Israelis and Arabs Target Foes : Intifada’s Clandestine War a Cycle of Assassination
Witnesses to the killing saw the teen-ager race along the sidewalk on Jerusalem Street, then turn into a side road and begin to limp, as if he had become lame.
They said that a stranger, in jeans, a blue shirt and a baseball cap, “the kind mechanics wear,” ran past and stopped no more than 10 yards behind the teen-ager and fired several pistol shots at his back. Struck at least once, he fell.
The gunman, along with a partner, fired into the air to keep bystanders away, all the while talking into walkie-talkies, the witnesses said.
According to the witnesses, who were all Arabs, an Israeli army jeep drove up and a soldier in uniform pulled in the wounded youth. A doctor broke through a cordon of soldiers that had formed around the jeep, poked at the youth’s neck and apparently felt a weak pulse.
As the jeep pulled away, the youth slumped to one side. A soldier grabbed him by the hair and pulled him upright. The jeep proceeded, not to the hospital nearby but to military headquarters. Somewhere en route, the youth died.
The Arab witnesses’ account, confirmed by Israeli security officials, might have faded away as just one more tragic incident in the expanding web of horrors related to the Arab uprising--except that in its daylight boldness, the killing exposed a secret war that is becoming a key feature of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.
The shooting, which took place July 10, involved a variety of elements in this deadly contest: a fugitive Palestinian who evolved from a stone-throwing rebel to a relentless pursuer of Arab informers; anonymous Israeli agents traveling in an unmarked white van, sometimes functioning as mobile judges and executioners; an Arab collaborator, shunned by his village and singling out a target from his old community.
Incidents like the one in Jerusalem Street are considered likely to continue, and perhaps increase in number. The intifada , as the uprising is called in Arabic, has taken on a closed, more clandestine form. Palestinians say that the “white” intifada , of mass demonstrations, efforts at civil disobedience and reckless stone-throwing--the kind of activity visible on television news programs--is becoming a thing of the past.
Now, smaller groups carrying out hit-and-run, stone-throwing raids and occasional stabbings are the norm. Talk of armed rebellion is in the air. And surreptitious killings--committed especially by Arabs against suspected collaborators, but increasingly by Israeli agents against resistance activists--have become commonplace.
To penetrate the core of the resistance, the Israelis are relying more and more on informants to provide intelligence for the Shin Bet, its domestic intelligence corps.
The outlines of a familiar cycle have become visible. Palestinians and Israelis are locked in a death grip. The Palestinians, reeling from mass roundups and steady casualties, are seeking out spies and taking revenge on Arabs who have suspiciously close relations with the Israeli military. Palestinians have killed more than 20 accused collaborators in the past two months. Before that, the number had been barely 40 in a year and a half of the intifada .
In the meantime, Israeli officials speak of a new category of Palestinian victims: fatalities that occur during a “search and arrest operation” in which an army unit goes looking for suspected ringleaders and ends up shooting them. Usually a clash is reported, but one was not reported in Ramallah on July 10.
The target in that West Bank town was Yasser abu Ghosh, who had made a name for himself in the West Bank with his flamboyant leadership of street demonstrations. “The first to arrive and the last to leave,” Palestinians said of him.
At age 17, Abu Ghosh was a seasoned organizer and trainer of underground groups in several towns and villages. He had joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at 14, a tender age for militancy in one of the radical branches of the Palestine Liberation Organization. But militancy seemed to run in the family.
Two of Abu Ghosh’s brothers are in prison for taking part in the intifada . His family was driven from Emwas, an Arab village in Israel that was razed in 1967.
“Politics was always the talk in the house,” his sister, Hanneh, told reporters at his wake in the family’s two-story home in Betunia, near Ramallah.
As the intifada wore on, Abu Ghosh was almost always on the run. Soldiers came to his home frequently to warn his parents that they would track him down one day. In April, Abu Ghosh narrowly escaped while briefly visiting his home by leaping over a garden wall and hiding on a rooftop nearby. At night he slept in trees and caves and at the houses of confidants.
Abu Ghosh resisted advice from his parents and sister to hide out with relatives living in Israel. Indeed, he made a point of showing his face, never bothering to mask himself with the kaffiyeh, the checkered headdress commonly worn by Palestinian rebels. Instead, he affected a military look by donning khaki clothing, a kind of uniform that became his trademark.
“He liked to imitate soldiers,” his sister recalled. “He always wanted action. Once, he ranted uncontrollably because he missed a demonstration in Ramallah. He had overslept.”
This behavior seemed especially careless considering that Abu Ghosh also belonged to Palestinian “hit teams,” units that have taken on the mission of silencing collaborators. Palestinians and relatives insist that Abu Ghosh never killed anyone. They say he was involved in preliminary activities of “interrogation” and applying pressure to get the collaborators to repent.
Israeli military and intelligence officials have reacted sharply to the harassment of collaborators. They have announced the roundup of numerous groups suspected of attacking Arabs, demolished the homes of “hit team” members and stepped up “search and arrest” missions.
The Shin Bet has begun to use sophisticated means to identify suspects. Agents recently installed hidden cameras on the streets of Palestinian towns in order to get pictures of leading “instigators,” military officials say. Still, it is the informants who give the most accurate descriptions and who at a moment’s notice can spot a face in a crowd.
Palestinian witnesses in Ramallah identified the informant in the July 10 incident as Fateh abu Arida, a former resident of the village of Betunia, where Abu Ghosh grew up.
Now, to mention Abu Arida’s name in Betunia touches off spitting outrage. “He is the lowest of the low,” one woman said.
The precise nature of Abu Arida’s relationship to the Israelis is difficult to pin down. Some former neighbors said he was a middleman for the authorities and that he took bribes from Palestinians to deal with Israel’s bureaucracy in getting permission for the Palestinians to travel. Others say the Israelis just paid him for information.
Villagers accused him of burning the cars of Palestinian nationalists and of making citizen’s arrests of underground activists who were then turned over to the Israelis. In any case, after threats and stonings last year, he left the village and was said to have gone to live in refuge at a nearby Jewish settlement.
On the morning of July 10, Abu Arida was seen sitting in a van that moved slowly down Jerusalem Street. The van bore blue license plates indicating Arab ownership. No one took note of the number.
The vehicle stopped in front of a cafe where Abu Ghosh was sitting. Seeing it, he tried to flee and was chased by two men. Abu Arida stayed in the van. Some witnesses said Abu Ghosh tripped over a vegetable vendor. Some say he twisted an ankle.
Israeli officials contend that shooting fugitives as they flee is proper and legal, but no one recalls hearing Abu Ghosh’s pursuers order him to stop.
‘Like Slaughtered Meat’
“Everyone was in shock,” said Hosneh abu Awad, a physician whose clinic overlooks Jerusalem Street. “They loaded the boy into the jeep like slaughtered meat. Why not wait for an ambulance? Why not take him to a hospital? They shouldn’t treat us like animals.”
The appearance of armed Israeli plainclothes agents was first reported last fall in connection with West Bank ambushes that usually took place on country roads, sometimes at night. The shooting of Palestinian activists and organizers was attributed to two special undercover army units, one code-named Cherry and the other Samson.
Reports of Shin Bet participation also surfaced. In late February, in the West Bank village of Eizariya, a few miles east of Jerusalem, two plainclothes agents shot an Arab villager who accosted them as they were setting up a roadblock in an alleyway.
A spokesman for the Civil Administration, the military government of the West Bank and Gaza, said: “Security forces are permitted to stop a suspect. If the suspect is someone involved in violence and he tries to run away, then the security forces are allowed to shoot at him.”
The official announcement of Abu Ghosh’s death said that he was “involved in harassing those suspected of collaboration with Israeli authorities” and that he “disobeyed an order to stop.”
His body was kept for two days at military headquarters and then turned over to his family, late at night. On orders from the army, the family buried the body quickly and quietly, in order to reduce the risk of a violent funeral the next day.
A demonstration in Betunia immediately after Abu Ghosh’s death turned violent, and soldiers shot and killed a 16-year-old resident said to have been a close friend of the slain activist.
And the cycle of violence had not ended: On Wednesday, the army reported that Abu Arida, the suspected informant, had been stabbed on a Ramallah street and was recovering in a military hospital.
Israeli army razing of Arabs’ homes is restricted . Page 11.