Thursday, March 25

MCC Palestine Update #98

MCC Palestine Update #98

March 25, 2004

[Note: the text below is the first of eight entries in a “Palestine Diary” on MCC’s website that will run over a two week period. Other entries will be written by MCC workers Ed Nyce (Bethlehem), Bob Herr (MCC Peace Office) and Molly Graver (MCC UN Office). You can access the Palestine Diary at]

Sometimes it pays to get an early start. On Monday morning, March 22, I left the house with Sam and Kate a little after 7 am, with them heading to school and me to visit the northern West Bank village of Zababdeh, where MCC's Global Family program provides support for the local Catholic school. If we'd left a half hour later, we'd have been stuck at home most of the morning. As news of Israel's extra-judicial killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin began to spread, demonstrators started coming out onto the streets in our neighborhood on the Mount of Olives. They were met by Israeli police, who eventually dispersed them with tear gas. Many roads in East Jerusalem, including in our neighborhood, were closed down.

While part of me wondered about the wisdom of travelling in the northern West Bank on the day of Sheikh Yassin's assassination, I also did not want the efforts I had made to coordinate passage to go wasted. As travel restrictions on Palestinians have become increasingly tight, international aid organizations such as MCC must coordinate with the Israeli military if we wish to enter the Gaza Strip or parts of the West Bank, such as the Jenin district, where Zababdeh is located. Any worries I had about driving through angry crowds of protestors proved unfounded. Apart from a few burning tires in the road on the way up and a march in Tubas on the way back, the villages I passed through were relatively quiet, with most stores keeping their doors open. When I get back home later in the day, however, I discover that East Jerusalem has completely shut down.

"We weren't sure that you would come!" said Father Aktham, parish priest and headmaster of the Latin Patriarchate School in Zababdeh as I drove up to the church. "We dismissed school after students finished their mid-term exams, because the Palestinian Authority has declared three days of mourning. But there are still students around the school. Let's go talk to them!" MCC's Global Family program provides scholarships to Christian students who otherwise would not be able to afford tuition at this Christian school. Joleen Daibes, a ninth grade girl with four siblings, is a case in point. Joleen's father has been out of work for three years now. The checkpoints, closures and curfews imposed by the Israeli military on West Bank villages such as Zababdeh have resulted in unemployment and poverty levels running well over fifty percent. Father Aktham does a quick calculation, and reports that less than one fourth of the school's budget is covered by tuition payments: fewer and fewer families in Zababdeh find that they can pay the full annual tuition of US$400. Joleen, a star English student and center for the school's girls' basketball team, and her three sisters and one brother, couldn't afford the school without scholarship assistance.

"It's a difficult challenge to preach the Gospel of peace and reconciliation in Palestine today," confesses Father Aktham, as an orderly procession of Muslims and Christians (mostly youth) winds its way through Zababdeh protesting Sheikh Yassin's assassination, a killing that claimed seven other lives. "At the church and at the school, we teach that we can hate what the Israelis are doing, we can hate occupation and dispossession, we can hate killing, but we don't hate Israelis. We're called to teach for a future of peace." If this future seemed farther than ever today in Palestine/Israel, I nevertheless end the day buoyed by Father Aktham's words, rejoicing in the continued Christian witness in this land to the Gospel of peace, justice, and reconciliation.

Below you will find three pieces, all regarding the extra-judicial killing of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin (and the "collateral damage" of seven other persons killed). The first is from Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, while the second and third come from Al-Haq and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the leading Palestinian human rights organizations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Another red line is crossed

By Amira Hass
Haaretz, March 24, 2004

There are four or five people in Gaza who now make up what is known as Hamas leadership. The liquidation of each one of them would ensure greater security, say government, IDF and Shin Bet officials. The liquidation of each one of them, says experience, also justifies the killing of people around him, including aides, bodyguards, relatives, neighbors, children, fellow worshipers. Based on the order to assassinate Ahmed Yassin only after he left the mosque, one may understand that the IDF is convinced it is making an effort to minimise collateral damage. Based on these calculations, the fact that seven men who did not deserve death were killed along with Yassin is evidently no great tragedy. Therefore, if we have five leaders deserving of death, then another 35, or 30, or maybe 48 or even 61 deaths, if you throw in the Islamic Jihad targets, too, evidently is no great tragedy either.

Between each of these targeted assassinations, there are also bound to be botched attempts. Several more people will be killed in these attempts "by mistake." How many? Will it be 14, or 22, including three children? The IDF Spokesman will underscore the danger posed by a deserving-of-death terrorist who managed to slip away, and will itemise the list of terrorist attacks he planned, executed, and will execute. And we'll forget about the wounded baby or the worker who was heading home from the market and was killed (not to mention the people killed at protest demonstrations).

You don't need intelligence reports to realize that as far as Hamas is concerned, Yassin's assassination can be considered a "mega-attack" that will elicit a response of commensurate magnitude. Almost certainly, they will not succeed at getting to a high-ranking Israeli, threats notwithstanding. Conceivably, their objective could be a particularly high number of Israeli civilian casualties, instead. Israeli intelligence efforts are now focusing on exposing attempts to avenge Yassin's blood. These intelligence efforts will generate a succession of new deserving-of-death terrorists. Ten men suspected of planning? Twenty worthy of targeted assassination? Just how many people around them is it permissible to kill or injure? Eighty? One hundred?

Sooner or later, the next reprisal terrorist attack will come. Eleven Israeli victims, or 19, dozens of wounded, harsh scenes from the hospital, suffering of the families - these will prove the murderousness of the Palestinians, who kill Jews simply for being Jews. And this terrorist attack, or the one after it, which we will not forget and not forgive, will make it okay to cross another red line. On Monday, they waited for Yassin to leave the mosque. Is the day far off when the helicopter crew obeys an order to launch a missile or bomb at the mosque itself? After which it will be explained: there were four deserving-of-death terrorists inside, each with four armed escorts, and, anyway, the imam there refers to Jews as monkeys and pigs.

And will the day arrive when an Israeli pilot fires a missile or bomb at a Palestinian mourning procession because marching in its two front rows are ranking members of Palestinian organizations, and right behind them are 30 armed masked men waving Kalashnikovs or Qassam launchers? Will that happen after or before the attack on a Jewish target abroad, which would take place after Hamas understands how hard it is, under conditions of a closure, to execute a local terrorist attack?

That is when the new Hamas leaders will sprout. The fact that the intelligence briefings have yet to include them does not mean they do not exist and are not prepared to take risks, be interviewed on television, and become targets of Israeli assassinations. Will this raise the number of those not-deserving-death in their environs that it is permissible to kill to, say, 100? In response to two Palestinian suicide bombings that will snuff out the lives of 30 Israelis, or 50, and another 45 attacks in preparation and three that were foiled, would the payment of 1,000 Palestinians killed be considered a suitable, logical, acceptable tax?

Israel's military and technological superiority is obvious to every Hamas activist in the Gaza Strip who swears to take revenge. The thousands who are prepared to commit suicide are well aware that they have nil (no real) chance of getting out of the Gaza Strip, and that most of them will be killed before managing to reach a nearby settlement. In Israel, military superiority was once presented as a precondition for any diplomatic settlement. But in effect it is the substitute that makes any diplomatic settlement superfluous.

Consciously or not, this superiority is hidden from the eyes of the average Israeli, who welcomes the assassination of Yassin, but is scared to death of the next terrorist attack. For many, this personal fear is translated into the deceptive sense that Israel itself faces existential threat. The Israeli government seemingly cultivates this fear of
existential threat. Therefore, this personal fear is an important factor in the ability of the Israeli military-intelligence-settlement elite, which is aware of its superiority, to cross another red line. It knows it has the backing of a majority of the Israeli public, which is convinced that this time, but really this time, the targeted assassination will bring us closer to a respite and to Palestinian surrender.

2. Al-Haq

22 March 2004

Press Release
For Immediate Release

Al-Haq condemns the Targeted Assassination of Skeikh Ahmed Yassin, and calls upon the International Community to immediately intervene to protect the Palestinian Civilian Population

Al-Haq condemns today’s killing of the political and spiritual leader of Hamas Sheikh Amed Yassin. In what Israeli Military spokesmen referred to as a targeted attack, Israeli helicopters fired three missiles at 67 year-old Sheikh Yassin as he returned from day-break morning prayers, and directly hit him in his wheelchair, 30-50 metres away from the mosque. Other than Yassin, the indiscriminate killing resulted in 7 more deaths and 20 injuries amongst Palestinian civilians, 5 of which are serious. The events of today took place at a time when no clashes were
reported in the Gaza Strip.

The recent attack on the life of Hamas_ leader Sheik Amed Yassin points
towards a serious escalation in the Israeli killing of Palestinian
political leaders during Israeli military attacks. Officially endorsed
by Israel_s government and military command structures at the highest
levels, Israeli Defence Minister Shaoul Mofaz vowed that Israel will
continue its policy of targeted assassinations as part of a campaign
against Hamas.

On 9 March 2004, following the most recent Israeli attack against the
Nuseirat and Bureij refugee camps, Al-Haq had warned the international
community in its Action Alert of 9 March 2004, of the deteriorating
situation in the Gaza Strip and the grave consequences of the persisting
Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilian areas. Since Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon indicated his government_s intention to
unilaterally pull-out from the Gaza Strip in December 2003, tens of
Palestinian civilians have been victims of Israeli policy of targeted
assassinations throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Israel_s practice of wilful killings and targeted assassinations of
Palestinian political leaders constitutes a grave breach of provisions
of humanitarian law. The assassination of Sheikh Yassin is in flagrant
violation of the right to life as stipulated in Article 23 of the Hague
Regulations and Common Article 3 to the Four Geneva Conventions Relative
to the Protection of Civilians in Times of War, both of which reflect
customary international law. The attack signals that Israel failed to
give utmost consideration to the civilian nature and status of
Palestinian residential areas, and therefore to cease all attacks on
them. Furthermore the heavy casualties amongst civilians following the
attack were the direct result of Israel_s excessive and disproportionate
use of force in the vicinity of a mosque, and which took place only
minutes following morning prayers. As an Occupying Power, Israel is
legally obliged to distinguish at all times between civilians and
combatants. The fact that Sheikh Yassin is one of the most prominent
Palestinian spiritual and political leaders shows that this practice is
used in part as a measure of collective punishment and/or intimidation
of the Palestinian civilian population, prohibited under Article 33 of
the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Wilful killings are a grave breach under Article 147 of the Fourth
Geneva Convention, and are war crimes for which there is mandatory
universal jurisdiction. It is high time that the High Contracting
Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention make a serious attempt to uphold
their obligation vis-à-vis the Palestinian civilian populations as
stipulated in Article 146 of the Convention that _[e]ach High
Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons
alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such
grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their
nationality, before its own courts._

The assassination of Sheikh Yassin also constitutes a blatant violation
of international human rights law. In its 2003 Concluding Observations,
the Human Rights Committee had expressed serious concern with _targeted
killings_ of those identified by Israel as suspected _terrorists_ in the
OPT, and deemed it to be an arbitrary denial of the right to life, and a
breach of Israel_s obligation under the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights.

It also confirms Al-Haq_s fears that the actions of the Israeli military
authorities _speak louder than words_ and that their official
proclamations regarding the intention to withdraw from the Gaza Strip
and evacuate existing Israeli settlements are mere rhetoric intended to
divert the attention of the international community from the systematic
violations of international human rights and humanitarian law which they
continue to commit against Palestinian civilians. As the upheaval in the
OPT provoked by the assassination confirms, such actions counter Israeli
claims that they seek to de-escalate the situation and that they are
working towards the achievement of peace and stability in the region.
Al-Haq views with grave concern the assassination of Sheikh Yassin and
others and calls upon:

1. the United Nations (UN) Security Council to convene an emergency
session to fulfil its legal obligations under the UN Charter to maintain
peace and security, in order to respond to the grave consequences of
Israeli deliberate methods of targeted assassinations against
2. the International community through the UN General Assembly to
intervene with the Israeli authorities to ensure the protection of the
Palestinian civilian population in the OPT
3. the High Contracting Parties to put an end to the consistent
lack of full and fair investigations into ongoing violations committed
by the Israeli authorities by ensuring that their judicial authorities
open prosecution briefs on wilful killings in the Israeli occupied
territories, and to bring those responsible for such grave breaches to

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights -Press Release

Ref: 51/2004 Date: 22 March 2004 Time: 08:30 GMT

Israeli Occupying Forces Assassinate Sheikh Ahmed Yassin

In an act of state terrorism, on Monday morning, 22 March 2004, Israeli
occupying forces assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, 66, founder and
political leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), immediately
after he had left the mosque after finishing the dawn prayer. In
addition to Sheikh Yassin, 7 Palestinian civilians, including 3 of
Sheikh Yassin's bodyguards, were killed and 17 others injured, including
two of Sheikh Yassin's sons. This illegal and belligerent act is an
actual implementation of the Israeli authorities' threats to assassinate
Sheikh Yassin, which were recently articulated by Israeli political and
military officials. This is the second use of illegal and excessive
force of its kind committed by Israeli occupying forces against a top
figure in a Palestinian organization, as Israeli occupying forces
previously assassinated the Secretary General of the Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine Abu 'Ali Mustafa in Ramallah on 27 August

According to preliminary investigations conducted by PCHR, at
approximately 05:20 on Monday morning, Israeli helicopter gunships
launched 3 missiles at Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, 66, an elderly disabled man,
after he had left the Islamic Association Mosque in the densely
populated al-Sabra neighborhood in the center of Gaza city, after the
dawn payer. Sheikh Yassin was traveling on his wheelchair accompanied
by 3 bodyguards, when one of the missiles directly hit Sheikh Yassin and
his bodyguards. The other two missiles exploded in the surrounding area
and killed 4 other civilians. In addition to those killed, 17 civilians
were injured, including Sheikh Yassin's two sons: 'Abdul Hamid, 33; and
'Abdul Ghani, 29. Four children were among those injured. 'Abdul Hamid
and 5 of the injured remain in serious condition. All of the casualties
were worshippers who had just left the mosque following the dawn prayer.
The other 7 victims killed were identified as:

1. Mo'men Ibrahim al-Yazouri, 28;
2. Rateb 'Abdul Rahman al-'Aloul, 35;
3. Khamis Mushtaha, 32;
4. Ameer Ahmed 'Abdul 'Aal, 25;
5. Rabi' 'Abdul Hai 'Abdul 'Aal, 18, a bodyguard of Sheikh Yassin;
6. Ayoub Ahmed 'Atallah, 26, a bodyguard of Sheikh Yassin;
7. Khalil 'Abdul Elah Abu Jayab, 30, a bodyguard of Sheikh Yassin.

Israeli media reported after the incident that Israeli official sources
announced that the assassination was approved by the Israeli government
and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon himself supervised the attack.

Sheikh Yassin had survived a previous assassination attempt on 6
September 2003, when Israeli warplanes attacked an apartment building in
which Sheikh Yassin and Isma'il Haniya, another leader of Hamas, were
present. The two leaders were lightly injured during that incident.

PCHR strongly condemns this illegal and excessive use of force, which
was committed in the context of the policy of extra-judicial
assassination officially adopted by the Israeli government, in violation
of international law and humanitarian law. PCHR believes that this
horrific act further proves that the Israeli government continues its
aggression contrary to its misleading claims of seeking peace. Such
actions signify that the Israeli government and Prime Minister Sharon
have decided to intentionally escalate tension in the whole region.
PCHR calls upon international community to immediately intervene to
prevent further deterioration in the region and provide protection for
the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, who face
the destructive Israeli arsenal that is unwilling to respect
international humanitarian and human rights law.

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