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In Birzeit, ‘Trigger Happy’ Israel Vindicates Amnesty’s Report

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By Nicola Nasser*

In the Palestinian West Bank town of Birzeit early last February 27, the Israeli (IDF) Occupation Forces (IOF) acted determinedly, under the media spotlights, to feed Amnesty International with a show case study to vindicate the report it released only hours earlier, entitled "Trigger-happy: Israel's use of excessive force in the West Bank," and to refute the Israeli official diplomatic denial of the contents thereof.

Under the command of Col. Yossi Pinto, a Nahal infantry force of the Binyamin Territorial Brigade, joined by the Border Police's elite Counterterrorism Unit, Yamam, according to Israeli The Jerusalem Post on the same day and "200 Israeli soldiers, dozens of jeeps, two (military) bulldozers and many Shin Bet [internal security] officers" according to Amira Hass of Haaretz on this March 3, including some 28 -- more than thirty army patrol armored vehicles according to the count of Arab natives of Birzeit who spoke to this writer, were amassed in this Birzeit University town, raising a hell of explosives and gunfire and disrupting its peaceful countryside early spring morning.

Amira Hass was on the scene. Wondering what was all that military mobilization for, a former mayor of Birzeit told this writer that he heard her asking in repudiation, "Was it (the late al-Qaeda founder Osama) Bin Laden inside?!"

Their mission, according to Israeli military spokespeople, was to arrest a "wanted individual" who, according to the Shin Bet internal security agency, quoted by Hass, had "intended" to carry out an "aggressive operation" against Israeli targets. An Israeli army spokeswoman said the man was "suspected" of "terror activity." www.israelnationalnews.com on the same day quoted " the IDF Spokesman's Unit" as saying that he was "a wanted man suspected of terror activity." Gideon Levy in Haaretz on this March 2 quoted " the military correspondents" as repeating what the "IDF claimed" that the man "had the intention to carry out a terror attack in the near future."

Hass wrote: "In the unofficial Israeli law code, unproved "terrorist intentions" are enough to be punishable by death. In Hebrew, "terror attack" is a magic phrase that exempts the Israelis from wondering why an arrest needs so many troops and fanfare, and has such a murderous end."

Gideon Levy sarcastically repeating the self-described as " the most moral army in the world" wrote that the Israeli army "is also an army that reads intentions," but Levy did not add that this army has had it as a rule to act accordingly as well.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said: "After the suspect was called to turn himself in, he barricaded himself inside his house, effectively resisting arrest. Under the premise that he had weapons in his possession, the forces used different means to complete the arrest, including live fire."

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The "suspect" was 24-year old Muatazz Abdul-Rahim Washaha, an unemployed Palestinian native of Birzeit.

Hass questioned the accuracy of this statement. Claiming that the victim had "barricaded himself" in would make people "think he built a fortress and surrounded himself with explosives. This is very inaccurate," she wrote.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said that the "troops forcibly entered the building and found his body." Hass said that "this is a lie." "The elite police unit had shot Washaha at point-blank range dozens of times, according to the pieces of brain that covered the room, not to mention his legs, arms and fingers that were nearly severed from his body," she added. Washaha's head was split open after being struck by a projectile, a doctor at the PalestinianRamallahHospital told AP on the same day.

It was left to Levy and others to specify the details of "live fire."

Levy reported that " the most moral army in the world fired an ( M72 LAW) anti-tank missile at the house in which a wanted young Palestinian was hiding " ran a bulldozer over the top of the house and destroyed it," using "a drill it calls a "pressure cooker' -- a rather disgusting drill it invented for itself."

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When the tactic of "pressure cooker," which involves shooting at the walls of the house that is surrounded , failed to persuade the   suspect   to come out and turn himself in, the IOF troops at around 7 AM bulldozed part of the outer wall of the house and fired projectiles into the building. Fire erupted in the house. At 11 AM, they issued an ultimatum, "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," Jan Walraven reported in the Palestine Monitor on this March 3.

The four -- apartment building was bulldozed and shelled out of use and its contents burned and vandalized. Four families suddenly found themselves on the street, waiting for charities.

Washaha did not "resist" his arrest; he simply refused to give himself in. Released from an IFO jail only a few months ago, he knew very well what being imprisoned by the IOF meant. "I will be free here. Leave and do not worry about me. I will stay here and not surrender. I will not return to prison," he told a Palestinian civil defense worker who rushed in to extinguish the fire caused by the Israeli projectile. Those were his last words, quoted by The Electronic Intifada on last February 28.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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