2000 Ramallah lynching
The 2000 Ramallah lynching was a violent incident in October 2000 at the beginning of the Second Intifada in which a Palestinian mob killed and mutilated the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces reservists, Vadim Nurzhitz (sometimes spelled as Norzhich) and Yossi Avrahami (or Yosef Avrahami), who had accidentally entered the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Ramallah in the West Bank and were taken into custody by PA policemen to the local police station. The event sparked international outrage and further intensified the ongoing conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces.
On October 12, 2000, two Israel Defense Forces soldiers, reservists serving as drivers, Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami, mistakenly passed an Israeli checkpoint and entered Ramallah. Reaching a Palestinian Authority roadblock, where previously Israeli soldiers were turned back, the reservists were detained by PA policemen and taken to the local police station. Rumors spread that undercover Israeli agents were in the building, and a violent mob of more than 1,000 Palestinians gathered at the station, calling for the death of the Israelis. Within fifteen minutes, word that two soldiers were held in a Ramallah police station reached Israel. The IDF decided against a rescue operation. Soon after, Palestinian rioters stormed the building, murdered, and mutilated both soldiers.
The Israeli reservists were beaten, stabbed, had their eyes gouged out, and were disemboweled. At this point, a Palestinian (later identified as Aziz Salha), appeared at the police station window, displaying his blood-stained hands to the crowd, which erupted into cheers. The crowd clapped and cheered as one of the soldier's bodies was then thrown out the window and stamped and beaten by the frenzied mob. One of the bodies was set on fire. Soon after, the mob dragged the two mutilated bodies to Al-Manara Square in the city center as the crowd began an impromptu victory celebration. Palestinian policemen did not prevent, and in some cases actually took part in, the lynching.
Reactions and military response
The brutality of the murders shocked the Israeli public, intensifying Israeli distrust of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Notably, the event also deeply damaged the Israeli left-wing's faith in the peace process. Amoz Oz, the Israeli author and "authoritative voice of Israel's peace camp," stated, "Without any doubt, I blame the Palestinian leadership. They clearly did not want to sign an agreement at Camp David. Maybe Arafat prefers to be Che Guevara than Fidel Castro. If he becomes the president of Palestine, he'll be the leader of a rough, Third World country and have to deal with sewage in Hebron, drugs in Gaza, and the corruption in his own government."
In response, the Israeli military launched a series of retaliatory strikes against Palestinian Authority targets in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces sealed off Palestinian cities as troops, tanks, and armored vehicles massed. Israeli helicopters fired rockets at two police stations in Ramallah (the police station where the lynching took place was destroyed); the Beit Lahia headquarters of Tanzim, the armed wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction; and buildings near Arafat's headquarters in Gaza City. Israeli Navy gunboats were seen offshore. Six Palestinian Authority naval boats were destroyed. Later in the day, Israeli helicopters destroyed the Voice of Palestine radio station in Ramallah. According to Palestinian sources, a total of 27 people were injured in the attacks. Israeli authorities claim that the PA was warned before the attacks, and that a warning shot was fired before every attack, in order to empty the buildings about to be attacked.
British photographer Mark Seager attempted to photograph the event but the mob physically assaulted him and destroyed his camera. After the event, he stated, "It [the lynching] was the most horrible thing that I have ever seen and I have reported from Congo, Kosovo, many bad places.... I know they [Palestinians] are not all like this and I'm a very forgiving person but I'll never forget this. It was murder of the most barbaric kind. When I think about it, I see that man's head, all smashed. I know that I'll have nightmares for the rest of my life."
An ABC News team also attempted to record the incident but the mob also prevented them from doing so. ABC News producer Nasser Atta said that when the crew began filming the lynching, "youths came to us and they stopped us with some knives, with some beating."
Following the lynching on October 16, 2000, Riccardo Cristiano, the deputy head of the Jerusalem bureau of Italy's state television channel RAI, published a letter (see text) in Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official daily newspaper of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In the letter (entitled "Special Clarification by the Italian Representative of RAI, the Official Italian Television Station"), Cristiano denies that RAI had any involvement with the filming of the incident and that one of the station's Italian competitors was responsible for the footage. He wrote, "We [RAI] emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because we always respect (will continue to respect) the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for (journalistic) work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work." The Italian correspondent also praised the PA, declaring, "We congratulate you [the PA] and think that it is our duty to put you in the picture (of the events) of what happened on October 12 in Ramallah.... We thank you for your trust, and you can be sure that this is not our way of acting. We do not (will not) do such a thing."
As a result of the letter, the Israeli Government Press Office suspended Cristiano's press card. The Israeli Foreign Ministry stated, "His letter implies that he will never again film events which are liable to cast a negative light on the PA, such as the recent lynching of IDF reservists in Ramallah.... The State of Israel, as a democratic society, welcomes the foreign journalists working here and invests considerable effort in both assuring freedom of the press and assisting journalists in their work. All that we ask from foreign journalists is that they abide by the rules of press ethics as is accepted in democratic societies."
Cristiano's letter, which effectively identified Mediaset as being responsible for the footage, necessitated Mediaset to withdraw its staff out of fear of Palestinian revenge attacks. In response, Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi, whose family holding company controls Mediaset, said, "The letter is indicative of an anti-semitic attitude in elements of the Italian left." The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera declared it a shameful day for Italian journalism.
For its part, RAI disowned the letter and recalled Cristiano, stating, "He will no longer work from Jerusalem. Rai had no knowledge of the letter and its content." Regarding Cristiano's motives for the letter, RAI asserted that the journalist had recently been injured while covering other Palestinian riots and he wished to dispel rumors that RAI was responsible for the footage.
Claims of Palestinian censorship
In relation to media coverage of the event, the Israeli Foreign Ministry accused Palestinian broadcasting stations of making "every effort to hide the horrible pictures which were shown around the world." The ministry further asserted that "according to reporters' evidence on the scene," the Palestinian police attempted to prevent foreign journalists from entering the area in order to obstruct reporting of the incident.
Arrests of lynching suspects
- Aziz Salha was arrested in 2001. He admitted to being one of those who broke in to the police station and choking one of the soldiers while others beat him bloody. When he saw that his hands were covered with the soldier's blood, he went to the window and proudly displayed his blood-stained hands to the mob below, and was photographed while doing so. In 2004, an Israeli court convicted him for the murder of Corporal Vadim Nurzhitz and sentenced him to life imprisonment. In October 2011 he was controversially released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.
- Muhammad Howara, a Tanzim activist, was arrested in 2001. He admitted breaking into the police station and stabbing one of the soldiers.
- Ziad Hamdada, a Fatah Tanzim operative who set fire to the body of one of the Israeli reservists, was arrested in 2002. He had also participated in and planned other attacks on Israeli forces.
- Mohamed Abu Ida, a former member of the Palestinian police force in Ramallah, was arrested by Shin Bet in 2005. During the investigation, he admitted to having had led the two Israeli soldiers to the Ramallah police station after which he joined the other rioters.
- Wisam Radi, a Palestinian policeman, was arrested by Israeli security forces and indicted before a military court in 2005 for killing Yosef Avrahami and abusing the body of Vadim Nurzhitz. In 2010, he was acquitted of Avrahami's murder on grounds that a critical piece of evidence was inadmissible in court. He was, however, convicted of mutilating Nurzhitz's body and sentenced to seven years in prison. An appellate court later overturned the decision not to convict him of murder following an appeal by the military prosecution.
- Haiman Zabam, a Tanzim operative, was arrested by Israeli paratroopers on September 26, 2007. He had been planning additional attacks on Israel.
- Marwan Ibrahim Tawfik Maadi and Yasser Ibrahim Mohammed Khatab, two Hamas members, were arrested by Shin Bet and Israeli Police during the breakup of a Hamas network in Ramallah and the Binyamin region. During the interrogation, they confessed to participating in the lynching, and in August 2012, they were indicted before a military court.
- Vadim Nurzhitz, Russian: Вадим Нуржиц, Hebrew: ואדים נורז'יץ; Yossi Avrahami, Hebrew: יוסי אברהמי
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