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  January 20, 2010

Israel's assassination policy

TRNN interviews relatives of recently assassinated men in Nablus, Occupied Palestinian Territories
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In recent weeks Israel has escalated its practice of assassinations in the West Bank and Gaza. At the end of December, Israeli special forces broke into the Nablus homes of Anan Subih, Raed Surkaji, and Ghassan Abu Sharekh and killed them. Official Israeli sources linked the three to the killing of Israeli settler Meir Avshalom Hai who was killed while driving to the illegal outpost in which he lived. The killings are the latest in Israel's long-time practice of assassinations, illegal under international law. Many contradictory reports have surfaced over the December 26 assassinations. The Real News Network's Lia Tarachansky spoke to the families of two of the killed.


LIA TARACHANSKY (VOICEOVER), PRODUCER, TRNN: In recent weeks Israel has escalated its practice of assassinations in Gaza and in the West Bank. Roughly a dozen Palestinians have been killed since the end of December, mostly in Gaza. In the West Bank, assassinations took place in the northern city of Nablus. Located between two mountains, the city has been the center of much of the resistance to Israel's occupation. A big proportion of those killed since the Second Intifada began in 2000 were from here. And though the intifada is supposedly over, the killings are not. In late December, Israeli settlers torched a mosque in the Palestinian village of Yasuf and increased nearly daily attacks on Palestinians and their property. On December 24, Palestinian militants from the Al-Aqsa Brigade shot and killed Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai while he was driving home to the settlement of Shavei Shomron. The settlement he's from lies on land confiscated from the Palestinian village of Deir Sharaf, just west of Nablus. Two days after the Rabbi's death, Israeli special forces entered Nablus to locate those responsible. An army press release said that "During the operation IDF special forces killed three terrorists responsible for carrying out the shooting." But the families of the killed men denied their involvement. On the night of December 26, dozens of Israeli army jeeps and bulldozers occupied the streets of the old city in Nablus. Witnesses reported that more than 70 soldiers were involved in the raid operation. The Real News spoke to Tahani Sarkaji, Raed Sarkaji's wife, who witnesses the raid during which he was assassinated.


TAHANI SARKAJI, WIFE OF RAED SARKAJI (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): On Saturday night, December 26, at about 3:00 a.m., we were sleeping. We woke up suddenly from a sound that shook the whole house�at this point they had exploded a part of the house. I told my husband, "It seems like there is an earthquake." In a matter of seconds, from the moment we heard the explosion, we heard the army coming up the stairs. They didn't even announce their arrival into our house. Without the sound of the explosion we wouldn't have woken up. We didn't even turn on the light. We sat and waited in the dark. We waited for them to call us, tell us they're downstairs, but they didn't call for us. The army came up the stairs and made their way to the roof. You can see our bedroom from that place on the roof. They didn't call out and ask for us, "Oh, people of the house," anything. We just heard their footsteps and the walkey talkies until they made their way up to the roof. They surrounded our room and we saw their laser beams and spotlights shining into the room. So I told my husband to get up and stand aside; otherwise they'll kill him. So, indeed, we both stood aside, but we barely had a chance to, and it was at that moment they shot several shots. And I said we want to open the door and come out. We asked them�they didn't say a word yet; it was us that asked. So we told them, wait, wait, right now we will open the door. Up until then they hadn't answered. So when we told them to wait, in a few seconds the firing stopped. We were ready to open the bedroom door and get out. Then they shot him and he took a bullet in the forehead. He turned his head, and they shot him again in the back of the head. He fell on me, and so I fell with him. When he fell, he fell quickly because his brains were splattered everywhere. So he fell, and I didn't even see what had happened to his head, and even a bullet struck my leg. But they kept on shooting, even though we had both fallen. So then I turned to him and said, "Raed, you've been shot." At this point I hadn't seen that he was shot in the head. I said, "Raed, say your final prayers," but I didn't know his head had been shot, and I tried to speak to him and lift him because I thought he was still alive, and when I went to lift him by his head, his brains all ended up in my hands. His brain, because his head had exploded from the back, all ended up in my hands, my arms, and all over my chest. So I put his head on my lap. So I screamed at them, "May God make you have pity," and I said, "I can't believe you killed him," and I kept on repeating, "You've killed him, you've killed him." And they quickly descended from the rooftop and surrounded me, six or seven of them, and they came from behind the roof, while my husband is lying in my arms and all of our blood is all over the place. And then a soldier came quickly towards us and they began to spray bullets at my husband's body.

TRANSLATOR (SUBTITLED): While he's with you?

SARKhAJI: Yes! The soldier sees him entirely, killed him, and shot him one more time in the head. And I screamed and said, "Good Lord, enough!" But they kept spraying him with bullets. Even though it was clear to them he was dead before they came down from the rooftop.


TARACHANSKY: In the government press release, the Israeli army explained the reason for Raed Sarkaji's death was that he was once imprisoned by Israel and that he was an activist with Fatah Tanzim in the past. For his alleged involvement with the group, Sarkaji was jailed for six and a half years, followed by an extra six months of military detention, and was reportedly interrogated for 140 days. When asked whether her husband was indeed involved in the Al-Aqsa Brigade, Tahani said that after being released last year, Raed was trying to get hired by the Palestinian Authority.


SARKHAJI: Then they asked me where his children were and I should bring them.

TRANSLATOR: They're young?

SARKAJI: Yes. So the soldier and I left, and the rest flipped the entire room upside down, looking and trying to find anything, and asked for the kids. I said, "What do you want from the kids?" And he said, "Just go get the kids." So when he saw them, he said, "Those are his kids?" I said "Yes, boy and girl, and they're young." Then the soldier said, "Where's his M-16? Where is it?" And I said, "I don't know. Aren't you searching the house? He doesn't have one. Look around, fish around, explode the house if you have to, but you won't find a gun in here, because my husband did not have a gun."


TARACHANSKY: The Israeli press release said that soldiers gave the three men the opportunity to surrender and that they didn't. This, however, directly contradicts the testimonies of the witnesses. The Real News also spoke to ["HA-dee-ya"] Abu Sharkh, the mother of Ghassan Abu Sharkh, who was also assassinated that night. The only reason the army gave for targeting him was that he was the brother of Nayef Abu Sharkh, a militant the Israeli army assassinated in 2004.

ABU SHAREKH, KHALDIEH: The soldiers were downstairs, and they called up and said, "Everyone in the house, come downstairs"�after they blew up the door. The bullet went right through him and into the wall. They isolated Ghassan, like they knew it was him they needed to shoot, like they've been studying his picture for 100 years. They didn't even ask Ghassan for his name, who he is, what he's doing, nothing. This is a crime, a crime! And in cold blood they shot him, shot him in front of his wife, his kids, his mother, his brother, his brother's kids, all of us, the entire family. And look, they're all young kids.

TARACHANSKY: At the home of the third man, Anan Subih, the army found weapons and ammunition, the press release said. Subih's family explained Anan was in possession of a weapon because he was hired by the Palestinian Authority for their new security services. According to Ma'an News, "Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, Israeli forces have assassinated more than 200 Palestinians with the use of airstrikes, ambushes, or undercover forces. As many as 400 bystanders were also killed in these attacks." In spite killing Raed Sarkaji, Ghassan Abu Sharkh, and Anan Subih, the Israeli army advised the Palestinian Authority to arrest nine other men in Nablus it claimed were actually involved in the killing of the settler in December. At the advice of the PA, all the men turned themselves in, but have still not been informed of any evidence against them. Reportedly, they agreed to be arrested for fear of also being killed. Israel does not have an official policy on its use of assassinations of suspects in custody or of targeted killings like the three men in Nablus. While he was minister of defense, however, Shaul Mofaz was quoted in the beginning of the intifada and at its end as supporting the practice, and even saying that no one is immune, not even elected Hamas president Ismail Haniyeh. He claimed that this policy is supported by the legal opinion of the military advocate general, but all the opinion stated is that "The IDF has the legal right to fight hostile elements in the Occupied Territories, in exceptional and extraordinary cases, when the purpose is to save lives and in the absence of any other alternative." According to international law, however, Israel's use of assassinations violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Fourth Geneva Conventions. It is unknown whether the three men Israel assassinated were even connected to the Al-Aqsa Brigade, let alone to the killing, but even if they were, according to international law their assassination is still illegal. A paper issued by the prominent legal organization Al-Haq quoted Article 147 of the Conventions that states that "... any putting to death as a reprisal would certainly come within the definition of wilful killing." The paper also writes that "The Israeli policy of extrajudicial judicial killings fails, by targeting civilians, to respect the fundamental principle of distinction between combatants and civilians. Moreover, it regularly fails to respect the principle of proportionality by employing excessive lethal means. Finally, targeted assassinations, which are carried out in non-combat situations, cannot be justified by military necessity."


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee complete accuracy.


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