Another assassination in Ramallah’s city center

The body of Omar Abu Daher being lifted into a Palestinian ambulance. (Martina Iannizzotto)

It was a good day today, well, that is until about 5:40pm when Israeli undercover and military forces assassinated a Palestinian outside the window where I was standing.

The target was Omar Abu Daher, a 22-year-old who it seems happens to be a member of a security force loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He was only one of several that were murdered in cold blood today; two more were killed in Gaza, one in Tulkarem, two others in Jenin. These are the ones reported so far, but the night is still young.

Unknowingly, I, along with a dozen Palestinian and foreign colleagues, happened to be in the same building where it seems Omar was having dinner. Omar was sitting in the popular street-front Nazareth Restaurant (catty-corner from Angelo’s Pizzeria), well known for its falafel and where my wife stopped this morning to bring some falafel home for breakfast after she drove our younger daughter Nadine to school this morning. The restaurant is walking distance from the elementary school’s entrance.

As a matter of fact, only a few hours before this assassination, between 1:30pm and 1:45pm to be exact, my daughters and I passed this same spot after picking up Nadine from school. Our other daughter Areen was home all day studying for her end of year exams and wanted to take a break so she went with me for the drive. I dropped Areen off in front of Nazareth Restaurant so she could buy the three of us ice cream cones from Baladna Ice Cream Shop to eat on the way home. Baladna is a few doors up from Nazareth Restaurant.

Later in the afternoon, while Omar, the latest Israeli victim, was having a meal at Nazareth Restaurant, I was on the third floor, in a roundtable discussion, one in a series that I’m attending at the Mattin Group, a human rights-based policy research and advocacy organization. We were meeting to learn about the workings of the European Union and how we can make it more accountable to International Humanitarian Law. The irony between what was about to happen on the ground floor and what was being discussed on the third floor is mind-boggling and sobering, to say the least.

An hour and a half into our meeting in the conference room, the window of which overlooks the main Ramallah thoroughfare, we heard car tires screech and a loud bang. My knee-jerk comment was that a car accident had happened. One of my colleagues bent back to take a look and before he could speak rapid machine gun fire and loud explosions erupted. The gunfire was literally below our window. We all immediately took to the floor and crawled to a safe hallway in the middle of the office. A peek out to the street and it was confirmed, as it has been so many times prior, the Israeli military had entered the middle of town again.

A few more peeks and the picture became clearer. An undercover Israeli military hit team entered under the cover of an armored jeep, camouflaged to look like a Palestinian delivery truck, with Palestinian license plates and the whole works. A few meters away was a blue civilian mid-sized car with more undercover hit men; this group also had a masked man with them, most likely a Palestinian collaborator who was used to identify the hit team’s target. This assumed collaborator could have also been an Israeli fake to make Palestinian onlookers feel like they are being betrayed more so than they really are — we will never know. A few minutes later and an Israeli armored jeep showed up clearly exposing the unraveling events below. Then a Palestinian mini-van taxi with more Israeli plainclothes military personnel appeared, now wearing only baseball caps that identified them as “POLICE.”

For the most part, we stayed in the center of the office, away from the windows. Most people with me had been through this type of activity before and took it in stride, thinking that another arrest operation was taking place. Two young foreign women that were with us seemed to be experiencing this for the first time and were worried it would last long. We comforted each other with some jokes. I lightheartedly noted that the normal time this goes on for is three days. A friend said that, if that’s the case, we better start rationing the two small bags of pretzels that were on the table. Our foreign colleagues smiled and relaxed a bit. We joked that the Israelis shooting up a storm down below needed to join us in our meeting to learn about international humanitarian law. Although we all laughed, we knew that this is exactly the kind of act that keeps provoking and prolonging this crisis. In the heat of the moment, one does not see the crisis, but rather sees those around as humans who need comfort and everyone supports everyone else.

The shooting and percussion grenades intensified. We all now felt that something dire was happening. With every barrage of gunfire we would pull people away from the windows which were numerous and all exposed to the gunfire. Our hosts made their case for staying in the hallway, showing us the bullet holes in the wall from past stray bullets sustained during previous Israeli adventures. While we sat this out, we also recalled when the exact same office we were in was taken over in 2002 by the Israeli military which used it as a field base when they were operating in Ramallah, placing the city under military curfew for 34 consecutive days. In that episode, the soldiers trashed the entire office, leaving their feces on top of the photocopy machine as a souvenir.

After about 45 minutes we could hear a mass of people chanting below and we could hear rocks banging against the cars. A peek out the window and we saw hundreds of Palestinian youth flooding into the main street. In front of them a convoy of Israeli military jeeps was leaving the scene. As the jeeps accelerated, the youth ran after them in a desperate and futile attempt to inflict damage on their armored vehicles by pelting them with rocks.

Our woman host looked out to the main street below; she stretched over the window ledge to see if any soldiers were still on the sidewalk below. As she stepped back from the window she was noticeably shaken. She said, “They took him away dead.” I looked to see what she was referring to and the ambulance had just raced off, leaving a pool of thick, dark red blood on the sidewalk, as the only remnant indicating that hell had just visited this spot. A young female colleague standing next to me stood quietly, just weeping. It was assumed by us all that whoever was taken away in the ambulance, was taken away lifeless.

By the time we raced downstairs to the main road hundreds of people had gathered in two groups; one around the pool of blood and the other, 20 meters away, at the doorstep of Nazareth Restaurant which had its metal doors all closed, except one that was cracked open and the owner stood blocking people from entering. He was watery-eyed and visibly shaken, telling onlookers that there was nothing to see. The aftermath was less chaotic than usual, onlookers were already in mourning.

It seems seven other persons were injured and taken to the Ramallah Hospital and the Israeli military followed and surrounded the hospital! Tonight, it is yet unclear of these persons’ fates. Right now, it’s confirmed that one person, in Ramallah, was assassinated, point blank.

I walked away from the growing crowds to my car, which was parked out of the line of fire. As I drove home, I found many of the roads leading into the city center were full of rocks. It become clear that this was a rather large operation and Israeli jeeps stationed at the city’s entry points all met with resistance from those who were around at the time with the only ‘weapon’ readily available, stones.

On my way home, I passed the Presidential Compound on Radio Street. This is Mahmoud Abbas’s headquarters. Only a few hours before it was reported in the news that he announced that he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert on June 7 to discuss the ‘peace process.’ Alone, I just shook my head and wondered for how long can this Palestinian President, this Palestinian Authority Government, and this Palestinian Legislative Council continue to go through the empty motions of governance under military occupation, while Israel, with full internationally-sanctioned impunity, assassinates Palestinian citizens — those very same security personnel that are supposed to hold the peace — in broad daylight, arrests dozens from their beds every night — including ministers, mayors and legislators — and prohibit millions of Palestinians whom they have displaced from returning to their homes.

I guess the more accurate question I should be asking myself is until when will the Palestinian people continue to accept such inept leadership?

It is now being reported by the Palestinian Ministry of Information that:

Israel undercover ‘special forces’ executed a Palestinian man at point blank range this afternoon during an attack on Ramallah. The man, identified as Omar Abu Daher, a member of Mahmoud Abbas’ Presidential Guard, was initially shot in the leg outside the offices of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute on Ramallah’s Main Street.

When he fell to the ground, Israeli undercover forces executed him with a shot to the back of the head at close range. He was killed instantly.

Paramedics from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) managed to retrieve his body, which they transported to Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Ramallah. Doctors said that Daher had been shot 24 times all over his body.

As I close this writing, the shooting outside has been nonstop for almost an hour, mainly coming from the direction of the Al-Amari Refugee Camp, which is walking distance from my home. Most likely, this is from Palestinians, shooting in air, in an act of defiance (and desperation) after the loss of their fallen comrade.

As I put my daughters to bed, I pray for those that fell today, all of them, and their families. I give thanks that my daughters were not with me tonight to see what I saw and hear what I heard. I also pray for those innocent Israeli citizens that will fall victim to the inevitable revenge attacks that I saw brewing this evening with my own eyes in the streets of Ramallah.

The sad fact is that it does not have to go on like this. The world could bring Israel into line with international humanitarian law, United Nations resolutions and common sense to stop this nonsense, this waste, this needless human loss.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian American living in Al-Bireh/Ramallah and may be reached at sbahour AT palnet DOT com.

Related Links

  • Israeli death squad guns down man in Ramallah street, Palestinian Ministry of Information (29 May 2007)
  • BY TOPIC: Extrajudicial Killings