abu Ali. I thought I’d pick all that up from the ground and put it away, on the side. But I was told not to. That they will take it too, to later sew it back into their bodies… So we collected all of this and put it in plastic bags, and it was hot, hot, their flesh was hot.”

“I think they do it on purpose”, Haitham added. “It’s on purpose. Tammi…. People are sitting like this anyway, and have nothing, and their life is hard. Such a hard life… So why pack in Ramadan like this? Why do this and leave people with no illusions? That’s the reason, I say. To take away their illusions. Their… How do you say this in Hebrew, I’ve forgotten. To take away their hope, Aya. That’s the word. That’s the point and I’m not racist. I look at things from many angles. This will happen and that will happen and I’ll think again and again. And I don’t see everyone the same way. But they did this out of racism. That’s what I think. Not because of the stones, and not because of Wajih. Because of racism. Otherwise they wouldn’t kill two people. It’s their racism that got Mu’tasem. And Abu Ali. Their racism…”

“The camp is very heavy now. Our heart is heavy” says Haitham, after we sat quietly for some more moments. “And fear. People are walking around afraid of soldiers, that if they go out at night, they’d be killed. From far away. And it’s quiet at night. People don’t open their windows out of fear. This is the story of what happened that night of Ramadan in our camp… This is what happened.”

And this is what our friend A., another friend from Qalandiya, told us (A. is a very close friend of ours, and he is always asking us to keep him anonymous because he is afraid that if the soldiers find out that he is talking about what happens at the camp, they would hurt his family). He is the one who first told us about this all, right after it happened. He called us twenty minutes after the murder in the camp, to tell, while the calls for the first prayer of Ramadan were still heard in the background, and Mu’tasem was already dead, and Ali not yet, and Ma’amun unconscious, and it all sounded unreal, like a film or a book or a nightmare:

“Mu’tasem, you know, is such a cute guy. He heard a noise… We say “this guy’s clock is through”. Now he stepped out of the door, the soldiers standing outside, saw a guy look out, so they shot him. I don’t know, I say this, you know, he’s dead, but someone shot him. The guy who shot, I mean what is he saying in his own home now? He’s sitting alone, I think he has kids, he too has a family, or a mother, brothers, his father… And he’s sitting at home, and saying I killed a child today. Why? He can’t say why. Because, why? What did the kid do? What did he do to me? Was he armed? No, he carried no weapon. Was he, how do you say this, was he one of the Arab fighters? No, he was not one of those. And I know he had nothing on him. He didn’t throw stones. He just stepped out of his home, and suddenly I killed him – the soldier would say and I say, this soldier, what can he say? If he has a heart, what does he end up saying? He’d say, wow, why did I kill him? That’s what I think. Just like that. Because, why? What did he do?”

And Tamar said, “I think he’s sitting at home and making this… screen… making up some story for himself.”

“No, no, listen”,  A. interrupts her. “He did this and he knows. He could have aimed at the leg, no? He could shoot at the leg and wound him. If he’d want to. But he aimed at the head. And Tammi, on their rifle they have this… he sees through his sights… he looks, he knows. You understand… So I don’t know, I don’t know what he… how he sits at home, knowing, knowing he killed. Say, the soldier is a human being, right? He has a heart, doesn’t he? So what does he tell himself. That I killed a boy today. What does he tell himself…”

(Crossposted @ mahsanmilim. Translated from Hebrew by Tal Haran)


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