Palestinian Car Hit Soldiers, They Shot Back Once. Four Minutes Later, Nine Bullets Followed

From Israeli media reports on the possible accident, one might believe that the soldiers immediately opened fire in self-defense to kill two young men, but footage and eyewitness accounts tell otherwise

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Israeli forces stand guard next to a destroyed car, after two Palestinian were shot dead as they ran over troops in Kafr Nama, northwest of Ramallah, on March 4, 2019.
Israeli forces stand guard next to a destroyed car, after two Palestinian were shot dead as they ran over troops in Kafr Nama, northwest of Ramallah, on March 4, 2019.Credit: AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

After a week rife with bloody incidents between soldiers and Palestinians in the West Bank, who remembers the incident on March 4 in which soldiers killed two other young men after the Palestinians’ car ran over a soldier and a border policeman, seriously wounding the soldier? Residents of Kafr Na’amah remember very well indeed, as do residents of Saffa, Kharbatha al-Misbah and Beit Sira. The latter villages are where the car’s three occupants were born and lived.

Israeli media outlets all followed the lead of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit and reported that this was a car ramming attack at the entrance to Kafr Na’amah, west of Ramallah. They also reported that two of the three perpetrators were killed by IDF fire and the third was wounded and arrested.

Haaretz Weekly, Episode 19

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This might have led one to believe that the soldiers immediately opened fire in self-defense at the car and its occupants. But that isn’t what happened. The soldiers shot most of their bullets four and a half minutes after the car hit the soldier and the border policeman and crashed into an armored military vehicle. Moreover, the third passenger wasn’t wounded in the shooting; he was hurt in the crash.

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The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and the Shin Bet security service informed the media a few hours later that the wounded man had confessed under questioning that “he and two of his friends were on their way back from another attack, in which they hurled firebombs.”

Other sources have told Haaretz that before this young man was interrogated officially, he was put in a cell with “informants” – Palestinian collaborators with the Shin Bet who pretend to have been jailed for actions against the occupation. In the interrogation itself, the man wasn’t subjected to any force.

The wounded man was interrogated very quickly, and the results were leaked to military correspondents even more quickly. But the exact timing of the shooting, especially the fact that several minutes elapsed after the Israelis were run over before the Palestinians were killed, weren’t included in the Israeli reports. This is the first time these details are being published in the Israeli media.

The ramming of the Israelis and the collision with the military vehicle took place at about 3:30 A.M. Ten seconds later, a single shot was fired. Four and a half minutes went by, and then another six shots were fired. About 20 seconds later, there were two more shots. And half a minute after that, another shot was fired. That was the last.

In other words, nine of the 10 bullets were fired long after the ramming itself.

The Palestinian media reported from the start that people who were in the area at that dark early-morning hour noticed that a long time passed between the collision and the shots. Therefore, the Palestinian media depicted the incident as an almost routine car accident and an execution by the soldiers. The Palestinian witnesses’ reports are confirmed by a video streamed on Facebook Live.

Sound bites document the shooting

A field researcher for rights group B’Tselem, Iyad Haddad, collected detailed testimony from three eyewitnesses that very morning. He also sent the video and the slain men’s bloodstained clothing to his organization. B’Tselem then sent the clothes for forensic analysis. On three of the four clothing items that were examined, there were bullet holes; three of them on the left side of the back of one shirt.

The clip is essentially an audio recording because it was still dark at the time, and foggy. Only the beams of the soldiers’ flashlights and the lights of passing cars shine through the gloom. But the sounds are very clear – the collision, the first shot, the soldiers’ raised voices, and then, some minutes later, the many additional shots.

A lack of tension

The following is what happened according to the Palestinian witnesses. At 2:30 A.M. on March 4, an IDF force entered the outskirts of Kafr Na’amah via the narrow, winding road from Ramallah, which runs through the villages of Ein Ariq and Dir Ibzia. (Contrary to the Israeli reports, the incident occurred at a significant distance from the settlement of Dolev, and on a road that settlers don’t use. The soldiers apparently came from the northeast, from a road in the West Bank’s Area C, another offshoot of which leads to Dolev.)

One of the military vehicles got stuck in the middle of the narrow road, near the warehouses of the Al-Habbash carpentry shop. Another jeep continued up the road toward the village’s first houses, and about 10 soldiers made the climb on foot. The eyewitnesses concluded that they got out of the stalled vehicle.

The soldiers stopped at the house of a 42-year-old man and put him into the jeep. His arrest didn’t spark any clashes. The jeep then drove back to the stalled vehicle, while the other soldiers returned on foot. The detainee, incidentally, was released a few days later.

At about 2:45 A.M., N.O., who earns his living by selling fresh baked goods at a checkpoint from which Palestinian laborers set off for Israel, arrived from the west. He was heading for a nearby bakery.

He saw the soldiers on foot and the jeep at the outskirts of the village and preferred not to get near them. From a bend in the road he saw the first jeep parked near the Al-Habbash carpentry shop. He didn’t see the stalled vehicle, because its lights were off. He did see some dancing beams of light – the soldiers’ flashlights.

He saw the jeep leave, and about 10 minutes later, he saw a jeep appear. Was the arrested man in the jeep that left? Was it taking him to a military base or transferring him to another vehicle, and was it the same jeep that returned? We don’t know. But all of it reflects a relaxed mood and a lack of tension on the part of the soldiers.

At about 3:15 A.M., M.R., a storage clerk at a nearby factory, arrived in his car. He told Haaretz that the streets of Kafr Na’amah were quiet. He didn’t know that any soldiers were in the area.

It was a cold, foggy, drizzly night. The lighted streets of the village gave way at the entrance to a dark, winding road that goes downhill heading east. Out of the dark, the soldiers suddenly appeared. One of them flicked on a powerful flashlight, and M.R. quickly stopped, he said.

In his account to Haddad of B’Tselem, M.R. said that two soldiers approached him. One spoke Arabic. “I opened the window and said ‘Good morning’ to them. The Arabic-speaker told me, ‘Hi. Go home.’”

M.R. explained that he was on his way to work, but the soldier said “‘find another route.’ I told him there wasn’t one. Then I asked him, ‘How long will it take you?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. We have a problem,’ and he pointed at the stalled military vehicle, which resembled a Hummer, stuck sideways in the middle of the road. I could see the car in the flashing beams of the soldiers’ flashlights.”

No warning triangle

A few days later, M.R. showed Haaretz the scene of the incident. He stressed that the stalled vehicle was in the middle of the road, so no car would have been able to pass it. Nor was a reflective warning triangle posted at the requisite distance from the vehicle, he said.

M.R. turned around and found himself next to N.O. at the bend in the road. They waited there together for the army vehicle to be fixed, and M.R. lit a cigarette.

Shortly before 3:30 A.M., another car appeared. The driver was going fast as he went down the hill. M.R. tried vainly to signal him to stop.

He and his fellow witness saw the soldiers’ flashlights flick on and off twice, but the driver didn’t stop. Then they heard the sound of the car crashing into the other vehicle, and immediately afterward, a single shot.

Through the darkness they could see the moving beams of the flashlights and hear the soldiers shouting. Then, after what seemed to them to be about five minutes, they were shocked to hear a barrage of shots. And then a few more. The video makes it possible to determine exactly how many shots there were and how much time elapsed between them.

The car that rammed into the military vehicle had only two doors. H.O. was sitting in the back. He hit his head in the collision, lost consciousness and apparently rolled to the floor. Again, he wasn’t wounded by the shooting.

Residents of Kafr Na’amah who were watching saw a helicopter, a drone and other military vehicles arrive. They also saw a Red Crescent ambulance that the soldiers prevented from approaching the scene.

By 7 A.M., both the stalled military vehicle and the car in which the three young men were driving had been cleared away by the army. The army also confiscated the film from the security cameras at the Al-Habbash carpentry shop.

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Later, village residents discovered that clods of earth were covering the bloodstains on the road, in the square in front of the carpentry shop and even in one of the shop’s storerooms. One report said residents had earlier seen the soldiers on a vehicle scattering dirt over the scene of the incident.

Haaretz asked the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit about the time that elapsed between the collision and the shooting. In its response, given on March 7, the unit neither denied the time lag nor explained whether there was some justification for the belated shooting. Here is its response:

“Following a suspected car ramming attack in the village of Kafr Na’amah, in the territory of the Ephraim territorial brigade, an initial command inquiry was conducted. This inquiry found that three terrorists used their car to run over an IDF officer and a Border Police officer who had stopped at the side of the road at that moment. In response, the force that was at the scene opened fire and neutralized two of the three terrorists.

“It also found that earlier that night, the terrorists had thrown firebombs at a crossing point near Route 433. Additional firebombs were found in the car that the terrorists used to carry out their attack. The third terrorist was wounded and sent for interrogation by the security services. The incident is still being investigated.”

Soldiers have already raided the homes of the two men killed – Amir Dar Daraj of Kharbatha and Yusef Anqawi of Beit Sira. They conducted searches, asked questions and left.

Now the families are being tortured not only by the question of why and how the army killed their sons four and a half minutes after the collision, but also by whether and when the bodies will be returned so they can bury them.

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