NABLUS, West Bank (Jun. 7)
Tuesday was an unusually bloody day in this volatile city, which is often a flash point in the Palestinian intifada.
Two Arab children were shot to death by Israeli soldiers that day. One was an innocent bystander. The other had worn a mask.
They were the first inhabitants of Nablus killed by Israeli soldiers in more than three-and-a-half months.
The Israel Defense Force expressed deep regret. Army spokesmen said the IDF tries very hard to avoid casualties, especially among the young.
“We have tried so hard to avoid fatalities–and there go our efforts,” said a senior IDF officer.
Tuesday, the 23rd anniversary of the Six-Day War, an army observation post spotted a group of five youths setting a stone ambush for soldiers at an alley, adjacent to the main road, passing by the Askar refugee camp at the edge of the city.
A patrol was sent in to surprise the youths, who were apparently forewarned and fled the scene.
As they fled, a soldier spotted one of them and fired a rubber bullet toward him. The bullet missed the youth, hitting instead 10-year-old Ahmad Salame, who happened to be passing.
“As a father, it hurts me that a child died,” said the regional commander, identified only as Col. Amos.
A CITY REDUCED TO SILENCE
A few hours later, another shooting took place. An IDF patrol on Faisal Street, the main street of Nablus, spotted four masked men wearing black training suits and holding swords.
They began to taunt the soldiers, shouting foul language through a loudspeaker.
Under standing orders, the IDF may shoot masked rioters. But the soldiers chose to chase them instead.
The soldiers followed them into an orchard in the backyard of a nearby apartment building. One shot was fired. One fleeing figure fell down. When the mask was taken off his face, he turned out to be Rami Kamhiya, age 13.
“This is sad, very sad indeed. We can do all the explaining in the world, how we take all the precautions, how we didn’t mean to how we instruct our soldiers.
“But in the end, we are judged by the outcome, not by the intentions,” said Col. Amos.
Nabila Abu-Yussuf, a 30-year-old Arab housewife, wanted to know “why do the soldiers have to enter our places at all? If they hadn’t come here, there would be no tragedies.”
After Tuesday’s shootings, Nablus seethed with rage. The only way to avoid further bloodshed, the IDF decided, was to place the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank under total curfew, its 13th in the past two months.
“It is a difficult choice, between had and worse,” a senior officer said.
“Sometimes we must choose between putting a population of 120,000 people under house arrest, or letting the situation deteriorate to violent clashes.”
The latest curfew is expected to last through Saturday, which will mark the start of the 31st month since the Palestinian uprising began.
Now with the curfew in force, the city is silent except for the motors of Israeli military vehicles patrolling the deserted streets. The only reminder that Nablus is still populated are the faces staring from windows or the few people who dare stand on a rooftop or terrace.