Cease, Fire

Gideon Levy

In the neighboring village of Burkin, on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, the Shalamish family had gone to sleep. Maybe they went to bed feeling optimistic.. 


HA'ARETZ

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
 

hese are the days of the cease-fire. There are no acts of mass terrorism. A momentary wind of hope is blowing. In Bethlehem and Gaza, graffiti is being erased from the walls, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are holding their fire and their terrorism, and at the edge of "ground zero" in Jenin new signs have gone up bearing portraits of Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Zayid al-Nahayan, from the United Arab Emirates. The two signs cost the refugee camp committee NIS 1,400; in return the camp will receive $27 million from the sheikh, his contribution to the rebuilding of the homes in the ground zero area. Yes, hope springs eternal even among the ruins of the Jenin refugee camp. 

In the neighboring village of Burkin, on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, the Shalamish family had gone to sleep. Maybe they went to bed feeling optimistic. The son, Akal, slept on the roof, because of the heat inside. The parents and the small children were inside, and the eldest son, Iyad, was asleep at home with his wife, Holud, and their children in their house on the ridge across the way. None of them imagined that before dawn their family would be destroyed. In the course of the night Iyad was killed, Holud was seriously wounded when a bullet struck her in the head, and Akal was taken by Israeli troops into detention, no one knows where. 

Five-year-old Thamar, Iyad's son and now orphaned of his father, a survivor and eyewitness to the climax of the bloody night, describes over and over exactly where the bullets struck his father as he stood on the balcony, watching the soldiers who had come to arrest his brother and search his parents' house. Three bullets slammed into his arm, one hit him in the shoulder and a fourth, a lethal one, ripped through his neck below the ear. Thamar saw the gaping wounds. "Here, yes, no, no, here, here, and here again," the boy says, showing on his small body the places where the bullets struck his father and providing a detailed explanation in his thin voice. 

Was Akal, who had never before been arrested, such a dangerous person that he had to be arrested in the middle of the cease-fire? And why did the IDF Spokesman's Office refer to him as Mohammed? Was Iyad also wanted, as the Israel Defense Forces claimed only after he was killed? Did he really try to shoot at the soldiers? Or did he do nothing and only stood there, unarmed, as his family, those who were there, says? Iyad Shalamish, father of three, 27 years old at his death. In the midst of the cease-fire. 

The fact is that as we bumped our way along the road, a threatening IDF armored vehicle suddenly appeared coming the other way, looking like a tank without a cannon, and all the cars and yellow taxis moved to the side of the trail to let the war machine go by and then continued uninterruptedly along the way. So why does the IDF prevent the use of the main road? The one and only reason is to make the life of the residents hard and bitter. 

A black flag and a green flag wave in the breeze in the center of the dusty and desolate village square of Burkin. The black one is the color of Islamic Jihad, the green, of Hamas. The steps that lead up to the Shalamish home are shaded by fruit trees and by the flags of the organizations that flutter above them, to mark this is a house in mourning over the death of a martyr. They're a peasant family. The father, Mohammed, is a tenant farmer who works land he doesn't own, and his two oldest sons, Iyad and Akal, used to go with him to till the fields. On the way they passed Israeli soldiers, who never arrested the "wanted" sons. Not even when they went into the fields on the morning of the night on which Iyad died and Akal was arrested. 

Never did the army conduct a search of their house, the father says. "So exactly what kind of wanted individuals were they?" he asks. "Akal didn't even know Jenin. He was in the village all day long." A short, bearded man of 48, he has seven sons, including the one who was killed, and three daughters. His son-in-law, Majdi Taib, was killed by gunfire from an Apache helicopter a year and a half ago. Now Mohammed summons his youngest son, Ghassan, 23, to reconstruct with him the events of that dreadful night. 

Sleeping in the house across the way, a gray, unplastered building planted on the ridge, were Iyad, the eldest son, along with his wife and three children - 5-year-old Thamar, Ahmed, 3, and Nur, 18 months. The noise awoke Iyad and Holud, and they walked onto the balcony to see what was going on. Mohammed says Iyad managed to shout to his brother Akal to watch out, because soldiers were on the way up, and that he shouldn't try to get away. According to Mohammed and Ghassan, after the soldiers took Akal downstairs and put him in a jeep, they ordered all the occupants of the parents' house to stand in the street and then they carried out a search of the house. The mother, Najiya, wanted to go back and get the money she was keeping there, but a soldier told her that anyone who tried to return to the house would be shot. 

At the conclusion of the search the soldiers made ready to leave. Iyad and Holud were still standing on the balcony of their house, watching the events with great agitation. About 70 meters separate the two houses: Iyad's house looks down on the house of his parents. Suddenly, the family says, after the soldiers had already left the house, a soldier who was standing in the yard of Mohammed's house opened fire at Iyad on the balcony of the distant, high house. He fired at least eight rounds - they found eight casings the next day in the yard. Five bullets struck Iyad, one hit Holud in the head. The children, fortunately, were sleeping inside. 

Iyad had a "security record." At the age of 16, more than a decade ago, he was arrested on suspicion of throwing stones and raising flags. He was jailed for six months without a trial. He was never arrested since, nor was his brother, Akal, who has a spotless record and is known in the village as Fadi. Activists of the Al-Aqasa Martyrs Battalions in Jenin also denied that the two brothers were active in their ranks, as the IDF maintains. 

The neighbors summoned the Red Crescent. The emergency service informed them that the IDF was refusing to allow the ambulance to enter Burkin. The ambulance took the dirt roads and then was held up for another 20 minutes, close to the house, Mohammed says. After finally picking up the wounded couple, the ambulance was stopped again on its way to the government hospital in Jenin. A routine check. More than two hours passed from the moment of the critical wound until Iyad and Holud reached the hospital, which in "normal" times is a five-minute drive. The father, Mohammed, came by a different route and reached the hospital along with his dying son and seriously wounded daughter-in-law. 

Iyad died early in the morning, even though he received four blood transfusions. Thamar now sits on a purple plastic chair, his legs crossed, fingering the memorial card that was issued for his father and demanding to tell yet again what happened. Then he rolls up the card, makes a kind of flute out of it and puts it in his mouth, as though using the picture to play a tune to commemorate his dead father. 

"Concerning the allegation that an ambulance was used in the operation, the IDF does not use ambulances in operational activity. The sole use of ambulances is to provide medical treatment if needed. 

"The IDF is working to enable as regular a life as possible for the Palestinian population. At the same time, the fact that many terrorists are continuing their efforts to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel's citizens obliges the IDF to act in order to stop them." 

In a faint voice she, too, says that Iyad did not shoot and that he was not armed. "My husband was not a wanted person and he never had a weapon. We were only standing on the balcony and watching." 

Her version of the night's events is identical to that given in her in-laws' home a short time earlier. Lying in bed, her thin body covered with a blanket, she smiles faintly when the name of Thamar, her eldest, is mentioned. "He was the one who cried for help," she whispers, showing a mother's pride in her son. The hospital director, Dr. Fawaz Hawad, a graduate of Johns Hopkins in hospital management, says that Holud will be able to go home in another week. That is when she will be told that her Iyad is dead.

E-mail: levy@haaretz.co.il
                                           
 

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