The Israeli invasion and siege of Nablus city ended two weeks ago now (Wed Jan 7), with a return to the nightly machine gun fire from the mountains, daily mini-incursions, and deadly proddings by jeeps and the occasional tank.
As families attempted to return to their daily routine, the residue of the invasion was visible everywhere: new shaheed “martyr”) posters on the walls, freshly-laid pavements torn up by tanktracks and an atmosphere of fear based on the belief that the soldiers would return any day. Despite invading first Balata Camp and then Nablus city, placing 180,000 people under curfew and ransacking hundreds of homes, Israeli forces failed to catch any of the men they claimed to be searching for.
With the invasion competing with the horrific Iranian earthquake, aircrashes, Sharon’s speeches and the Christmas holiday, media coverage was minimal, in Israeli, international, Arab and even Palestinian media, adding to the Nablus perception of abandonment by the world.
Meanwhile, the number of Palestinians murdered reached nineteen, after a boy in his early teens was gunned down on his way home after collecting scrap iron, and a raid on the Al-Qassas house in Rafidia neighborhood. As the Israeli army were beginning to pull out of the city on Tue Jan 6, they received information from a Palestinian collaborator that Ibrahim Atari, an Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade activist, was sheltering there.
After the family had left the home, Atari tried to leave the building to give himself up. Rather than arrest him however, the Israeli soldiers apparently preferred him dead, as they filled his body with bullets. Abdul al-Qassas, the father of the house, was dragged over to the body. The soldiers screamed at him, demanding to know who the now-dead Atari was, and why he was in Al-Qassas’s house. Apparently his answer of ‘I don’t know.’ wasn’t good enough, as the soldiers shot him in the leg, the stomach and the chin. They left after he had bled to death.
The violent impact of the invasion on Nablus continues to kill people even after the soldiers pulled back to their mountain-top watchpoints and the ‘stop points’ (stopping is more common than ‘checking’) surrounding the city. The Sunday afterwards (Jan 11), 19-year-old Bilal Al-Masri blew himself up near Qalqilya, presumably on his way to an Israeli town outside the Occupied Territories.
It’s not hard to work out what might have compelled Bilal to do this. The Saturday before, his 15-year-old brother Amjad was killed throwing stones. That same afternoon, soldiers shot his 18-year-old cousin Mohammed in front of his eyes as he carried Amjad to his grave.
It is not uncommon that young Palestinians who have lost relatives decide to blow themselves and others up.
Hanadi Jaradat, a 29-year-old lawyer from Jenin, blew herself up in the Haifa Maxim restaurant in early October, killing 21, including four children. Her younger brother Fedi was executed by an Israeli undercover unit in front of her, despite her trying to protect him. On June 12th, three days before Fadi’s wedding, the family was in the courtyard of the house. Salah Jaradat, Fadi’s cousin and a member of Islamic Jihad, came to visit his pregnant wife, Ismath, and their two-year-old son, who were living with the family.
The events that occurred in the next few minutes were described by Hanadi in an interview to Al-Arab al-Yum, which was published the day after her brother was killed: “We were sitting together. Everything was normal, natural. Salah, who was a wanted person, hadn’t seen his wife and his son in a long time. The army pursued him all the time on the charge that he was a fighter, a commander in the Jerusalem Battalions [of Islamic Jihad].
They went into his house in Silat al-Harthiya many times, looking for him. He started to play with his boy and kiss him. We were drinking coffee. Then we saw a white car with Arab license plates drive up slowly and stop next to the house. I thought they were friends of Fadi. Suddenly two men got out of the car and started shooting at Salah. I saw Salah lying on the ground. Then suddenly another car pulled up and the people inside opened fire.
“We all lay on the ground. Salah’s wife threw herself on the boy to protect him. My brother Fadi fell on the floor and I saw that he was bleeding. I grabbed his hand and started to drag him to the sofa, to hide him behind it. I was screaming, ‘Fadi! Salah!’ I heard Fadi barely speaking, saying ‘Save me. Save me.’ Then one of the soldiers came and attacked me. He threw me with force onto the floor, pulled Fadi’s hand out of mine and told me, ‘Get into the house or I’ll kill you.’ I shouted to them, ‘Leave me alone, I want to save my brother. He’s wounded, bleeding.’
“Fadi was still breathing. Salah lay motionless. I saw that he had been hit in the head. Three of the soldiers spoke fluent Arabic. One of them asked me, ‘Where is Fadi’s weapon?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. He doesn’t even have a weapon.’ I saw my brother lying there. ‘Allahu akbar aleikum, he’ll die,’ I said. They made me lie down facing the ground and one of them said, ‘You bitch, you terrorist, we’ll kill you along with them.’
“They aimed their weapons at my head. Then one of them said to the others, ‘Drag them [Salah and Fadi] and put one on top of the other.’ Those words drove me out of my mind. I said, ‘You’re terrorists, dogs, leave them alone.’ I tried to get up, but they knocked me down again. They dragged Salah and Fadi a few meters and then shot them again. They killed them in cold blood.
“The purpose of that operation was to liquidate the fighter Salah and his cousin Fadi. They could have arrested them, because they surprised us and surrounded the house, so none of us could have escaped. Why did they start shooting straight off? Even after Fadi was wounded they could have arrested him, but they went on shooting to make sure he was dead. When we got the bodies back, I saw that they shot him in every part of his body.
That completely finished my father. It paralyzed him. He was getting ready for his son’s wedding, and instead he was informed that Fadi was dead. That’s a blow he will not recover from. I am very sad. Since the moment I saw my brother’s blood, I have felt very bad. But the goal of liberating Palestine is bigger and more important than my private pain.”
The next and last attack inside the 1948 borders was on December 27th, at the Geha Junction, killing three soldiers and one young woman. The Israeli government, military, newspapers and society counted “81 days of quiet”, while Palestinians experienced regular murder, injuries and closure.
Shehad Hanani, the 21-year-old from Beit Furik who blew himself up at Geha Junction in the name of the leftist PFLP, had lost his older brother, Fadi Hanani — executed on a Nablus rooftop ten days earlier. The Israeli journalist Gideon Levy describes how the “almost universal unemployment, poverty, endless siege and humiliations of life inside a prison” experienced by the people of Beit Furik could drive Shehad to kill himself.
Incidently, this attack made a break from the PFLP policy of suicide attacks only inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories, although it still targeted soldiers. The only previous PFLP ‘operation’ inside Israel/the 1948 borders was the exection of far-right Israeli Tourism Minister Ze’evi after PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustapha had been executed by an Apache.
Despite Shehad’s suicide attack, killing of three soldiers and murder of the girl emanating from Beit Furik (nearby, yet cut off from Nablus) and the PFLP, the Israeli military cynically used it to justify the expansion of their invasion to the whole of Nablus, where they claimed to be after Al-Asqa activists.
It is vital for people to ask themselves ‘why’ some Palestinians are prepared to blow themselves and others up. Once the background conditions are known, it’s not very difficult to understand. Talk of rabid, vicious and primitive Palestinians is ridiculous - the ‘revenge’ motive fits nicely into the moral system of the average US action blockbuster film.
The sweeping condemnation that followed Lib Dem MP Jenny Tonge’s well-qualified comments that if she were a Palestinian living under occupation she “might just consider becoming” a suicide bomber, was obvious, given the lack of actual freedom of speech and the regime we live under in Britain and the US.
Yet it is still sad that statements such as this, which are vital to any decent discussion of the situation, are branded beyond the political pale and punishable. The racism becomes obvious when political pundits defend the recent Israeli invasion of Nablus, with the accompanying murders, collective punishment, humiliation and imprisonment of 180,000 people as necessary for security or unavoidable collatoral damage.
Mika Minio-Paluello volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement in Nablus.