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With rockets and bulldozers, Israeli attempt to arrest Palestinian man results in his death

By Jan Walraven - March 02, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [birzeit]

A crowd surrounds the Washaha home in Birzeit on 27 February, the site in which the Israeli army killed Muatazz Washaha earlier that day. Photo by Jan Walraven

During a raid in the village of Birzeit on Thursday 27 February, Israeli forces killed 24-year old Palestinian Muatazz Washaha in his home. Washaha was an activist with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and suspected by Israel of "terror activities." During the raid Israeli forces arrested three other men. 

The raid started around 4 AM and lasted approximately six hours. After the raid violent clashes broke out in the streets of Birzeit between Palestinians and the Israeli army.

Scorched and ruined

A few hours after the Israeli army left the scene, approximately 150 people gathered around two neighboring houses, one of them shot to pieces. Fire fighters had just finished putting out the fire caused by Israel’s shelling. Not one window was left in tact. One side of the targeted house was completely scorched; two couches lay on the ground, apparently blown out of the house by the explosions. Amongst apparent traces of bulldozing, family members flocked outside the adjacent house, comforting the mother of the victim. 

Talking to bystanders and family members it became clear that the Israeli army had originally come to arrest four suspects. The army closed off the surrounding area at about 4 AM, urging all residents to come out of their houses, before proceeding to arrest three men. Among the three was Ramiz Washaha, a brother of Muatazz. 

Muatazz Washaha was the only one of the four that did not comply with the army’s orders; he refused to exit his home. Around 7 AM bulldozers came in, ripping at least one hole in the side of the besieged house, while Muatazz remained inside. According to one anonymous bystander the Israeli army issued an ultimatum at 11 AM, giving Muatazz two minutes to surrender, without result. As the ultimatum expired, the army fired several artillery shells from close distance. They then stormed the burning house, killing Muatazz. 

Although the Israeli army said they found an AK-47 inside the house, no shots were fired from the house during the standoff.

As journalists flocked around the second home, Muatazz's mother denied that her son had a gun with him. She further stated that during the siege she had urged the Israeli army officer "to enter and search the home" and "to arrest him." According to her, the officer replied that he had no intention to enter the home, only to demolish it.

The same day the PFLP vowed that a "response is undoubtedly coming," adding it would "continue to resist until the occupation is removed from all Palestinian soil." The Palestinian Authority condemned the "deliberate assassination", saying that actions like this "undermine the peace effort".

Amnesty International condemns "trigger-happy" Israeli forces

In a report published earlier that day, global human rights organization Amnesty International stated that in the course of the last three years, "Israeli soldiers have repeatedly committed serious human rights and humanitarian law violations, including unlawful killings, in response to Palestinian opposition and protests in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem." 

The report adds that Israeli forces do so "effectively with impunity." 

“The current Israeli system has proved woefully inadequate. It is neither independent nor impartial and completely lacks transparency. The authorities must conduct prompt, thorough and independent investigations into all suspected instances of arbitrary and abusive use of force, especially when resulting in loss of life or serious injury,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International in a press release

In the same press release, Amnesty states that in some cases there "is evidence that they [the Palestinian targets] were victims of willful killings, which would amount to war crimes." 

Referring to UN data, Amnesty claims that in 2013 more Palestinians were killed in the West Bank than in 2011 and 2012 combined, adding that in the last three years 261 Palestinians were seriously injured by live ammunition, while more than 8,000 were wounded by rubber-coated metal bullets and the "reckless use of tear gas."

In the report Amnesty International also calls upon the Israeli authorities to revoke "Military Order 101 and relevant articles in Military Order 1651 and fully respect the right of Palestinians in the West Bank to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly." Military Order 101 was issued in1967, prohibiting all gatherings of 10 or more persons “for a political purpose or for a matter that could be interpreted as political,” or even “to discuss such a topic,” unless they have received authorization in advance under a permit issued by the Israeli military commander in the area. The "relevant articles" in Military Order 1651 mentioned above also limit freedom of expression. 

Haaretz published a response by the Israeli army, saying "security forces had seen a "substantial increase" in Palestinian violence and that Amnesty had revealed a "complete lack of understanding" about the difficulties soldiers faced."

Muattaz is the 40th Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces since the US-sponsored talks on a final status peace agreement resumed in July 2013, according to Ma'an News Agency


Claire Matsunami contributed to the reporting of this article.

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