Will IDF violence kill the peace talks?
Scheduled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians – some of the first following a three-year stalemate – are now under threat of being halted following the death of three Palestinian protesters at the Qalandiya Refugee Camp near Ramallah. IDF soldiers shot three young men dead (Rubeen Abed Fares, 30; Yunis Jahjouh, 22; and Jihad Aslan, 20) when an Israeli undercover “arrest operation” to detain Yousef Al Khatib (who had recently been released from Israeli prison) spiraled out of control.
Not surprisingly, the Palestinian and Israeli accounts of this event differed. The IDF stated that during the arrest operation, a large riot broke out. Palestinians began hurling stones at Israeli armed vehicles, pushing soldiers to respond with live ammunition to protect themselves. Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesperson, stated,
“A large violent crowd such as this that significantly outnumber security forces leave no other choice but to resort to live fire in self-defense.”
Palestinian officials and residents of the refugee camp denied the IDF’s version of events, and stated that the rock throwing only began after Israelis raided the refugee camp and forced their way into Palestinian homes. Citing Palestinian witnesses, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote that IDF soldiers’ lives were never in danger, since Palestinians aimed their rocks at armed vehicles and did not use gunfire. PA officials condemned the attack as another instance of the IDF acting in a reckless manner and unnecessarily using lethal force.
It is no surprise that accounts of the events differ. Regardless of which version is valid, the events are another definite indication of the need for IDF soldiers to show restraint and remain accountable for their actions. This is especially important because it is this lack of restraint that has been a driver for hundreds of acts of retaliation in the past.
The events in Qalandiya brought to mind an infamous story in the West Bank; the story of Lina Al Nabulsi. On May 15, 1976, 17-year-old Lina was shot and killed by an IDF soldier while walking home from school in Nablus. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israeli authorities stated that a stray bullet hit Lina when a soldier’s rifle went off accidentally. An investigation into the incident was ordered, with IDF forces reiterating their commitment to only use live ammunition when their own lives were in danger.
Palestinian witnesses to the event vehemently denied this version of events. They stated first and foremost that it was very clear that Lina was a schoolgirl. She was wearing her school uniform. As Lina and her friends were walking home, they ran into a demonstration protesting against Israeli occupation and settlement building, an almost weekly event in Nablus at the time. It was common for high school students to join in with chanting and wave flags. This protest, however, turned violent. Palestinian men and Israeli soldiers became entangled, but it was Lina and her friends, innocently waving a flag and repeating the chant for justice everyone else was yelling, that would grab the IDF’s attention.
Two officers chased Lina and her friends into a building, where each of them sought a hiding spot. Lina hid under a dining room table in the apartment they had entered. According to Emadeddin Fraitekh, one of the other children hiding in the apartment a mere blocks from their school, the officers recognized Lina. They found her hiding under the table, pointed a gun at her, and opened fire, killing her in cold blood.
“She was executed right then and there, in front of everyone present, so we could see, take note, and learn the lesson.”
17-year-old Lina’s death sparked fury in Nablus and across the West Bank. Schools and public offices were closed for days to protest the IDF’s actions. Lina’s death also sparked an operation by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) under her name, which was carried out to avenge her killing. One of the men killed during this operation, Muhammad Abu Zant, only recently had his remains returned to his family in Nablus.
Lina’s death in 1976, and Rubeen, Yunis, and Jihad’s in 2013, although more than 35 years apart, are equally tragic.
Demands for the respect for human rights and dignity are the same. Calls to halt illegal settlement building continue, and the need for the international community to voice the need for the IDF to be held accountable for their unnecessary use of lethal force remains. A lack of progress in any of these areas will cement the place of the “lasting peace option” as a distant dream.