PA Honors Most Brutal Murderers of Israelis (*occupation soldiers) in Collective Memory – The Jewish Press
The general details of the 2000 murder and disembowelment of two Israeli soldiers in the Arab town of Ramallah, and the iconic photograph of one of the murderers holding up his blood-soaked hands to a cheering crowd, are familiar to even casual observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Palestinian Media Watch this week revealed that three of the Arabs involved in the lynching were honored – you read that right – by the Palestinian Authority. The families of the three being honored were visited by high ranking PA/PLO officials, and were given “plaques of honor” and called “heroes.” And these are the “moderates” with whom Israel is supposed to make peace?
Rather than learn about how or to whom these honors were handed out, one should instead revisit the enormity of what happened that day in October, 2012. One owes it to Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami to learn how it was that they were murdered, by whom and the best reason the perpetrators themselves gave as the motivation for the murders, as well as what happened to the most famous of the murderers.
Readers will likely remember that two Israeli reservists mistakenly wandered into Ramallah on October 12, 2000 after getting lost in the area, and they may remember that Nurzhitz and Avrahami were murdered in a police station.
How did the Israelis end up in the Ramallah police station?
The Israelis were approached by two Palestinian Authority police officers. The Israelis explained to the police officers, Ra’ad A-Sheikh and Tariq Tabesh, that they were lost. A-Sheikh later explained the Israeli soldiers told him, “they lost their way and they need to get to Beit-El,” he said. Beit-El is near Ramallah.
But the officers instead brought the Israelis to the police station. There the officers, along with approximately half a dozen other Arabs, tortured and beat to death the two Israelis.
A-Sheikh admitted taking a length of iron pipe and beating Vadim Nurzhitz with it, “punching him in the head until the soldier began making gurgling noises.” Nutzhitz had recently married, and left a pregnant widow. Their son, David Vadim Nurzhitz, never met his father.
The other PA police officer also took part in the murders. “I saw a soldier on the floor,” Tabesh told investigators, “saying things in Hebrew that I couldn’t understand,” and then, the police officer said, “I hit him on the back three times.”
The most famous of the lynch mob, the one who stood at the window triumphantly displaying the life blood of the Israelis which had seeped into the flesh of his own hands, is Aziz Salha. Along with others present in the second floor of the Ramallah police station, Salha repeatedly stabbed and strangled one of the Israelis. He rammed his hands into the innards of their body cavities, which had been ripped open. Many others did the same.
The lifeless bodies of the Israelis were dumped out the window, where more than 1000 Arabs had gathered, cheering on the carnage. The – literally – bloodthirsty crowd was then able to join in, thrashing the already dead Israelis, pulling out their entrails, gouging out their eyes. They decapitated one the corpses and used his head like a soccer ball. One of the bodies was set on fire. The remains of the bodies were then dragged into Ramallah’s Al-Manara, the city center.
At Salha’s sentencing, the president of the Military Court, Col. Shaul Gordon wrote: “the book of rules has no punishment severe enough for Salha and his accomplices, and all we can do is remove Salha and people of his kind from human society for the rest of the lives. He will remain behind bars as long as he lives.” Instead, Salha now lives in luxury in an apartment in Gaza after having been released in 2011, as part of the more than 1000 Arab soldiers released as part of the exchange for Israeli Gilad Shalit.
A journalist interviewed Salha in 2013. That account appeared in the execrable Electronic Intifada, with lots of humanizing details, to make the murderer appear somewhat vulnerable and cuddly. When asked about his motivation for the brutality of the rampage that October, 2000 day, Salha self-righteously described the death of a Ramallah resident that day.
“Earlier on that day, one Palestinian from Ramallah was murdered by Israeli settlers from a settlement neighboring Ramallah,” Salha said. “After they had killed him, they cut his ears and threw his body. This is the reason there were thousands of protestors across Ramallah on that day, and accidentally, we got the word that there were two Israeli soldiers held in one Ramallah police station.”
This is the “context” in which the Israelis were met by a murderous crowd. But even EI was compelled to add that a “forensic investigation by Physicians for Human Rights later found that the man was most likely killed in a car accident.” In other words, as usual, Israelis are demonized, then they suffer the consequences of the demonization, even when they are not the demons at all.
Though many people know the basics of this story, the barbaric details set out above have not previously been widely reported. Why weren’t more of the lurid details made public? For a simple reason — one that often affects coverage of events in the Arab world: It’s because members of the media who were present and knew what had really happened were threatened, physically attacked, and had their cameras broken.
The reason the one iconic photograph exists is because an independent Italian camera crew filmed the incident, filed the film, and a station aired it before it was unceremoniously pulled from the airwaves. The Italian television station which aired the footage later apologized to the Palestinian Authority. That’s right, they apologized — for reporting truthfully.
A British journalist who was present that day in Ramallah, Mark Seager, gave an interview three days after witnessing the horror.
Seager explained that he was in Ramallah to photograph a funeral. Possibly it was the funeral of the man who died in a car accident, but about whom rumors spread that he had been murdered and mutilated by settlers. After getting out of a taxi in Ramallah, Seager noticed a crowd yelling “allahu ahkbar,” and dragging something. They were coming down the hill from the police station.
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.I thought he was a soldier because I could see the remains of khaki trousers and boots. My God, I thought, they’ve killed this guy. He was dead, he must have been dead, but they were still beating him, madly, kicking his head. They were like animals.
They were just a few feet in front of me and I could see everything. Instinctively, I reached for my camera. I was composing the picture when I was punched in the face by a Palestinian. Another Palestinian pointed right at me shouting “no picture, no picture!”, while another guy hit me in the face and said “give me your film!”.
I tried to get the film out but they were all grabbing me and one guy just pulled the camera off me and smashed it to the floor.
Seager was able to run from the scene with his life, albeit without any award-winning photographs or even his camera. He said the lynching “was the most horrible thing” that he had ever seen, and he’s reported from the Congo, Kosovo and other places where horrific things have happened.
“I thought that I’d got to know the Palestinians well. I’ve made six trips this year and had been going to Ramallah every day for the past 16 days. I thought they were kind, hospitable people,’ Seager related. “I know they 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.”
Another one of those who participated in the Ramallah lynching, Rami Ibrahim, was also released as part of the Shalit exchange. Ibraham was convicted of entering the police station, repeatedly kicking the dying Israelis, and cooling on the mob to join him in the police station. Ibrahim was sentenced to 40 years. He served less than a quarter of his sentence. Mr. Ibrahim was not among those “honored” as a hero on Wednesday by the Palestinian Authority.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com