Otherwise Occupied / Amira Hass |

They Can Be Killed

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Wanted Hamas man Hamza “Hamzi” Abu al-Haija, killed in Jenin March 22, 2014.Credit: Alex Levac

So the Shin Bet security service found another reason for us why Muataz Washaha deserved to die. He was allegedly a lookout in an “armed terror attack” against an IDF position in the West Bank.

After a huge police and military force stormed his home on February 27 and killed him from close range, the official accounts told us that he was armed and was planning a terror attack. “Terror attack” is a phrase that bewitches us and nips in the bud any nagging thought. It raises the ghost of past bus bombings and when associated with the future it rhymes with "a ticking time bomb," which, in its turn, rings like "deserves to be killed."

So why get into details and ask moot questions? For example, if he is so dangerous, wouldn’t it have been preferable to try harder to arrest and interrogate him for more intelligence? The Shin Bet and the IDF have known how to arrest more senior men. So why did they screw up here?

Now they have added the vital information on top of an audacious deed that is attributed to him, that he reconnoitred an IDF position (from where our merciful soldiers − they don’t fire and don’t reconnoiter, only play jazz music − hand out ice cream and candy to poor Palestinian children from the faltering villages, didn’t you know?). He deserved to be killed at close range, and his mother and father deserved to stand outside and watch their home go up in flames and be destroyed, and to see how death, in the form of the Yamam counterterrorism unit, creeps step by step toward their son.

With much fanfare and countless armored troops, our forces came to arrest him. That is how you arrest someone? With even bigger and noisier accompaniment they came to arrest Hamza Abu al-Haija, too, in the Jenin refugee camp on March 22. That is how you capture someone? The Shin Bet and IDF arrested more senior and experienced people than him and didn’t screw up.

In far away, less-known places than the Jenin refugee camp, they carried out successfully covert operations. So why exactly was there an arrest that went wrong here? Or is an old pattern reemerging: Under the cover of a bungled arrest, our forces execute low-level suspects through armed operations.

Even more than Washaha, Hamza Abu al-Haija raises silenced questions from the start. Indeed he is from Hamas, a son of a jailed Hamas leader who is serving several simultaneous life sentences for his role in suicide bombings, a resident of a refugee camp the synonym of which is "wanted-by-the-Shin-Bet" activists.

In an interview available on YouTube, the younger Abu al-Haija tells how Palestinian Authority policemen would regularly arrest him, and how afterward Israeli soldiers also came to arrest him (and he was indeed arrested, interrogated for several weeks and released), and he was sure that these were again Palestinians. “The Palestinian and Israeli security forces have the same computer,” he said. Whatever questions one side asked, so did the other.

Like Washaha, he didn’t turn himself in. Unlike Washaha, who was unarmed, he apparently shot at our storming forces, but in the end our forces shot him in the leg when he jumped from a window, and killed him from close range.

Here as well, the military spokespeople sprinkled their key words: In the initial report the senior officer said, “Over recent days the security apparatus came to the understanding that al-Haija planned to carry out a terror attack in the coming days. The Shin Bet followed his operation for some weeks, and its people discovered that the wanted man was planning to carry out a shooting terror attack against settlers or against IDF soldiers. This is foiling a terror attack that we define as a ‘ticking time bomb,’ that is supposed to be carried out in a few days.”

Some hours later, according to another report in which the Yamam commander is quoted, Abu al-Haija was wanted as part of a ring that “planned to carry out a terror attack in the immediate future within the borders of Israel.”

Shooting soldiers and settlers, or a terror attack in Israel? The gaps in these reports don’t matter to us. The point is that the phrases “terror attack” and “ticking time bomb” seep into our minds like a drug. And at the same time, we have almost no reports of the dozens of Palestinian citizens who are injured and even killed by routine shooting by our army. The reports that do emerge are quickly buried.

The gunpowder barrel cliché is too narrow for the Jenin refugee camp. There even Fatah supporters, who are bitter about being neglected by the Palestinian Authority, are close to their pals from the rival Islamist organizations more than they are to their movement's leaders in Ramallah. Does the one who knows for sure that the younger Abu al-Haija planned a terror attack for the immediate future within Israel have no means of arresting and interrogating him? And the one who is collecting every shred of intelligence about every Palestinian family doesn’t know that a mass-raid on the camp and killing of three − one armed and two youths who were carrying his body toward his home − is the burning torch, not just any match, for the tinderbox? Or is this precisely the intention?

The language of the military and Shin Bet spokespersons hypnotizes us, as always, with its objective-professional imitation. Their words seep into our blood and gray cells, and build there a one-dimensional reality of Jews who are being persecuted for no reason and those who do them harm. Be warned: The narratives of the military spokespersons are again preparing the ground for the coming escalation.

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