This is already the kind of news that gets buried in the inside pages: Three Palestinians were killed last Sunday when a trop of IDF soldiers in Nablus arrested one of the leaders of the tiny Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Taisar Khaled. Another routine operation, and nobody argues over its necessity or the way it is conducted.
Khaled, 60, was not a suspected terrorist in hiding, and finding him did not require any sophisticated intelligence work. He is a member of the PLO executive committee and his office address is well known – in a large commercial building, in the crowded commercial and business sector of Nablus. The arrest, the deaths and the 23 wounded were a small news item in the Israeli press. But for the Nablus residents it was another fresh round of mourning, rage, fear and thoughts of revenge.
At around 1 P.M., when a large force began surrounding the building, children and teenagers out on the street began throwing stones. Soldiers, shouting and with their weapons drawn, ran up the building’s interior staircase – the elevator hadn’t been working lately. On the stairs they ran into Khaled’s office manager, Hasan Ayub, who told them in Hebrew, “No need to panic, I’m not armed.” They jumped him, he says, threw him to the floor, stepped on him and beat him.
According to the IDF report, the troops opened fire after armed Palestinians opened fire at them. According to Palestinian sources, when the stone throwing intensified outside, the IDF began shooting. During those initial minutes, three or four people were wounded, and then, around 40 minutes into the operation, say the Palestinians, a few armed men appeared on the scene. And indeed, some began shooting from within the crowd, which made people angry.
Meanwhile, inside the building, the soldiers were on the seventh floor, where Khaled’s offices are located. One door was locked.
Ayub says he was stood next to the steps, exposed, while two soldiers, hiding in the corners, began shooting at the door to open it. One soldier was in front of Ayub and two others behind him. Did they know there was no-one shooting from inside the office and that’s why they put Ayub in the potential crossfire? He says that he told them there was a key with the building superintendent, on the second floor.
He says they said, “That’s far,” and continued shooting until the door was opened. The building was full of people who were pulled out of their offices in groups, hands on their heads, and faces to the wall.
Outside, there were sounds of shooting. One soldier sat Ayub down opposite the window in the stairwell, and told him in English, “If you see someone with a weapon, tell me.” Ayub says he replied, “If I see someone with a weapon, I’ll look for a hiding place.” While that exchange was taking place, the commander of the force inside the building was wounded in his leg. Ayub was nearby.
Then came the Shin Bet men with their questions and the building superintendent pleading with them not to beat him, and Ayub explaining that he didn’t know where Khaled was because Ayub had just returned after running some errands outside the building. From the sixth floor they could hear the shouting and cursing with a Hebrew accent. Khaled was caught, and with him, a companion, the owner of a tourist agency, and a third person, a technician called to repair the photocopier. A few soldiers were amazed to learn that the wanted man was “this old geezer,” as one of them said.
Outside, the dead were counted. First Iman Abu Zanet, a young man who indeed belonged to the political party, though they didn’t know whether he was one of the seven armed men who appeared in the crowd or was just throwing rocks. The two other dead were passersby. Muhamed Takruri, 43, was one.
He had stepped out of his car to buy a packet of cigarettes about a block away from the incident. An army jeep had got stuck in the thick pedestrian traffic and soldiers opened fire to make people move aside, said a shop owner who managed to tell Takruri to run and hide. Also killed was Fares Mabrukke, who was simply a pedestrian in the area. Twenty-three people were wounded, including one person who has been declared `clinically dead.’
In the last few months, IDF forces have been making sure to arrest someone every night in Nablus. A jeep is sent to a dark neighborhood, there is banging on the door, a distant bark of a dog and a person is arrested. On Saturday, it’s true, a wanted man was arrested in the middle of the day, in an insurance office, but that was a neighborhood far from the center of town. But the IDF sends several dozen soldiers, in jeeps, and with a huge tank, to the center of town when hundreds of children are on their way home from school.
The Palestinians regard it as a showcase operation, a provocative and dangerous demonstration of force and supremacy that nobody, in any case, doubts.
Someone in Nablus raised the possibility that the indifference about the choice of time and place for the arrests is derived from the fact that on February 5, armed Palestinians killed two soldiers from the paratroopers brigade stationed in Nablus, the same brigade that was sent to arrest Khaled.