2000 Ramallah lynching
|2000 Ramallah lynching|
Aziz Salha, one of the lynchers, waving his blood-stained hands from the police station window. Salha was later arrested by Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released in 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.
|Location||Ramallah, West Bank|
|Date||October 12, 2000|
|Victims||Vadim Norzhich and Yosef Avrahami|
|Perpetrators||Aziz Salha, Muhammad Howara, Ziad Hamdada, Mohamed Abu Ida, Wisam Radi, Haiman Zabam, Marwan Ibrahim Tawfik Maadi, and Yasser Ibrahim Mohammed Khatab|
The 2000 Ramallah lynching was a violent incident that took place on October 12, 2000 at the el-Bireh police station, where a Palestinian crowd killed and mutilated the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces reservists, Vadim Norzhich (Nurzhitz) and Yosef "Yossi" Avrahami,[a] who had accidentally entered the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Ramallah in the West Bank and were taken into custody by Palestinian Authority policemen.
The incident was filmed by several media outlets, and caused a stir in Israel and elsewhere, despite Palestinian police attempts at confiscating the footage immediately after the incident.
Two drivers in the IDF reserve, chief sergeant ("rav samal", OR-7) Yossi Avrahami (38) of Petah Tikva, a toy salesman, and corporal ("rav turai", OR-4) Vadim Nurzhitz (33) of Or Akiva, a truckdriver who had made aliyah from Irkutsk 10 years earlier, returned to duty that day. Nurzhitz set out at 7 a.m. in his Ford Escort, picked up Avrahami and phoned his father at 9 a.m., stating that he had been ordered to turn up at an army base near the Israeli settlement of Beit El.
The two reservist drivers made their way in a civilian vehicle towards their unit's assembly point near the settlement of Beit El. They had little army experience, were unfamiliar with the West Bank road system and drove through the military checkpoint outside Beitunia and headed straight into the Palestinian town of Ramallah 2 miles east of the checkpoint.
Reaching a Palestinian Authority roadblock, where previously Israeli soldiers had been turned back, the reservists were detained by PA policemen and taken to the local police station at Ramallah's twin city el-Bireh, not far from Arafat's headquarters. The arrest and detention coincided with the conclusion of a funeral service, attended by thousands of mourners, for Halil Zahran (17), a Palestinian youth who had been killed in clashes with Israeli forces two days earlier. Tensions were running high: over 100 Palestinians, nearly two dozen of them minors, had been killed in the preceding two weeks in violent protests with Israelis forces in Ramallah, and four days earlier, the badly beaten body of Issam Hamad (36) had been dumped outside of the city after being run over by a car, an autopsy revealed. His death, according to Marwan Bishara of Al Jazeera, was attributed by locals to settlers in Halamish.
Rumors quickly spread that Israeli undercover agents were in the building, and an angry crowd of more than 1,000 Palestinians gathered in front of the station calling for the death of the Israelis. Word that two soldiers were held in a Ramallah police station reached Israel within 15 minutes. According to Roni Shaked, the IDF itself thought initially that the two must have been "undercover agents". According to the Ramallah station chief, there were 21 policemen in the building, some of whom were cooks and administrative personnel, since many policemen had been dispersed throughout the city to control the crowd during the funeral. The IDF decided against a rescue operation. Soon after, Palestinian rioters stormed the building, overcame the Palestinian police and murdered and mutilated both soldiers. Both Haaretz and Maariv reported that approximately 13 Palestinian policemen were injured while attempting to stop the lynching. Jamal Tirawi the Palestinian Intelligence chief at the Mukata'a nearby, only intervened hours after the second soldier lay dying.
The Israeli reservists were beaten and stabbed. At this point, a Palestinian (later identified as Aziz Salha), appeared at the window, displaying his blood-soaked 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 crowd. One of the two was shot, set on fire, and his head beaten to a pulp. Soon after, the crowd dragged the two mutilated bodies to Al-Manara Square in the city center and began an impromptu victory celebration. Police officers proceeded to try and confiscate footage from reporters.
Reactions and military response
The brutality of the murders shocked the Israeli public, intensifying Israeli distrust of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The event also deeply damaged the Israeli left-wing's faith in the Israeli–Palestinian peace process. Israeli author and peace campaigner Amos Oz said "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 strikes against Palestinian Authority targets in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces sealed off several Palestinian cities and deployed troops, tanks, and armored vehicles. IDF helicopters fired rockets at two PA police stations in Ramallah (the police station where the lynching took place was destroyed); the Beit Lahia headquarters of Tanzim, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades; and buildings near Arafat's headquarters in Gaza City. Israeli Navy gunboats were reportedly 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 state 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 into the police station and to 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 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 militant, 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.
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- David Pratt, Intifada, Casemate Publishers 2009 p.102 reverses these designations, making Avrahami the corporal and Nurzhitz the sergeant, as does the official Israel government site.: First Sgt. Vadim Norzhich, ;Corporal Yossi Avrahami.
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I got out of the car to see what was happening and saw that they were dragging something behind them. Within moments they were in front of me and, to my horror, I saw that it was a body, a man they were dragging by the feet. The lower part of his body was on fire and the upper part had been shot at, and the head beaten so badly that it was a pulp, like red jelly.
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The [Israeli] public was shocked by lynching in Ramallah, it was enraged at the enticements to violence continuously aired on Palestinian television and it was astonished at the reaction of the Israeli Arabs (see below) to the Palestinian-Israeli clashes
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