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People and Politics / Cause of death: The army's rules of engagement
By Akiva Eldar

Shaden Abu Hijleh, a 62-year-old peace activist,
was shot to death on October 11, 2002 in the
courtyard of her home in the Raffidiyeh
neighborhood of Nablus while she was embroidering.
Her husband, a doctor, and her son, a university
lecturer, were wounded in the hail of gunfire from
an army jeep passing by their home. Nablus was
under curfew at the time. As opposed to dozens of
other, similar incidents, the Abu Hijleh case did
not disappear in the banal chronicles of the war
in the territories. Her sons live in the United
States, and her daughter, a senior staffer at the
UN offices in Jerusalem, did not rest until their
matter reached the White House, and they still do
not plan to rest until the IDF conducts a thorough

The Abu Hijleh family can take
comfort today in the fact that
in her death, Abu Hijleh
granted life to other
Palestinian civilians. The IDF
will now have to find less
lethal ways than live fire
against civilians whose only
crime was that they stepped out
of their homes during a curfew.

"As a lesson from the results of the inquiry,
the chief of staff forbade opening fire only to
enforce the curfew," the IDF said yesterday.
Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon also
ordered that a residence's exterior wall will
no longer be considered the "natural boundary"
for the firing perimeter, which seemingly would
save the lives of passersby who are
accidentally trapped in the line of fire.

According to the Military Police probe, Abu
Hijleh was hit by gunfire shot by an army unit
on patrol in Nablus to enforce the curfew. "The
force spotted a man leaving the front of a
house in the city, and conducted deterrent fire
toward the house wall, and as a result, the
woman who was sitting inside her courtyard, was
killed." The chief of staff ruled that the unit
operated according to the rules of engagement
that were in effect at the time, and therefore,
"it is our duty, as commanders, to give it our
full backing."

Commanders who take responsibility from their
soldiers for a killing deserve a pat on the
back. However, even if that acceptance of
responsibility is praiseworthy, the decision to
change the rules of engagement against
civilians who are violating curfews in the
heart of a residential neighborhood can
indicate that the previous rules were improper
and possibly illegal.

That also might be the explanation for the fact
that the investigation has been passed like a
hot potato for the last eight months from the
Judge Advocat General's office and the Military
Police (finally ending up in the Northern
Command's JAG office for a final decision). At
the end of December, the file landed on the
desk of the chief of staff. It said that Mrs.
Abu Hijleh was unluckily caught in the
trajectory of a wayward bullet. But when the
chief of staff found out that the family had in
its possession 14 shells that were found in the
street barely 25 meters from where the woman
was sitting, he sent the file back to JAG so it
would order a Military Police inquiry.

Ya'alon said the fact that the incident was
thoroughly investigated only six months after
the events is "a grave failure." He said that
"similar failures in the future must be
avoided, and comprehensive inquiries must be
conducted to prove the army's ability and
desire to reach the full truth of the matter."

But Abu Hijleh's daughter, Lana, was not
satisfied with yesterday's IDF announcement.
Lena wants the investigators to point to a
single bullet hole - other than the holes that
splattered the walls in the corner of the
courtyard where her mother was embroidering.
She says that her family's efforts failed to
persuade the Military Police investigators to
visit the scene of the crime and take testimony
from eyewitnesses, including her brother and
father, who were wounded in the incident. She
says the chief of staff's decision to forbid
soldiers to shoot at curfew-breakers - no
matter how important it is - has nothing to do
with the killing of her mother. The bullet
casings were found 25 meters away from her
mother. "If the soldier wanted to warn, or even
kill, a curfew-breaker, why did he have to
shoot 14 bullets at my mother?" she asks.

Cease-fire? Fuggetaboutit

The IDF's upper echelons are not crazy about a
cease-fire. And that's an understatement. A
cease-fire, dismantling the outposts and
handing over territory to the responsibility of
Mohammed Dahlan were not part of the army's
victory plans. "If in 4-5 days they don't take
matters into their own hands," says a senior
officer, "we won't have a choice but to go back
to Gaza." Apparently, if it were up to the
army, it wouldn't even wait for the weekend.
The senior officer says that even the Americans
now understand that U.S. President George W.
Bush made a mistake at the Aqaba summit when he
gave Abu Mazen and Dahlan the feeling that they
had two weeks to get organized. "It's too bad
that only after the attack on Rantisi and the
bus bombing they told Abu Mazen and Dahlan they
don't have any more time to get organized,"
said the officer, naming the two events in one
breath, as if they were both committed by the
same entity.

The senior officer doesn't take seriously any of
the reports about a cease-fire or hudna. He
says that even if Hamas promises to hold its
fire, Yasser Arafat will ignite the blaze once
again - a view that contradicts foreign
security agencies who say they have no evidence
to show that Arafat has been involved in
terrorism of any sort over the last several
weeks. According to the officer, Arafat is the
one who constantly sabotaged the cease-fire
talks that took place in Cairo. A few months
before the war in Iraq, two senior Hamas
officials, Khaled Mashal and Mussa Abu Marzuk,
went to Cairo intending to reach a cease-fire
with the Palestinian Authority. To their
surprise and anger, they found themselves
facing a low-level Palestinian delegation. They
went to the next meeting full of skepticism
about Arafat's intentions.

And don't tell the officer that Dahlan is afraid
of a civil war and a mutiny in the ranks of the
PA's security forces. That's nonsense, he says.
"First of all, there are 3,000 people under the
command of Amin el Hindi, who are completely
devoted to his command. Secondly, Sheikh Yassin
and Dr. Rantisi will not allow anyone to lift a
hand against their brothers. Avoiding civil war
at all costs is a sacred matter for them."

The senior officer hints that the Americans were
wrong to start talking with the new Palestinian
leadership before it "won" the right to a
renewed dialogue. He knows - "for sure" - that
Abu Mazen "understands that we intend to give
him a state, withdraw our forces to the
September 2000 lines, and set the Palestinian
economy in motion." He is convinced the problem
is Abu Mazen's impotence and Dahlan's
reluctance "to get his hands dirty." And he
rejects the presumption that they are afraid of
a civil war with Hamas. The senior officer
attributes no importance to the fact that two
years ago, in a meeting with then-foreign
minister Shimon Peres and Maj. Gen. Giora
Eiland, Dahlan refused to take responsibility
for the Tancher Road in Gaza, despite severe
reprimands from Arafat, as long as the IDF
controled the checkpoints and outposts on the
road. The senior officer says "all the outposts
are destroyed, and there is danger that if we
leave, Hamas will use the situation for
terrorist attacks."

According to the senior officer, Syrian
President Bashar Assad has been sucked into the
vaccum created in the territories - which of
course wasn't Israel's fault. Here's the
officer's analysis: "Assad reached the
conclusion that he doesn't have a chance of
reaching strategic balance with Israel. The
Patriot and Arrow missiles can shoot down his
ground-to-ground missiles. Attacks on Israel
from inside Lebanese territory are too
transparent. That leaves terrorism. After
Congressman Tom Lantis and U.S. Secretary of
State Colin Powell visited Damascus, Assad
ordered the heads of the rejectionist groups to
stop sending from Damascus their announcements
taking responsibility for terror attacks. Since
then, the TV slides making those announcements
have gone to Beirut," says the officer.

"For a few weeks, the terror groups' officers in
Damascus were closed," he continues. "Then
Assad decided that the American pressure was
over, and since then, Lebanon has become the
heart of action against Israel. The Iranians
positioned their Revolutionary Guards there,
and Hezbollah is constantly sending money to
banks in the territories. Munitions are
smuggled, from, among other places, Sunda, to
Rafah, through Egypt. The drug smuggling routes
in Lebanon are coordinated with the arms
smuggling to the territories."

The senior officer attributes the extremism in
the North to Assad's personality - "he's a
confused and inexperienced leader whose moves
are based on information he gets from Al
Jezeera and from the Palestinians in the

Peres' new Iraq

The new chairman of the Labor Party, Shimon
Peres, is already coming up with new ideas for
the Middle East. At a meeting with an Iraqi
exile who lives in northern Europe and is
chairman of one of the Shi'ite parties in Iraq
(the exile is an ex-cleric), Peres proposed a
new Quartet - Iraq, Jordan, the Palestinian
Authority and Israel. He even has a name for
the new version of his new Middle East: "The
Eastern Front for Positive Economics."

At the meeting, which was attended by Moshe
Shahal, the former Labor minister and chairman
of the executive council of the Peres Center
for Peace - and an Iraqi by birth - there was
discussion of possible cooperation between the
center, the Iraqi party and an Iraqi-European
element. The intent is to form a team of
governmental and political science experts to
come up with a proposal for an Iraqi
constitution and a future structure for the
country (they spoke of autonomies subordinate
to a central government, rather than a
federation which the Iraqi said was not
appropriate any longer for Iraq). The ex-cleric
also said there is increasing evidence of
growing Iranian influence in Iraq. He said that
a considerable number of newspapers and radio
stations have already fallen into the hands of
extremist Shi'ites from Iran, which presents an
enormous danger to the safety of Iraq and the

The death via IDF gunfire of Shaden Abu Hijleh outside her Nablus home has granted life to other Palestinian civilians.
(Abu Hijleh family We)
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