5 - 11 September 2002
Issue No. 602
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Recommend this page

Killing deliberately, 'by mistake'

The world again stood silent this week as Israel's army killed 21 Palestinian civilians, including several children. Khaled Amayreh reports from Jerusalem

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Israel escalated its attacks against Palestinians, killing 21 in one week. In the occupied territories suffering and tight curfews continue, as people mourn and pray for their loved ones
As more than a million Palestinian boys and girls returned to school after the summer recess, the Israeli army resumed killing Palestinian civilians. Twenty-one have died in the last week.

The latest spate of killings began around midnight on 28 August with the massacre of an entire family at the Sheikh Ejlin village, just south of Gaza City. An Israeli tank fired several "dart shells" at a Bedouin encampment where several fruit pickers were sleeping.

The deadly artillery, packed with some 3,000 inch-long arrows, killed four members of the same family, a mother, her two sons, and their cousin.

Ruwaida Al-Hajin, 55, her sons, Ashraf, 22, and Nihad, 17, and 20-year-old Mohamed Al-Hajin, died instantly as thousands of the deadly arrows pierced their bodies. Eight other people were injured, including a 3-year-old child, who sustained a serious wound.

"We were sleeping in our homes when suddenly, we heard a bomb, Israeli tanks were invading the area, firing and shelling in all directions, and then I saw the Al-Hajin's encampment on fire," said Ismael Shamallakh, a neighbour whose house was also damaged.

The 120 mm shell is fired from a tank and can be set to explode in the air at a specific distance, releasing its load of darts, and often causing instant death.

The Israeli army sought initially to blame the victims, claiming it was not sure they were civilians and that there were "suspicious movements".

Then, a few hours later, apparently to avert bad publicity, an Israeli army spokesman admitted, rather tersely and half heartedly, that the killings were a "mistake".

The "mistaken killing" continued a few hours later, shortly after sunrise, in Rafah, at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip. There, an Israeli armoured personnel carrier strafed the Salahuddin Gate neighbourhood with heavy machine-gun fire, killing 10-year-old Abdul-Hadi Anwar Hamida, a fourth grader. Eight other civilians were also injured, two seriously.

As Israeli tanks were destroying the PA headquarters in Nablus, Israeli armoured personnel carriers (APCs) were firing indiscriminately on Palestinian homes in Jenin. At least seven civilians, including two children, were wounded by the bullets.

Then, on 31 August, an Israeli Apache helicopter gunship fired four Hellfire missiles on a civilian car and home at the village of Tubas, south of Jenin, killing five people, including two children, two teenagers and a 29-year-old Fatah activist.

According to eyewitnesses, the helicopter fired three missiles at the car first, killing Raafat Daraghmeh, the activist, and two boys, Yazid Daraghmeh and Sari Subuh, aged 16 and 15 respectively.

Minutes later, it fired a fourth missile at the home of Youssuf Darghmeh, killing his 8-year-old daughter Bahira and her 10-year-old cousin Ibrahim.

The killing of the five took place in an area under full Israeli control. Israeli troops operating in Tubas could have arrested any Palestinian wanted without resorting to a helicopter assault.

Again, the Israeli army and government desperately tried to concoct a rationale for the killing. But there was none, prompting Defence Minister Ben- Eliezer to issue a belated statement expressing "regret" over "harming" innocent civilians in Tubas. Ben-Eliezer described the raid in Tubas as a "mistake", and promised that the army would look into the "incident".

On Sunday, 1 September, a group of undercover Israeli soldiers abducted four Palestinian quarry workers from their place of work to a field outside the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba'a. What happened next was related by a fifth worker, Ishaq Halayka, who escaped death by hiding inside the latrine.

"The soldiers arrived suddenly at the quarry as we were drinking coffee. They were firing at us with their automatic rifles. When I heard the firing, I fled to the latrine and closed it, fearing they would kill me. Then as the soldiers arrived at the quarry, they ordered Hisham, Husam, Atiyya, and Ala'a to walk before them to a farm outside Kiryat Arba'a near the entrance to the village of Bani Naim, about 300 metres from the quarry. There the soldiers ordered the four to stand and raise their hands, and then they shot them one after the other."

The four victims were twin brothers Hisham and Husam Halayka, 28, their cousin Attiyya Halayka, 23 and Ala'a Ayayda, 19, all from the village of Al- Shuyoukh, 10 kilometres south of Hebron.

Following the killings, the Israeli army stated that, the four were trying to penetrate Kiryat Arba'a and that they were carrying sharp tools, a reference to their work implements.

Hours later, the army retracted the statement, saying "the four may have been innocent workers" adding that the army "was investigating the incident".

The killing of Palestinian civilians continued on Tuesday, 3 September. This time at the village of Burin, near Nablus. There, an Israeli tank fired a shell at two civilians, killing them both.

The bodies of Bahir Eid, 22, and Hussein Najjar, also 22, were collected by the Red Cross. Najjar was a university student, Eid was training to be an engineer. Neither of the two was associated with any political or resistance groups.

As Palestinian civilians were being killed by Israeli bullets, their homes were also being demolished by Israeli bulldozers.

On Tuesday, 3 September, an Israeli army bulldozer nearly crushed an entire Palestinian family in Rafah, as they slept inside their home. All nine members of the family were injured, including a child, whose condition was listed as critical.

Earlier, on 1 September, Israeli army bulldozers levelled several homes and businesses in the same area in what one foreign observer described as "a brutal war of destruction against a civilian population".

Reacting to the spate of killings, the Palestinian Authority (PA) appealed to the United Nations and the international community to protect the Palestinians from genocide.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said "Israel was perpetrating daily massacres for the purpose of thwarting peace efforts and provoking Palestinian militants to retaliate."

Many Israeli commentators readily agreed with Arafat.

Israeli commentator Dany Robenstein accused the Israeli army of deliberately harming civilians. Writing in Ha'aretz on 2 September, Robenstein stated: "The Palestinian media is full of horrific photos of children wounded or killed by IDF fire. Hundreds of photos of the dead and wounded fill the pages, as do pictures of the handicapped trying to make their way over hills, houses, and sometimes, entire neighborhouds reduced to rubble."

Amira Hass, another Ha'aretz commentator, noted, in an article on the same day, that the Israeli army killed at least 39 Palestinian civilians from 1 August to 1 September, including seven children and 15 teenagers, aged 10- 15, and two women from Gaza aged 55 and 86 respectively.

Even the Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, an ardent Likudnik, admitted on 1 September that Israeli soldiers were trigger happy and were killing Palestinian civilians blithely.

Nonetheless, the atrocities and the ensuing outcry, seem to have had little or no bearing on Moshe Ya'alon, the new Israeli chief of staff.

Last week, Ya'alon described the Palestinians as a cancer, adding that he was using chemical therapy to eradicate it. Ya'alon, it is important to remember, has the full support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

This week, US envoy, David Satterfield, met with Israeli and Palestinian officials in an effort to revive whatever remained of the peace process. He didn't utter a single word in condemnation of the atrocities.

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