The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade gunmen are very helpful to the IDF when it goes to kill them. In direct contradiction of any guerrilla logic, they roam the streets armed, even though they know very well that army troops are going in and out of the cities at will, that camouflaged soldiers could pop up anywhere and there are collaborators everywhere.
The gunmen move about with their weapons exposed in the streets of the city, in sight of army observation positions, even though they know very well that the IDF policy, as the IDF says, is to shoot on sight any armed man, on the assumption that the armed man will resist attempts to arrest them and therefore soldiers' lives would be endangered.
That's how the activists from Al Aqsa in Tul Karm helped the camouflaged Border Police kill them on Sunday. According to the army, five men wanted as Al Aqsa activists were killed. The IDF admits that a sixth person killed, Mohammed Shantir, 18, who had just finished his matriculations, was caught in IDF cross fire. Three assault rifles were captured at the scene.
A Palestinian security source from Tul Karm, who doesn't hesitate to refer to the Al Aqsa Brigade's behavior as "stupid," and is opposed to the militarization of the intifada, has a different version. Indeed, two of the dead, Hani Awaida and Mahdi Tambuz, belonged to the Al Aqsa in Tul Karm. They were armed. They were accompanied by two unarmed men, who hung around with the two armed men - Said Abu Kamr, 24, and Ahmed Baruk, 26. He said they were not known as wanted men, neither to themselves nor to their surroundings. The fifth dead man was Abdel Rahim Shadid, 34, whom the Palestinian security officer said was a Palestinian intelligence officer. Only a week ago, he was in Ramallah for a visit, without worrying about checkpoints and spot security checks. Of course he knew the Al Aqsa gang, and he was caught in the ambush laid by the Border Police in western Tul Karm, because he was there to try to resolve a dispute between the brigade's cell and one of the families in the city.
Thus, according to this version, it wasn't a cell "planning a terror attack," as the army claimed, but an attempt to settle a domestic argument. The third weapon found at the scene did not belong to Shadid, as the army said, but to one of two other wanted men who were on the scene, wounded, and escaped.
According to the army, Tambuz was involved "in some shooting attacks and attempts to launch suicide bombers," and Awaida, said the incriminating information, was also a well-known Fatah operative. The license to kill that the IDF has granted itself in the neighborhoods of the armed men and civilians achieves one goal: The activists from the armed wings, nowadays especially in Fatah, are removed from the arena even before they gain any guerrilla experience. But if the IDF is trying to deter others, it is failing miserably. There are constantly new gunmen joining, ready to be killed by IDF fire even before they manage to fire a bullet, even into the air.
If they are under observation on their way to shoot at an army position, it should be possible to keep them under surveillance until they are out of the civilian neighborhood. But the army creates the impression that it has another goal in the killing of armed men inside residential neighborhoods, undeterred by the killing of civilians. The IDF hopes to isolate the gunmen in their own society, to make the civilians turn their populist anger on the gunmen. Apparently, the army has also failed at this, even though many share the view of the Palestinian security source that the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades behavior is "stupid."
As far as Palestinian civilians are concerned, the armed men are the same as the Israeli fighter pilots, bulldozer drivers and soldiers at the checkpoints are to Israeli society. After all, they are part of their society, known and accepted in their surroundings irrespective of the houses they blew up or demolished, the civilians they killed or ailing patients they delayed at checkpoints. Killing armed men - no matter how junior - in civilian neighborhoods actually strengthens the popular Palestinian perception that the the armed factions have the right to attack Israeli civilian neighborhoods: people who will become soldiers also live there, as do senior commanders in the Israeli military. The capabilities might be limited, but the motivation is there. So, the IDF kills junior gunmen with no experience or ability because of their motivation and when they are killed the motivation around them increases, and more young people are ready to become junior gunmen who get killed.
Nowadays, one can hear from army commanders that the excessive use of force since September 2000 was a mistake: it was unnecessary to bring tanks into Bethlehem, bomb police stations in Ramallah, clamp extended curfews on Nablus, suffocate the villages and cities of the West Bank with closures. There are those who admit that the heavy use of force only led to escalations. But when the missiles were flying and the curfews imposed and the tanks bulldozed, everything was presented as the only logical step to take. That's how the killing of armed men in civilian neighborhoods by soldiers the same age as them is presented nowadays as the only logical course.
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