Advertisement

Palestinians Speak of Need to Spill Blood for the Dead

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even before an enraged Palestinian mob lynched Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Thursday, the talk here was of revenge.

Gathered in angry knots around their wounded sons at Shifa Hospital, fingering weapons nervously at an empty resort that just three weeks ago hosted Israeli tourists, lingering at the junction where 22 Palestinians have died in clashes in the past two weeks, Gazans said that this fight is not over.

They said they are unhappy that mass demonstrations subsided Tuesday after Israeli authorities issued an ultimatum to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Advertisement

“Certainly, I don’t agree with Abu Ammar,” said 19-year-old Habib Abu Zaid, using Arafat’s nom de guerre. “And I don’t accept his negotiating with the Israelis. I am angry that the demonstrations have stopped.”

His anger was echoed by the uncle of an 11-year-old boy, Sami abu Jezzar, as the child lay dying in Shifa Hospital on Wednesday, the day after he was shot in the head by Israeli troops in the southern Gaza Strip.

“We believe in God,” said the uncle, who would give only his first name, Mohammed. “God said that our confrontation with the Jews is religious. We believe that it has come back to this real fact.”

North of Gaza City at the Al Wahah resort, a monument that an Israeli peace group donated to the hotel has become a gathering spot for Palestinian security forces.

“May Peace Prevail on Earth” is written in English, Arabic, Hebrew and Japanese on the simple white post. The gunmen cluster on the lawn around it, peering warily up the road, waiting to see whether fighting will erupt.

“The Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint up the road fire this way sometimes, and we fire back,” explained one member of the group, who refused to give his name.

Advertisement

Across Gaza, Palestinians talk bitterly of their dead and wounded, and of finding a way to extract a greater toll in blood from the Israelis, whose casualties have been far fewer. News agencies that have kept track say about 2,000 Palestinians have been wounded and more than 95 killed. Palestinians insist that the numbers are higher, with as many as 3,000 wounded and more than 100 dead.

Among the dead and injured have been several children, including Sami abu Jezzar. The Israelis accuse the Palestinian Authority of cynically sending children to the front lines of the riots, deliberately putting them in harm’s way. The Palestinians accuse Israeli soldiers of coldbloodedly targeting their children.

In Sami’s case, the Israeli army said the boy was hit when soldiers opened fire on youths throwing stones and gasoline bombs at its Rafah outpost. Journalists who witnessed the shooting said he was with a group of boys who were throwing stones when he was hit.

Sami’s family insists that he was simply walking home from school when he was shot. “Even if he threw stones, he doesn’t deserve a bullet in the head,” the boy’s distraught uncle said as he stood outside the hospital.

He spoke after thousands of students from Gazan universities staged a raucous demonstration in downtown Gaza City urging Arafat to continue the fight that erupted after Ariel Sharon, leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, paid a controversial visit to the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City late last month. Militants with their faces swathed in kaffiyehs fired automatic weapons in the air at the Gazan protest and vowed to target Israelis inside Israel.

The crowd left behind angry graffiti on whitewashed walls, slogans in black and red that promised, “The Revenge Will Be Harsh,” and, referring to a militant Islamic group, “Hamas Promises the People to Continue the Way and Take Revenge for the Martyrs.”

Advertisement

In his office at the Gazan branch of the World Trade Center, Jihad Wazir, son of Khalil Wazir, the Palestine Liberation Organization military leader assassinated by Israeli special forces in 1988, said the anger cuts across classes and factions of Palestinian society.

“The anger is not gone,” said the bespectacled businessman. “The anger is seething and there is no closure. Starting the peace process again will not resolve the issue.”

The Netzarim junction has been ground zero for the clashes in the Gaza Strip. The junction southwest of Gaza City is where the strip’s main north-south artery intersects an Israeli-controlled road that provides the only access to a tiny Jewish settlement. The Israeli army outpost at the junction looks like the set of a “Mad Max” movie.

Three armored turrets rise above massive blocks of concrete stained with the black residue of countless Molotov cocktails hurled at the site. Two huge Israeli flags snap defiantly in the sea breeze behind a towering chain-link fence. For hundreds of feet around the junction, there is devastation.

After the violence first erupted, Palestinian stone-throwers used two apartment towers and a metal factory next to the outpost for cover during daylight demonstrations at the junction. Sometimes during the day, but more often at night, gunmen fired down into the Israeli post from the roofs of the buildings.

Most of several hundred injuries inflicted by troops on Gazans during the clashes occurred here as troops fired tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition into the rioting crowds. A French television crew captured their shooting of a terrified 12-year-old boy, Mohammed Durra, as he cowered with his father during one of the gun battles.

Advertisement

The images became the most incendiary of the conflict. For Palestinians, Mohammed’s death became a metaphor for what they see as the gross mismatch of forces, the gross imbalance of casualties.

After repeatedly warning the Palestinian Authority to stop the gunfire coming from the buildings, the Israelis destroyed the structures. Only huge mounds of rubble remain.

Abu Zaid, the 19-year-old, came back Wednesday, hoping that the demonstrators who melted away Tuesday, after the buildings were demolished, would return and take up the fight again.

Every day for more than a week, Abu Zaid said, he joined friends serving with him on the Palestinian police force to throw stones after work at the army outpost. Once, he said, he was overcome by tear gas and rushed to a nearby hospital. Another time, he was struck in the arm by a rubber-coated metal bullet.

The Palestinian police began turning demonstrators back Tuesday, after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other envoys began negotiating a cease-fire.

“My mother and father say it is useless,” said the baby-faced Hamas supporter. “They beg me not to come and say that it won’t change anything. I just keep silent and come again. I want to continue to give the Israelis a lesson.

Advertisement

“If the situation continues to be quiet and calm, then the target cannot be achieved,” Abu Zaid said. “This quiet won’t help to liberate Palestinian land.”

As he spoke, a Palestinian ambulance crew slept in the shade of a kiosk on the street outside, waiting to see whether its services would be needed. But the violence that day erupted elsewhere.

Jihad Wazir, the businessman, said that by allowing Sharon to visit the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the site revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as Haram al Sharif, or noble sanctuary, Israel has opened a Pandora’s box of hatred that may be impossible to shut.

“The mistake that they’ve committed is that they have linked religion to politics,” he said. “It is a recipe for total disaster.”

Advertisement