RAMALLAH, West Bank (Aug. 15)
Falastin Street, a normally bustling residential and business thoroughfare that links the center of Ramallah with the Jerusalem-Nablus highway, was silent and deserted Tuesday.
The street was under curfew and an alley leading from it was sealed off by a brick wall erected overnight by Israel Defense Force soldiers.
The IDF’s operation was in response to the attack Monday on four Israeli tax collectors, whose car was firebombed by two unidentified men who had lurked in that alley. The attack capped weeks of stone-throwing incidents in Ramallah.
The strong security measures were the first by the newly appointed chief of the Central Command, Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai.
Residents of the area were forbidden to leave their homes, shops near the scene of the attack were welded shut and dozens of suspects were detained.
The message was clear. The Israeli authorities expect shopkeepers and residents to prevent terrorist acts in their neighborhood. If they fail, they suffer punishment.
A week before the bombing attack, Ramallah merchants met and decided to escalate their resistance to taxes and to boycott Israeli products.
Security officials, however, are not entirely convinced that Monday’s attack was aimed specifically at tax collectors.
Some say that the assailants chose any Israeli target, and the fact the victims were tax collectors was purely coincidental.
But among the dozens of Arabs waiting outside the Ramallah tax office Tuesday morning, there was no doubt that the target was carefully selected.
“They are driving us crazy with taxes and levies,” one young man said. “No wonder somebody went crazy and attacked them.”
Two of the tax employees, who were sitting in the back of the car, suffered only minor burns and were reported improved Tuesday.
But the two in the front seat were in critical condition at Hadassah Hospital.
Reuven Noam, 22, who was burned over 40 percent of his body, underwent plastic surgery Tuesday. Doctors operated Monday on Gideon Zaken, 34, who has third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body.
Dr. Ron Wechsler, chief of plastic surgery at the hospital, explained that the patient “will not have the same face as he had before and will not have the same hands.” He “will need a lot of adapting to his new looks,” the doctor said.