May Allah Have Mercy
Murad al-Zaro, 23, had plans to get married and raise a family. But then he was shot in the head and killed by the Border Police.
14 April 2000
In her crowded, florid living room, amid the velvet sofas and vases of flowers in a riot of color, the mother Tarziha al-Zaro mourns for her dead boy. In this refugee camp home she sits and laments, and curses the Jews who killed her son. Her husband and son-in-law hurry to shush her, to apologize - as if there was something to apologize for - and bundle her off to the kitchen. Her keening can still be heard.
Tarziha is a relatively young bereaved mother, only 45. Murad, the third of her eight children, was 23 when he was shot dead by a Border Police undercover unit two weeks ago. Her eyes are red from weeping, her face is ashen. She wanders aimlessly from room to room in the house, bereft of calm or rest.
Murad had promised to get home early on the night of March 30 - he had two weddings to go to. But the next morning the police called his father, Samiah, whom everyone calls Naji, who does body work on cars, to come and free his son on bail. But when he got to the police Russian Compound in Jerusalem, he was told his Murad had been killed. "Halas, our son is dead. May Allah have mercy," he said as he came out of the building in tears. Tazriha, waiting outside, collapsed on the street.
The intolerable ease with which Palestinians are shot in the territories continues to reap its horrific harvest of blood. Jews are not shot this way, no matter what they are suspected of, and that is as it should be. Only Palestinians are shot like this.
A tangled mass of makeshift electricity, telephone and television cables criss-crosses the narrow alleys of Shuafat refugee camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem, linking window to window, roof to roof. There are two degrees of squalor here - a filthy, neglected, stinking area that is under the responsibility of the Jerusalem Municipality, and an even filthier, more neglected and more stinking area that isn't. All the camp's inhabitants are residents of Israel and carry blue ID cards, but municipality jurisdiction covers only part of the camp.
Photographs of the latest shahid - martyr - Murad al-Zaro have been pasted on the walls of the houses. As a victim of hostile activity, he is accorded respect and veneration after his death, like Jewish victims of terrorism. Murad was a plumber who worked for a contractor who worked for the Jerusalem Municipality. His employer says he was a dedicated worker who never missed a day on the job, getting NIS 120 for a day's work.
Recently he had been even more energetic, earning more money to finish building an apartment for a new life, above those of his father and his brother. He was supposed to go with his father - a village tradition - to formally ask for the hand of his intended, two days after he was killed.
He had bought jewelry in Ramallah for her. The engagement ceremony was to be on Saturday, the wedding in the summer. Who was the bride-to-be? Mindful of her honor, a village tradition, they won't say, lest she be marked with the stigma of being half a widow.
Two happy events were held on that black Thursday. Murad was at the wedding of his cousin nearby, and then he came to his parents' place to rest before the wedding hafla of a friend in Anata. While he was in his parents' house he phoned another cousin, who was like a brother to him, Iyad Sanduka, from Silwan, and suggested that they go together to Anata. Murad borrowed his brother Wayil's car, a Fiat Uno, told his parents he would be back by 11 P.M. and drove off to die.
He had the most minor of police records. He was arrested once, for interfering with a policeman - his parents say he tried to protect his grandmother from police officers who had come to arrest her son. His trial was supposed to be resumed this week. "He didn't even smoke cigarettes," they say, ridiculing hints that he was carrying drugs when he was shot.
After a night of horrors and four days in detention, the cousin, Iyad Sanduka, who was an eye-witness to the events, was released from prison this week. The next day he gave testimony about what had happened that night to a fieldworker of the B'Tselem human rights organization, Raslan Mahajana:
"We stayed about half an hour at the party in Anata and we left at around 11 P.M. for the Shuafat camp, to go to Murad's house. There were only the two of us in the car. On the road that goes up from Anata, a Ford Transit approached us from the opposite direction. After going by, it turned around and started following us. We couldn't see who was in the Transit. It followed us for about three minutes and then passed us and the driver began to honk. Suddenly the Transit blocked our way and stopped about five meters from us. Murad stopped the car. About eight soldiers dressed in khaki wearing masks on their faces got out of the Transit and started shooting at us without warning.
"I bent down and felt the bullets going over my head and my back. I started shouting and crying. I looked at Murad and I saw blood coming out of his head and his neck, and I saw a hole in his head. Then I felt someone hitting the car, from behind or from the side. The door opened and the soldiers with masks pulled me out of the car, threw me on the ground and two of them started beating me and searching me. They found nothing because neither I nor the late Murad had any kind of bag. As far as I know, no drugs and no weapon.
"After about a quarter of an hour an ambulance arrived, they examined me and took Murad and I was put into a jeep. They tried to start our car but they couldn't, so they hooked it up to the jeep with a rod. They forced me to look only at the floor. We came to the Russian Compound [in downtown Jerusalem] and there they put me into room number four, the interrogation room. I was never arrested in my life, not for anything criminal and not for security, and I had no idea about what the police do. I don't have a clue what they questioned me about or what I answered. I was stunned by what happened and I was very worried about Murad."
The police quickly issued a statement on the night of the event: "A young Palestinian was critically wounded last night by Border Policemen during a chase after him by members of the corps' special unit. The police were conducting an operation to locate suspects carrying weapons in the village of Anata. The policemen noticed a suspicious car in which two Palestinians were traveling. In the course of trying to stop the car, the two evaded police roadblocks and the driver rammed two police jeeps. The two suspects tried to flee on foot, one of them was shot by the policemen while the other, who had previously thrown away a bag he was holding, was arrested. A preliminary check by the police found that the bag thrown by the Palestinian contained drugs. His comrade who was shot was taken to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem where he is in critical condition."
This week the police revised their account somewhat. No chase on foot and no bag that was thrown away. Now it is a Palestinian who sticks his head out the window of the car and a white bag which was thought by the Border Police undercover unit to contain a lethal weapon. The spokesman of the Jerusalem District police, Chief Superintendent Shmuel Ben Rubi: "What happened on that evening was that Border Police undercover men spotted people who were sitting on the roof of a house in Anata and shooting."
There was a wedding part that night in Anata, and it is the custom for them to fire into the air.
"There was a hafla? I didn't know. I know they were shooting with two Kalashnikovs, an M-16 and a pistol. The undercover men didn't want to enter the village so they waited outside and blocked the exit from the village with openly visible jeeps.
"At about midnight a Fiat Uno arrived with two Palestinians inside. The policemen ordered the car to stop, the car didn't stop and rammed a jeep. The car tried to get away, drove in reverse and hit a second jeep that was part of the roadblock. You can see the marks on the Fiat Uno [B'Tselem fieldworker Raslan Mahajana, who saw the Fiat, says there are signs of damage in the back and on the side but not in the front]. After the second jeep was hit, the guy who was driving got out of the car. Actually, he didn't get out of the car but stood in the window..."
What do you mean, he 'stood in the window'?
"He stuck the top part of his body out the window and was holding a bag in his hand. You have the driver who is driving and you have the guy who was killed, who is holding a bag in his hand..."
It was the driver who was killed, not the passenger.
Ben Rubi, after clarifying this: "You are right. The driver was killed. The person next to him stuck his body out the window. They drove in reverse and the driver's head was turned backward so he could see.
"The policeman thought, they say, that there was a firearm in the white bag. So they fired a few bullets and the car stopped. The Internal Affairs department [of the Justice Ministry] is now investigating. Those are the testimonies, that is what emerged from the debriefing. That is what they said and now there is an investigation."
And what was really in the bag?
"Either marijuana or grass, I don't know."
A bag with marijuana and the other fellow is released after four days?
"These days the judges go easy on offenses like that. I don't know how much there was. I don't know if it was with the leaves or not. We didn't open the bag."
You didn't open the bag? So how do you know it contained drugs?
"It's drugs for sure. One hundred percent it's drugs."
How big was the bag?
"Something like 30 by 60 [centimeters]."
And you released him anyway?
"He is not one to run away.