Fire Bombs and Bullets at a West Bank Army Post

Three young Palestinians decided to throw a fire bomb at an IDF guard tower in response to the death of a Palestinian prisoner. One was killed, one wounded and one arrested.

The bloodstains are still on the road, on the spot where Amer was killed, and also on the ground in the backyard of the leather factory, to which Naji tried to flee and where the soldier apparently killed him with a shot to his back, from short range. Naji’s killing was reported only several hours afterward.

They were a group of young men − Amer Nassar, Diya Nassar, Fadi Abu Assal and Naji Balbisi − three of them relatives, who were upset last Wednesday following the death the day before of Maysara Abuhamdieh, the Palestinian prisoner who died of cancer. The men decided to leave their homes in Anabta on foot that evening; they were heading toward an army checkpoint nearby, on the road to Tulkarm, planning to throw a fire bomb at it and run away. As far as is known, it was their own private and spontaneous initiative, with no organization behind it. Amer and Naji were killed, Fadi was wounded and Diya was arrested.

Abed Al-Karim a-Saadi, a field researcher for B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, arrived at the scene shortly after the incident, and from there drove to the hospital to hear the testimony of the wounded Abu Assal. A-Saadi says the four reached a distance of several dozen meters from an army watchtower, apparently tossed one fire bomb at it and began to flee. A soldier immediately descended and began firing at them with live ammunition. Amer was wounded first, fell on the road and died. Fadi managed to run to the side of the road, where he was shot in the arm. He continued running and managed to get to a nearby house, whose residents took him to the hospital.

Meanwhile, as a-Saadi learned, Diya was caught and arrested, and Naji disappeared.

At dawn Naji’s body was handed over to his family. This week, several hours after we met the wounded Fadi at home, the soldiers came and arrested him, too.

This week, the army post, with its tower sooty with age, was manned as usual by Israel Defense Forces soldiers. At the leather factory nearby lie piles of skins from slaughtered cows, waiting for their turn to become shoes.

In the adjacent villa lives Nabil Masoud, the owner of the factory, which no longer processes skins because of the pollution it causes and has become a warehouse. Masoud says he heard the many shots that were fired at the four young men very clearly, and sequestered himself at home. The huge and silent wooden tanks, the heaps of skins and the smell of death of the slaughtered animals are the backdrop for what happened here.

A few kilometers away is the home of one of the dead men, Naji Balbisi, in Anabta. He was 19 years old, worked at irregular jobs, had never been arrested. His father, Abdel Salam, claims he wasn’t a member of any political organization. Several of the men in this poor household suffer from a birth defect, and drag their legs heavily.

Last Wednesday the father was at a temporary job in the city of Taibeh. That morning Amer went to visit his friend and cousin Naji. Eyewitnesses say they were in a good mood. Afterward, Naji traveled to Tulkarm to register for work as a firefighter. In the afternoon he went to his uncle’s store to fix his computer.

Apparently, when Abdel phoned him in the evening from Taibeh, Naji said he was resting at home, but was lying, so as not to worry his father. Late in the evening the family learned that Amer had been killed near the checkpoint and that Naji was missing. The incident occurred shortly after 10 P.M., but only at 3:30 A.M. did a Palestinian intelligence officer phone Naji’s uncle, Burhan Nassar, asking about Naji’s whereabouts. His uncle had no idea where the young man was. At 4 A.M., the officer phoned again and asked if Naji was home. He wasn’t. The officer reported that an unidentified body had been found.

A short time later, Naji’s family heard the siren of an ambulance making its way toward the IDF checkpoint. They rushed to the nearby Palestinian police station and asked the policemen to stop the ambulance on its way back from the army post. The ambulance was stopped, and to their horror they discovered Naji’s body inside.

They rushed to phone his father, still in Taibeh, and told him Naji had been wounded; only when he returned home did they tell him the entire story.

Now a photograph of the dead man is displayed on one of the family member’s cell phones − covered with dust, a large exit wound visible in his chest.

Although it is not common practice in Arab society, the funeral procession of the two cousins, Amer and Naji, which took place several hours later, was attended by almost all the women of Anabta, a secular and relatively wealthy town. When we asked the bereaved father what his son’s dream was, he replied dryly: to replace the tin ceiling of his room with a real ceiling.

At the other end of Anabta is the home of Fadi, who was released this week from the hospital. His home is somewhat more comfortable: His father works in the Tulkarm prosecutor’s office. Fadi is 20 years old, looks younger than his age, and is well dressed. His right arm is bandaged. When we saw him this Monday, the signs of shock at the death of his two friends, and the fear that he would still be arrested, were evident. His father says nobody in the house can sleep.

Fadi works in a local sewing factory, and beneath his sweatshirt hides a black T-shirt of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, with a picture of the administrative detainee Samer al-Issawi, who has been on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison for over 250 days. Fadi also says that the four young men wanted to do something to protest the death of prisoner Abuhamdieh .

Fadi says he heard Amer fall and moan, while he himself continued running in a zigzag in order to escape the fire, until a bullet pierced his arm. He continued to run, but a few seconds later felt dizzy and weak, and stopped to rest next to an almond tree; that was when he saw Amer lying on the road and Diya being stopped by a soldier as he tried to get to Fadi.

Fadi had no idea at the time what happened to Naji, who fled to the yard of the leather factory. In the hospital, he says, his father told him that that was not the right way to oppose the occupation: “We only lose from such activities.”

On Monday, several hours after we met with Fadi, the soldiers came to his home and arrested him.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman’s Office’s response this week: “The incident in question is being looked into by the Military Police investigation department. At the conclusion of the investigation the findings will be transmitted to the military prosecutor.”

Palestinian sources told Haaretz this week that the Palestinian commander of Tulkarm met with Israeli officers after the incident, and the Israelis showed him the security camera videos. The IDF was already watching the four youths from a post in a tower, located on a hill overlooking the road, when they were about two kilometers away from the checkpoint.

The Palestinian commander wondered this week why the soldiers didn’t summon the Palestinian police to arrest the young men before they carried out their plan, as has often been the case in the past. He said that the Palestinian police could have arrived at the road within minutes, and added that he had the impression that the IDF was waiting for the four to approach the checkpoint in order to open fire on them.