In a Palestinian village plagued by crime, a thin line runs between burglars and IDF soldiers
Their town has a problem with robberies, so it was hardly surprising that the three Shawakhah brothers tried to defend their home upon seeing suspicious men in the street one night in March.
On March 23, in the middle of the night, an undercover force of the Duvdevan special-ops unit entered the prosperous and serene Palestinian village of Kafr Ramun, reportedly as part of a training exercise. Three brothers woke up, alarmed, thinking the men outside were thieves, and tried to chase them away with sticks and kitchen knives on the street. Without identifying themselves - the members of this unit operate in the guise of Arabs - the special-ops force fired 11 bullets at the brothers, continuing to shoot even after they were injured. One of the brothers was killed and the other two were severely wounded. The soldiers also kicked one of the brothers, and for a long time prevented all of them from receiving medical attention.
Army Radio initially reported that "terrorists" had tried to stab an Israel Defense Forces soldier; subsequently the IDF announced that the military Criminal Investigation Division would not be looking into the incident.
A few days ago the two surviving brothers were released from a hospital in Israel. They say they are planning to sue the IDF.
The incident would not have occurred if the undercover soldiers had identified themselves to the three men. It also would not have occurred had the IDF refrained from entering a quiet village like Ramun in the middle of the night, ostensibly in order to train among its houses.
An avenue of old olive trees leads into this pretty village of large homes, northeast of Ramallah, at the edge of the Jordan Valley. About 3,000 residents remain in the village, while about 7,000 of their former neighbors are living in the diaspora, mainly in the United States - in Michigan, California and Florida. The expatriates' summer homes, some of them splendid stone villas, are a frequent target of break-ins when the owners are not in residence. The nearby Christian village of Taibeh is also well-endowed with luxurious and sometimes-empty summer homes, but it has a Palestinian police station, so the burglaries are fewer.
In Ramun everything gets stolen: the contents of homes, cars, livestock and pieces of metal. There is a nocturnal break-in every month or two.
The home of the Shawakhah brothers is in fact relatively modest. It is built on the side of a hill, and its three stories serve as a home to the brothers, their families and their father. A fourth brother lives in Michigan. Photos of the slain brother, Rashad Shawaha, who was married and the father of a baby when he died at the age of 28, now adorn every window in the house. A fig tree stands in the concrete-paved yard; a rooster can be heard from the neighboring house.
Hadija, the wife of Akram, one of the two wounded brothers, greets us in Portuguese: She immigrated here 15 years ago from Rio de Janeiro, to which her family had emigrated in the 1970s. The smell of freshly baked bread served warm is in the air, as we are joined by Anwar, 39, who limps and leans on his cane, and Akram, 36, who shows his abdomen, smashed by bullets and scarred by surgery.
Anwar and Akram work as truck drivers for the nearby cement factory; Rashad operated a cement pump. Together they would drive to work in the car they shared, together they would spend their evenings and together they were raising their children. Anwar has four children, Akram has five and Rashad's only daughter is 11 months old. Every night they would take turns guarding against robbers, their main concern being for their livestock in the nearby pen: 10 sheep, each one worth about NIS 2,000.
On the night of March 23, too, they had arranged the night watch among themselves: Akram's shift was at 1:30 A.M., Anwar's at 2:30 and Rashad's an hour later. Before 11 they went to sleep. At around 1:30, during his shift, Akram discerned two suspicious figures leaning against a neighbor's car, under the street lamp below the house. Akram was armed with a stick. The two suspicious figures apparently noticed him, and began to move in his direction.
Akram hastened into the house. He roused his brothers and told them two figures were approaching the house. Then he returned to the veranda, and found that the suspicious men were just a few meters away. Akram called to them to stop, while in the meantime Rashad and Anwar came up behind the suspects, kitchen knives in hand. It should be noted that sometimes burglars enter Ramun carrying firearms. Also, about five years ago a woman was killed in the course of a robbery in nearby Taibeh.
"Who are you guys? What are you doing here in the middle of the night?" Akram asked them in Arabic. One of them replied in what sounded to him like good Arabic with a Hebron accent: "Remember the Prophet, brother."
Anwar asked the two for identifying papers and one of them replied: "Don't worry, we know everyone who lives in the village." One of the men wore a jeans shirt, the other a brown jacket. When the brothers addressed them again, one of the strangers drew a pistol he was packing at the back of his waist. Rashad grabbed the hand with the weapon, but the man pulled the trigger and Rashad was shot in the thigh.
Rashad screamed, "My leg, my leg," but he continued to wrestle with the man, whose companion then also drew a pistol and aimed it at Rashad's head. When Akram saw this, he rushed to beat the first man on the head with the stick. The man then tried to fire at Akram, as Anwar came to his brother's aid. The man aimed his pistol at Anwar's head, Anwar managed to turn his face away - and the bullet penetrated his neck. The shooter then also fired at Akram, and a bullet penetrated his abdomen. Akram fell, tried to get up and was shot again in the abdomen.
A minute or two passed, then dozens of soldiers swarmed into the street and took up positions. The soldiers were in uniform but their faces were masked. The soldiers called on the brothers to stop, in Hebrew and in Arabic. Rashad and Anwar already lay bleeding on the road at the entrance to their home.
The brothers' wives and children, who had by now woken up, watched through the windows. They saw how a soldier went over to Akram, kicked him in the chest and put his foot on his head. Then the soldiers came inside and shut all the members of the family in one room. Akram had in the meantime let go of his stick and put his hands up. He says he was glad to see the soldiers, whom he thought had come to save them from the armed robbers. He says that had he known the "robbers" were undercover soldiers, the three of them would have hurried back into the house long beforehand.
Akram told the soldiers his brothers were wounded and that the burglars had shot them. In response one of the soldiers fired a bullet into his abdomen. Now he too fell to the ground. He tried to get up, but fell back down. The soldiers ordered him to strip and to turn over where he lay.
Akram and Anwar relate afterward that the soldiers looked very irritated. One of them fired at Rashad, who was lying wounded on the ground, one bullet to his chest and four to his abdomen. Rashad was still alive at that point. His two brothers heard him groaning in pain.
The brothers' elderly father came out of the house and asked the soldiers why they were shooting his sons. According to them, one of the soldiers replied: "Shut up, or we'll shoot you too."
Then the soldiers ordered the father to bring his sons' identity cards from inside; they then checked the cards by way of the computer in their jeep. The brothers say they lay there on the ground wounded some 40-60 minutes, while the checking process was under way. During that entire time, no one treated them for their wounds. In the meantime, a neighbor had called a Palestinian ambulance, but the soldiers did not allow it to approach. Only after checking the ID cards did the soldiers begin to tend the wounded men. Two of them helped Akram to his feet, and supported him as they walked him over to one of the armored vehicles parked on the street. They did the same with Anwar. They carried Rashad, whose body was entirely covered in blood, on a stretcher.
Two vehicles took them to Taibeh and from there to the Rimonim roadblock, where two Israeli ambulances met them and took the brothers to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. En route, the medics checked Rashad's pulse and pupils. He murmured: "I am going to die."
Akram, who was with him in the ambulance, tried to soothe him: "Don't worry. We will die together - or we will live together."
Akram remembers only the moment when the ambulance doors opened and he was taken to the emergency room. Anwar says they arrived at the hospital at approximately 3:30 A.M., about two hours after the incident began.
Akram regained full consciousness the following day. Anwar woke up only four days after arriving at the hospital. The doctors amputated Rashad's leg but he died five days after the incident. Akram was hospitalized for 11 days, Anwar for 15. A total of 11 bullets were fired at the three brothers - seven at Rashad, three at Akram and one at Anwar.
Anwar managed to leave the hospital for a few hours to attend his brother's funeral, but Akram was unable to do that. Their brother Amjad was summoned from America, as was their uncle who lives there. At first the family told Amjad that they thought it had been burglars who shot his three brothers.
A Shin Bet security services investigator called "Adam" questioned Anwar at the hospital and during the first five days the brothers were under guard. Adam told Anwar they had wounded one of the soldiers. Only then did he understand that the "burglars" were soldiers.
Akram and Anwar praise the care and treatment they received at Shaare Zedek. Their follow-up exam and further treatment will be done at a hospital in Ramallah, in order to spare themselves the hassle of obtaining entry permits to Jerusalem. They have already contacted attorney Lea Tsemel, who will file a damages suit on their behalf.
"If only they had told us they were soldiers," say the brothers over and over, almost apologetically.
B'Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories has warned in the past that the undercover unit's operational methods and especially their rules of engagement violate international law. In the incident's wake, the organization has applied to the military advocate general's office and has demanded that it order the army's CID to examine the circumstances of the incident. In the context of such an investigation, according to B'Tselem, it is also necessary to examine the command level that made the decision to enter the village.
This week, more than a month after the incident, the IDF has reversed its original decision, and the military advocate general's office has ordered a CID investigation.
This week the IDF Spokesman informed Haaretz: "In the wake of the incident in which a Palestinian resident was killed and his two brothers were shot and wounded by the IDF, the military advocate general has ordered the opening of a CID investigation. In the nature of things, while the investigation is in progress we cannot address the claims arising in the report."