In the early hours of January 7, as Subhiyya Qawasmeh was saying her dawn prayers, an Israeli death squad broke into her family home in the city of Hebron and began to fire their weapons. When Subhiyya walked into the bedroom after hearing the shots, she found her 65-year-old husband Amr lying dead in a pool of blood in his bed, surrounded by bullet casings.
It is horrifying and unimaginable, yet millions of TV viewers witnessed the crime scene, the blood-drenched mattress and pillow on Al Jazeera.
Israel claimed it was attempting to rearrest five members of Hamas who had been released the previous day from a Palestinian Authority prison. The killing raises troubling questions about continued PA collaboration with the Israeli occupation.
Although Amr Qawasmeh was the fifth unarmed civilian killed by Israel’s murderous army in the first days of 2011, official Western denunciations, expressions of outrage and condemnation of terrorism which would have filled the airwaves if the terrorists had been Arabs and the victim Israeli were totally absent.
Barely a word of protest was heard, either from Arab or foreign sources, following this atrocity. Perhaps this silence is because the world has become accustomed to Israel’s daily attacks in the areas supposedly under Palestinian Authority control: kill, kidnap, evict or demolish the houses of Palestinians, as well as other crimes that Israel has been carrying out as a matter of routine since the sham Oslo accords were signed 17 years ago.
A second reason must be that Israeli death squads usually claim they are going after members of Hamas, an organisation that has been shunned and condemned internationally and by Arab regimes as “terrorist”. Other Palestinians may be targeted if they are suspected of even contemplating exercising their unquestionable right to resist Israel’s 44-year-long occupation and military dictatorship in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, therefore qualifying in the eyes of Israel and its supporters as legitimate targets and Israel’s acts as “self defence”.
After all, it is not only Israel that has been chasing Hamas or other possible sources of resistance to Israel’s brutal, racist colonising regime. The Palestinian Authority militias, set up with Israeli approval and American funding under the supervision of US Army General Keith Dayton, were specifically created to help Israel with the task of suppressing resistance and making the West Bank safe for Israeli occupation and colonisation. The deep “security coordination” between Israel and the PA is largely responsible for much of the Palestinian suffering in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
A third reason for the deadly silence is that it has become commonly accepted in the West that Palestinian blood, especially compared to Israeli blood, is very cheap, particularly if Israel attaches the word “terrorist” to those it murders in cold blood. Who amongst the political leaders in the West wants to be caught defending the right of a Palestinian “terrorist” to live or condemning another Israeli assassination of a Hamas “terrorist”? We no longer even hear the ritual, cynical formulas such as that Israel’s crimes might be “unhelpful to the peace process”.
Qawasmeh was not a member of Hamas (although even if he were, that could never justify a death squad’s execution of an unarmed, sleeping man). Even Israel admitted, after some procrastination and the usual misinformation from its spokesman, that the murder was a “mistake” and it expressed “regret”. Apparently these empty words might have been enough to justify the silence of the “international community”.
Neither is Qawasmeh the first innocent Palestinian murdered by Israel, but this particular crime does highlight a host of shocking realities about the stagnant politics of the PA and the Arab states.
The PA’s position is even more reprehensible. Commenting on the murder, Nimer Hammad, a senior adviser to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, displayed no shame in responding to a question on Al Jazeera about any PA role in the killing that occurred in an area ostensibly under PA control. Hammad explained that Israeli forces do not have any respect for PA control and do as they please wherever they want. He added that all the PA could do is to prevent any anti-occupation violence, to deprive the Israelis of whatever pretext they may be looking for to execute more attacks on the Palestinians, and that the only way to protect Palestinians on Israel’s death lists is to keep them in the PA prisons.
Was Hammad hinting that releasing the five Hamas members Israel said it was pursuing had been a mistake and that those pressing for their release were to blame for Qawasmeh’s death?
Why are so many Palestinians in PA jails in the first place? Let us recall that the PA rounded up hundreds of Palestinians last September, following an attack in the Hebron area that killed four Israeli settlers.
“The five Hamas members, all Hebron residents, were first held in a PA prison in Bethlehem, south of Hebron, but went on hunger strike, demanding to be moved to Hebron so that their families could visit them,” Haaretz reported on January 7, adding: “The PA moved them to Hebron after about 40 days of the hunger strike and following coordination with Israel.”
This raises very troubling questions. Israel has routinely carried out deliberate executions of unarmed people, claiming later that it killed its victims because they were resisting. Is this, rather than rearresting the Hamas men, what they intended when they shot Qawasmeh “by mistake”? Had they simply arrested Qawasmeh, rather than murdered him, they would have soon realised their error and released him.
If the Hamas members were really responsible for the September attack on the settlers, why did the PA not put them on trial earlier, and if they were not, why were they kept in jail?
Does it make any sense for the PA to disarm the Palestinian people under occupation, leaving them easy prey for Israeli death squads? Why should Palestinians be denied their intrinsic right to defend themselves against occupiers and aggressors, in the absence of any protection from the PA? Is this not proof enough that PA security forces exist only to serve Israel’s illegitimate “security” needs?
If the transfer of the Hamas detainees from Bethlehem to Hebron was done in coordination with Israel, as claimed by Haaretz, is it far-fetched to suspect that the release was also coordinated to offer Israel the opportunity to recapture or assassinate them without implicating the PA directly, as in similar previous cases? Hamas is openly accusing the PA of just that.
The PA, with unanimous official Arab support, continues to reassure Israel that it will continue to disarm Palestinians so that they can never defend themselves against Israel’s deepening occupation. It is clear, therefore, that the PA is now a willing partner in Israel’s crimes. How long will the Palestinian people continue to tolerate this outrage?
*Published in the JORDAN TIMES on Jan. 12, 2011.