Not for a long time has there been a liquidation like this in the occupied territories. An assassination in cold blood – an execution without a trial, exactly like a hit by a crime organization. But the organization that carried out this hit operates in the name of the State of Israel: It's was the Border Police’s Special Anti-Terror Unit.
The footage of the security cameras on the street leaves no room for doubt: Ahmad ‘Abdu gets into his parked car, a blue MG, in a tranquil, affluent residential neighborhood of the town of El Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah. It’s 4:37 A.M. and the street is deserted. He starts the car, turns on the lights. Suddenly a gray Volkswagen Caddy appears. Three uniformed Yamam officers emerge from it and open fire at ‘Abdu’s car. The flashes of fire are visible in the darkness. ‘Abdu tries to open the door but falls over, bleeding profusely. The troops pull him out of the car, perhaps so as to verify the kill, dragging him a few meters down the road. They then leave the blood-drenched body where it is and quickly depart.
The event occurred in the predawn of May 25 in El Bireh’s Umm al-Sharayet neighborhood. ‘Abdu, a young man of 25 from the nearby Al-Amari refugee camp, had returned from a night out with friends. They dropped him off next to his car, which he had parked beneath a tin shack outside the Al-Kiswani apartment building; his uncle, Mohammed Abu Arab, lives on the basement floor.
‘Abdu didn’t know, nor did anyone else, that he was wanted by Israel. Indeed, the Palestinian security forces told the family after his assassination that they had not received a request to arrest him and hand him over to Israel. The fact is that he slept at home and made no effort to hide from anyone, the family say, adding that he had never been arrested or questioned by the authorities about anything.
‘Abdu was due to be married this past month to Baraa al-Bau, from the village of Atara; he had been spending all his time organizing the wedding and completing the construction of his new house of 90 square meters in the refugee camp. He spent the last evening of his life, before going out later with his friends – where they went is not known – with Baraa. He promised her a surprise ahead of the wedding, but didn’t elaborate. The family think he meant that he would manage to get the house built by their wedding day.
A week earlier, on May 18, a demonstration took place at the DCO junction at the northern entrance to Ramallah. At the time, Israel’s operation against Hamas was underway in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank was in turmoil in solidarity with the Gazans who were being bombed, and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces were even more trigger-happy than usual. The army claims that someone at the demonstration shot at its soldiers. Apparently ‘Abdu was a suspect. But after he was shot and killed, his uncle, Abu Arab, was arrested; he is suspected of having done the shooting.
So did the Yamam assassins misidentify the victim? And why did he have to be killed when he could have easily been arrested? The uncle, by the way, turned himself in to the authorities at the end of the three-day mourning period for his nephew and since then has been in detention, undergoing interrogation; his wife was also arrested and afterward released. The family is convinced that the Yamam officers believed they had assassinated Abu Arab.
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Photographs of the blue MG show bullet holes on the left side. Photos of ‘Abdu’s body show that a bullet penetrated his left shoulder and was apparently the cause of death. Neighbors who rushed to the scene saw him lying on the ground, blood oozing from his mouth, probably from an internal wound. His elbows were bruised, apparently from being dragged on the road. Other bullets struck his left leg.
Testimonies of neighbors, which were collected immediately after the shooting by Iyad Hadad, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, tell the same story. Hearing shots on the quiet street, the neighbors looked out and saw the Yamam police officers. By the time they plucked up the courage to go downstairs the Israelis had already left. One neighbor recalled hearing a faint cry for help. Another heard a gurgling sound – then silence. One neighbor shouted from her window: “They killed him! They killed him!”
The Red Crescent ambulance that arrived at 4:45, after being summoned by the neighbors, rushed ‘Abdu to a Ramallah hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The results of the postmortem have not yet been made known to the family.
Border Police spokesperson Tamir Faro issued the following statement to Haaretz this week: “The Yamam fighters were operating in order to take a terror collaborator into custody. The shooting was executed according to the rules of engagement. The Yamam fighters together with the security organizations will continue to work for the public’s security, while risking their lives, with determination and professionalism.”
At 7 A.M. the same day, “Captain Halabi” from the Shin Bet security service called Ayman Abu Arab, another uncle on Mohammed’s mother’s side and demanded that his brother Mohammed Abu Arab report immediately to the Ofer interrogation facility. Ayman, who is wearing a black Versace T-shirt when we meet him, is a Fatah activist. He has been arrested 13 times and has spent 14 years and three months in Israeli prisons. He’s 48 – Mohammed is 43 – and works as a bulldozer mechanic. A father of five, Ayman has two wives and he owns two apartments, one in El Bireh and another in Al-Amari.
The last time Ayman saw his nephew, four days before the latter was killed, ‘Abdu asked him to find him more work to help finance the wedding and the construction of his house. ‘Abdu had been employed in the El Bireh bakery that belongs to his fiancée’s family; before that he was a maintenance man in the El Bireh municipality. On the last evening of his life he bought knafeh for his bride and her little sister.
When Ayman received the call from Halabi, he was still in the Ramallah hospital, stunned with grief, and arranging for his nephew’s body to be transferred for burial. Capt. Halabi told him that he was sorry about his nephew’s death, Ayman says. “Do you know why he was killed?” the Shin Bet man asked, before answering his own question, “Because he helped his uncle, Mohammed.” The officer demanded that Ayman bring in Mohammed. Ayman told him that the family was immersed in its grief. Captain Halabi called again at 5 P.M., demanding that Mohammed show up immediately.
“You did what you did and now you want Mohammed?” Ayman replied. “We are in mourning. Mohammed is in a bad way, mentally. Give us three days to mourn. When the mourning period ends, he will come to you.”
The Shin Bet went on calling and calling Ayman, and in the meantime Mohammed disappeared. The family was afraid that now he too would be assassinated, like ‘Abdu. Mohammed insisted on not turning himself in until the end of the mourning period. “You killed my nephew, and you want me now to stop the mourning period and receiving condolences? I will not come.”
Halabi was joined by “Captain Sahar” and “Captain Khalil” in making the phone calls. Hadad, from B’Tselem, heard one of Halabi’s efforts at persuasion. Halabi promised that the interrogation would be short.
On Saturday evening, May 29, at the conclusion of the mourning period, Mohammed’s three brothers – Ayman, Karim and Amin – accompanied their wanted sibling to Ofer Prison. They had called the Shin Bet agent to inform him they were on their way. Large forces awaited them outside. Mohammed was taken for a lengthy interrogation in the Shin Bet’s interrogation facility in the Russian Compound in downtown Jerusalem.
Two weeks later, the Shin Bet called Mohammed’s brother Amin and asked him to bring them Mohammed’s wife, Nisrin, 28. The family is certain that the demand to bring her in for interrogation was intended to pressure Mohammed. She was released after seven hours, but 10 days later she was instructed to report for additional questioning. This time she was detained for five days before being released. Her interrogation centered on her participation at the demonstration where the shots were fired. According to the family, Mohammed’s son was holding a toy rifle in the demonstration, which they had attended out of curiosity.
Ayman says he is convinced the Shin Bet received false information. He asks why they didn’t call the family so they could turn in ‘Abdu, as they had with Mohammed, instead of liquidating him in the middle of the night in cold blood and without a trial.
“Who is responsible for the killing? Who will compensate the family?” he asks – superfluous questions to which there is no answer and will be none.