Otherwise Occupied / Fighting for Bruce Lee at The Hague

A word of advice to the International Criminal Court: Law enforcement officers who don't put settlers on trial for attacking Palestinians must also be considered suspects.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Bruce Lee Eid, pictured at his home in the village of Burin.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

If Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had asked me, I would have suggested that the International Criminal Court in The Hague investigate suspicions of war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories starting from April 18, 2011, not June 13, 2014. Why? Because on April 19, 2011, a terrorist with a Jewish appearance shot Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee? His friends from the West Bank village of Burin hoped his unconventional name would attract widespread attention, so that the attack against him would not be buried – like almost 100 other documented cases since 2005 had been of Jewish terrorists attacking village residents.

His friends were mistaken. Lee’s name did not lead to earth-shattering headlines. I, too, am partly at fault. Twice I intended to write; twice, events of force majeure intervened and the reporting was postponed.

The most important thing: Israel Police’s Judea and Samaria District let the investigation drift away, as is it customarily does. The file was passed back and forth from the police in Ariel to the Central District prosecutor’s office, and to the prosecution in the Samaria District – and then closed. Closed despite the file containing video footage of the incident that had been provided to the police, along with three eyewitnesses who identified the Israeli with the pistol from a lineup of digital pictures, and despite Bruce Lee’s serious injury.

Bruce Lee? Some 40 years ago, his elder brother really loved the actor from the martial arts movies, and asked his pregnant mother to name his soon-to-be-born brother after him.

After high school, Bruce Lee Eid thought about studying overseas, maybe law. “But then my brother, who returned to the West Bank with the Sulta [Palestinian Authority] in 1994, told me, ‘Join the Palestinian police. Serve your people. A state will be established and things will be okay.’ We are all Fatah, we are all for the PLO and peace, and we fought for independence. They convinced us that the way to independence is peace, and this is the peace of the brave.”

Truly brave

And Bruce Lee Eid is truly brave. Brave like the rest of his neighbors who built their homes in a section of northeast Burin. This is in Area B – in other words, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing building permits here, and the Israeli Civil Administration cannot prevent it from doing so. The neighborhood climbs up on a number of levels on the side of a mountain, below the peak, above which spreads out the unauthorized and illegal outpost of Givat Ronen, a descendant of the government-authorized but illegal settlement of Har Bracha.

Palestinians building homes in Burin, on their own land, obviously disturbed the Jews, who came down from the outpost (which sits on the lands of Burin), trespassed, threw rocks, sometimes threatened with weapons, hit, and burned olive trees. These “anonymous” people also threw firebombs at homes in the neighborhood and damaged houses under construction.

Eid’s home, which was also under construction, was damaged by unknown assailants a few times. They set fire to the roof, demolished pillars, set an electric pole on fire, broke concrete blocks.

On April 19, 2011, at 3:45 P.M., Bruce Lee returned home from his job with the police in the Nablus area. He and his family still did not yet live in the house, and he wanted to see how the construction was progressing. His wife and children joined him, bringing food with them. Bruce Lee was on the roof when he noticed goats grazing on the mountain next to the outpost, and a couple of settlers with them. “And then I saw the settlers growing in number. I tried to count – at least 11. They came near the house, from behind, and started throwing rocks at us. The children and my wife were inside.”

He quickly went downstairs. As usual, when the attack nears, the young men of the village are called out to lend assistance. According to the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian police are not allowed to protect Palestinian residents from Israeli attackers. The young Palestinians threw rocks at the Israelis, who were coming closer and closer to the house. The children in the half-built house were crying and outside, one of the Israelis drew a pistol and fired. He hit Bruce Lee twice: once in the hand, once in the stomach.

The news that someone had been wounded spread quickly, and more villagers rushed to the site to repel the invaders. And so they threw rocks, for defense. But then Israel Defense Forces soldiers appeared and, as is their wont, first fired stun and tear-gas grenades at the Palestinians. A friend carried the wounded and bleeding Bruce Lee away from the conflict area and called for an ambulance.

Since then, Bruce Lee Eid has been unemployed. The bullet damaged the nerves in his right hand. He spent many months in Jordan for complicated operations and nerves from his leg were transplanted into his right hand, but it only functions partially. There is still shrapnel in his abdomen. Despite the attack, his family still moved into their new home. The house is meager, matching his paltry monthly allowance. And the children are smiling, pleasant – but scared.

“At the beginning of 2014,” recalls Bruce Lee, “they called me from my lawyer Mohammad Lotfi’s office, and reported that the file was closed for a lack of evidence. Who do the police think shot me – my father? If a Palestinian throws a stone in Nahalin [west of Bethlehem], they come here to arrest [people] in Burin.”

Recently, his appeal against the decision to close the investigation was rejected. “What is the children’s crime, that they are sitting at home and being threatened by terrorists, who knows from which country they came. And we are forbidden to live in our home and on our land. For a person like me, the future is black.”

So, the International Criminal Court in The Hague is required to investigate as suspects the officers and prosecutors in the law enforcement institutions in Israel, too, who are systematically abusing their positions when they do not put Jews on trial for attacking Palestinians.

The atmosphere, and maybe the orders, encourage them to close cases, but it is their professional obligation not to obey – and it is in their hands not to obey.

Amira Hass tweets at @Hass_Haaretz