|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
17 - 23 September 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Who killed the Awadallah brothers?
The ostensibly extra-judicial murder by undercover Israeli soldiers of two Hamas members, the Awadallah brothers, in Israeli-occupied Hebron on 10 September, has once again pushed Palestinians and Israelis to the brink of violence and bloodshed.
This development, coupled with the expected failure of Dennis Ross's latest mission and growing Palestinian exasperation at the Clinton administration's unwillingness to put pressure on Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to carry out the long-overdue second phase of redeployment in the West Bank, spells trouble for everybody concerned.
The Awadallah episode began on the night of 10 September when an Israeli army spokesman issued a brief statement to the media. "Two terrorists were killed near Hebron during a clash with our soldiers," he said. The statement explained that the soldiers had been called to the Taybeh hamlet, just outside the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled areas of Hebron, because of reported gunfire and explosions. The soldiers, the statement added, spotted the two Hamas fugitives and killed them.
A few hours later, the Israeli army gave an updated account of the incident wherein the clash story and reported explosions were dropped. They were replaced by a brief statement that "two terrorists were liquidated" and that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had been sealed off.
Meanwhile, an unnamed source in the PA security establishment revealed that the two men killed were Imad and Adel Awadallah. The brothers were two prominent Hamas fighters whom the PA had accused of the murder of Muhieddin Al-Sharif in Ramallah five months ago.
As soon as the identity of the two men came to light, some quarters within the Palestinian opposition voiced their concern over a possible PA complicity in the affair, especially because Israel has imposed a blanket of secrecy on the incident. This has prompted speculation that a conspiracy had taken place involving Israel and a PA security agency, the Preventive Security, headed by Colonel Jebril Rajoub.
As of yet, there is no evidence to prove that Rajoub's men were involved in the incident. However, Israeli reticence on the matter, coupled with strong denials by Palestinians living in the area of the Israeli narrative of events, suggests that both Israel and the PA have something to hide.
Witnesses living in the area denied hearing explosions or gunfire, but claimed they saw Israeli soldiers carrying two bodies shrouded in white into a house. Thus, the Awadallah brothers could have been killed elsewhere, possibly in PA-controlled areas. Their bodies could have then been moved to Taybeh, located in area C, as a cover-up to conceal a presumed Israeli-PA conspiracy.
Due to the lack of hard evidence, speculation is rife. Some suggest that technologically advanced methods were used by Israel to track Adel Awadallah from the time he escaped from a Palestinian-controlled jail in Jericho last month to the time he reached Hebron. Once the whereabouts of his more dangerous brother Imad were discovered, the two were eliminated together. Other analysts suggest that the brothers were killed by a poisonous chemical substance since no blood stains were found inside the house in which the Israeli army said the two men had barricaded themselves.
While Netanyahu's government was quick to gloat over the "success of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in liquidating the terrorists", Al-Tayyeb Abdel-Rahim, who is said to be in charge of Hamas's file in the PA, condemned the murder calling it a "form of state-sponsored terrorism" aimed at destroying the peace process. Some pundits argue, however, that Abdel-Rahim's condemnation is hypocritical since, along with Rajoub, he had spearheaded PA efforts to hunt down the Awadallah brothers following the murder of Al-Sharif.
Hamas's reaction to the killing was to convene a prompt meeting headed by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the group's spiritual leader, with his closest aides in Gaza, after which he stated: "Our response is coming soon, God willing." Yassin also added: "This is the nature of war. One time we win, one time we lose." His vow to retaliate was given extra credence by thousands of supporters who took to the streets in several West Bank towns demanding "revenge now". Even a number of Fatah leaders, disenchanted by the stalled peace process, called for retaliation "because this is the only language the Israelis understand".
The Awadallah brothers' murder was undoubtedly a severe blow to Hamas's military wing and the movement's stature. This, Hamas officials argue, is putting tremendous pressure on the movement to follow through with its threats in order to even the score with Israel.
Indeed, there is every reason to believe that Hamas is serious this time. The movement has come to realise that it does not have much to lose by carrying out suicide bomb attacks. In fact, a vast majority of Palestinians would support such a response to the murder of the Awadallah brothers. Moreover, Hamas knows that cowering before the Israelis, or in the face of a probable additional clampdown by the PA, would only serve to embolden its enemies (particularly Israel) and undermine its credibility among its supporters in the Occupied Territories.
Hamas seems to be generally convinced that Rajoub's men played a key role in "staging the escape" of Adel Awadallah from prison in collusion with Israeli intelligence, but is wary of publicising this. On 13 September, Hamas's spokesman in Hebron, Abdul-Khaliq Al-Natshe, disassociated the movement from the contents of a leaflet circulated the night before, accusing Rajoub of "spilling the blood of our two martyrs". Natshe said, "[Hamas] places the main responsibility with the Israeli enemy."
Hamas's reluctance to publicly accuse Rajoub is consistent with the movement's principle policy of "directing all our guns at the Israeli occupier". One Hamas official in Hebron intimated to Al-Ahram Weekly that, even if they did have conclusive evidence against Rajoub, they would not point a gun at him because, in the final analysis, he is just a supplementary organ of the Israeli occupation.