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Twilight zone / Unanswered questions

By Gideon Levy | Haaretz | March 4, 2010

Musa Abu Hashhash could not hold back his tears. We have worked with this devoted field worker from B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, for years. Never before had we seen him cry. But this week he broke down and wept after a visit to the widow of Fayez Faraj, his aged, broken-hearted mother, and his 10 distraught orphans, aged 2 to 18.

Fayez Faraj was the last person who might have been expected to attack Israel Defense Forces soldiers. He had a permit to enter and sleep over in Israel, which few Palestinians are given – and then only after a thorough security check. He had worked for 15 years for Kriza, a footwear company in Tel Aviv, crafting soles for the women’s shoes. Aged 41, he spoke Hebrew fluently, hung out in Tel Aviv, had Israeli friends, was well-off economically and lived in a relatively spacious stone home.

No one in Hebron believes that Faraj attacked the soldiers. One of his Tel Aviv employers, who asked to remain anonymous, also refuses to believe it. A., the Israeli, spoke to Faraj by phone three hours before he was killed, an ordinary business conversation.

“I don’t believe he went to stab a soldier,” A. told Haaretz this week. “I have worked with him for 15 years. I know he was a good guy. Someone who loved life. He wasn’t embittered. I can’t understand how he got into a situation where soldiers killed him. It’s a kind of fate, a screwed-up fate. It’s true that he was slightly depressed lately, because he was in a financial crisis, but the whole story is puzzling, very puzzling.”

A. is not the only one who’s puzzled. It’s strange that the soldiers fired no fewer than seven bullets into Fayez from short range, three into his leg, three into his stomach and one into his left hand, in three volleys; that they went on shooting him after he lay on the ground, blood streaming from his leg, in which a major artery was hit; and that they pulled him – still alive – out of a Palestinian ambulance, and transferred him into an army Jeep and then into an Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance. And above all, there is the question of whether Faraj attacked the soldiers with a knife, as the IDF claims, or whether we should believe the testimony of a young woman who watched the incident from the roof of her house and says the soldiers took the knife from their Jeep in order to incriminate Faraj.

These are all serious, unsettling questions. A Military Police investigation is under way.

The Israeli media barely reported the killing of a Palestinian civilian by IDF soldiers in the heart of Hebron exactly three weeks ago today. A dead Palestinian is a non-story. This week we visited the meager home of his brother Samir, a policeman in the Palestinian Authority, a few dozen meters from the family workshop and from the site of the killing. There we heard about Fayez’s last day and about the circumstances of his death.

At about 12:30 P.M. that Friday, Fayez visited his brother and asked Samir to help out in the workshop. Samir said he was expecting guests and would come to work after they left. Fayez went on to their mother’s home, had lunch there and hurried to the workshop at the corner of the street below Samir’s house.

At about 4 P.M., Samir heard gunshots from the street and rushed down to see what had happened. He encountered a group of soldiers who threatened him with their rifles and ordered him to move off. He tried to approach from a different lane, but again soldiers stopped him. In the meantime, he heard that a wounded man was lying on the road, bleeding.

Samir phoned Tarek Watan, whose barbershop is opposite the scene of the incident, and learned that the wounded man was his brother Fayez. Watan told Samir that the soldiers were continuing to shoot Fayez every time he tried to lift his head. In the meantime, more IDF troops rushed to the scene in Jeeps and fired tear-gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd that had gathered. Samir shouted to the soldiers that he wanted to see his brother, but to no avail.

A few minutes later, a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance arrived and Samir saw Fayez being placed in it, still alive. As the ambulance started to pull away, soldiers ordered the driver to stop. The Palestinian paramedic Eid Abu Munshar stated in his testimony to two B’Tselem field workers who arrived on the scene, that the soldiers entered the ambulance and pulled the IV from Fayez’s arm. He said Fayez was suffering from a massive loss of blood and time was critical.

Aliya Hospital lies a few hundred meters from the scene of the incident, and the paramedic wanted to rush Fayez there. But an IDF officer who arrived at the scene ordered him taken out of the ambulance, the paramedic said. The dying Fayez, with seven bullets in his body, was transferred to an IDF jeep and then placed in an intensive care ambulance of Magen David Adom. According to Palestinian testimony, the ambulance waited there for half an hour. At 5:25 P.M., the Red Crescent received a call from the District Coordination and Liaison Office: Fayez had died in the ambulance; they should send a vehicle to pick up the body at the checkpoint at the northern entrance to Hebron.

What actually happened on the street corner between Tarek’s barbershop and Fayez’s footwear workshop? According to the testimonies compiled by Samir and B’Tselem field workers, the following sequence of events emerges: While Fayez was walking from his mother’s house to the workshop, he ran into a group of men celebrating the engagement ceremony of a neighborhood girl. He stopped to congratulate them just as a group of six soldiers walked by. (The IDF sometimes enters the neighborhood, even though it is in area H1, which is supposedly under Palestinian control.) About half an hour earlier, some people had thrown stones at these soldiers in a different neighborhood, and local residents testified that they seemed tense. The soldiers were coming up one of the lanes and people warned Fayez about them. But Fayez, who was considered a proud man who also spoke Hebrew and interacted with Israelis, replied, “So what if there are soldiers?”

One witness reported that shouts were suddenly heard from up the lane. He saw one of the soldiers slip and fall, apparently because of the steepness of the street. Immediately afterward he saw the soldier get up and shoot Fayez in the leg. Maybe Fayez attacked him, or maybe the soldier thought Fayez had attacked him. He heard Fayez curse the soldiers after being wounded and saw him get up. The soldiers then shot him again. People who had gathered on the street shouted to Fayez not to move, because the soldiers might shoot him again – and they indeed shot him a third time, according to the testimonies.

After Fayez was taken away, Samir asked an officer what had happened. The officer, known as “Captain Moshe,” said his brother had tried to stab one of the soldiers, and showed him a knife. Samir told the officer that this made no sense – if Fayez had wanted to stab an Israeli he could have done so in Tel Aviv. Moreover, he had not taken a knife from the house. The officer told Samir that Fayez was in serious condition and had been taken to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Shortly afterward, an officer who identified himself as “Captain Rafi,” possibly from the Military Police investigations unit, arrived, and asked Samir about his brother’s mental state. Samir told him that “Fayez’s intelligence is bigger than both of ours” and that he had never had mental problems. Together, they questioned the eyewitnesses at the site, all of whom said they had seen no knife in Fayez’s hand. A young woman of 19, Bian Julani, who was on the roof of her home when the incident occurred, told Samir – and, he says, also Captain Rafi – that she saw the soldiers shoot Fayez three times. She also claimed that she saw a soldier wearing gloves take a knife out of the army jeep.

In the meantime, the soldiers confiscated the camera of Abu Hashhash, who arrived on the scene, and returned it to him with all the photos deleted. “As a police officer,” says Samir, “I can tell you that in any event, six soldiers could have subdued Fayez without killing him. It was murder in cold blood.”

Soldiers tore down the posters hung in Fayez’s memory on walls at the scene of the incident. At the entrance to his home, located in another part of the city, a large parrot whistles – Fayez bought it in Tel Aviv. Ten children wander about the house, and their grandmother, Maisar, bursts into tears. “Will someone with 10 children go with a knife?” she asks, and the question echoes through the room. Ibtisam, the widow, is due to give birth any day now. She is carrying a boy. His name will be Fayez, of course.

No comment from the IDF Spokesman was received by press time.

March 6, 2010 - Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture

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