The army probe into the shooting death of a Palestinian in the Al-Fawwar refugee camp Tuesday showed that the reservists' vehicle got stuck and came under attack. The soldiers, who had come to make arrests, had to fight their way out using live fire.
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The incident occurred at about 8:30 P.M. when a firebomb was thrown from the refugee camp south of Hebron onto Route 60, which runs next to the camp. The firebomb caused no damage.
A reserve force from the Israel Defense Forces’ 5th Brigade, which is stationed in the region, was summoned. A group of soldiers entered the refugee camp in their Jeep Defender and searched for the perpetrators.
The vehicle got stuck and Palestinians pelted it with rocks. From pictures taken by one of the soldiers, it appears the vehicle took such a heavy barrage that the bulletproof windows were smashed. The force fired in the air; Palestinian witnesses say the soldiers fired dozens of bullets and three Palestinians were hit.
Mahmoud Titi, 25, was killed. He was a known Hamas activist who organized activities on behalf of Palestinian prisoners and had spent time in an Israeli jail. He had been released from a short stint in a Palestinian prison only two days before his death. It is not known if Titi was deliberately targeted or if he was hit in the chaos.
Titi was buried Wednesday after a mass funeral in the refugee camp. After the funeral around 30 Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli forces securing the road. A border policeman was hurt and taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva.
Titi is the eighth Palestinian to die from IDF fire in the West Bank over the past four months. Last Friday Mohammed Asfour, 23, was buried after he died from a head wound caused by a rubber bullet. Asfour had been shot two weeks earlier while Palestinians were throwing stones at security forces.
The IDF has yet to determine how Asfour was shot in the head, since rubber bullets are meant to be shot only at the lower body. The IDF Spokesman's Office said the Military Police were investigating the deaths of Titi and Asfour and would hand their findings to the military prosecution for evaluation.
Still, fears that the deaths would spark mass violence in the West Bank have yet to come true. A Palestinian source told Haaretz that because the two dead were linked to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority has no interest in organizing protests. Islamic Jihad said in a statement Tuesday it would avenge Titi’s “execution.”
Tuesday’s incident, however, shows that Central Command chief Nitzan Alon's policy of restraint for dealing with disturbances is apparently not clear enough to some in the reserve forces.
Alon believes that maximum restraint is the way to handle disturbances; using large forces and carefully documenting the rioters, for example. Tuesday’s incident was the exact opposite: A small force launched a chase with an unclear goal, without considering the broader ramifications.
In some respects the incident was a reminder of the first intifada – a chase through a refugee camp that went awry, with panicking soldiers fleeing and making generous use of their M-16 rifles.
While in the past it was assumed that more mature reservists would be less quick on the trigger, today the reverse is true. The regular army trains heavily to deal with disturbances.
The need for such training for reservists became clear after the killing of Rushdi Tamimi of Nabi Salih last November. Then, reserve soldiers decided on their own to disperse a demonstration of 10 people. When the ammunition ran out, they fired their pistols, and a bullet hit Tamimi. The company commander did not report the incident to his superiors and was removed.
To date, to prepare for a possible escalation in the West Bank, around a third of Central Command’s reservists have been trained to cope with disturbances, and the army is trying to extend this program to everyone. This week, for example, the Samaria Brigade underwent a brigade exercise for dealing with rioting. All company and reserve battalion commanders were invited.