Saturday, July 24, 2004

Militants Force Palestinian Family Into an Agonizing Choice

Militants Force Palestinian Family Into an Agonizing Choice


Published: July 24, 2004

JERUSALEM, July 23 - The Zanin family of the Gaza Strip faced a familiar, and agonizing, choice: whether to let Palestinian militants use their land to fire mortar shells at Israel , and risk having their home razed in retaliation by Israeli troops. They balked, and ended up losing one of their own, a 15-year-old boy.
For days, militants used the family's orange and olive groves in the Gaza village of Beit Hanun to set up launchers. On Friday, four members of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, an armed branch of Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement, returned to try to set up a launcher in front of the family's house.
The family protested, said Amna al-Zanin, a member of the family. The militants drew weapons. Three shot into the air, but a fourth fired directly at the family, wounding Ms. Zanin and hitting her 15-year-old nephew, Hassan al-Zanin. He died later at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City ; doctors said the bullet had penetrated his heart.
"Even if we ask them not to fire from our land, that doesn't give them permission to shoot at us," Ms. Zanin said in a telephone interview from her bed at Alawdah Hospital in Jabaliya. "It's very painful that a Palestinian bullet was directed toward a Palestinian chest."
Her 18-year-old nephew was hit in an ear, and her 20-year-old nephew was struck in the hand.
Ms. Zanin is no friend of the Israelis. She was interviewed 10 days ago about conditions in Beit Hanun during an Israeli incursion, and she angrily described how children in her clan could not sleep at night and were frightened much of the day.
"I wish I could be a fighter to shoot at Israelis," she said then. "I am willing to explode myself out of anger."
Militants have launched rockets and other missiles from Beit Hanun at nearby villages in Israel like Sederot. Last month a rocket killed a 3-year-old Israeli boy on his way to kindergarten and a 50-year-old Bukharan immigrant from the former Soviet Union .
Israeli forces responded by blocking off roads, bulldozing fruit trees used as cover and sending patrols into Beit Hanun. Militants responded by seeking new vantage points.
Ms. Zanin described Hassan as the best student in his grade and said he was supposed to attend a party on Saturday and receive an award for academic excellence.
She said Friday that none of the militants who had used the family's land had ever been as reckless as the four this morning.
A Palestinian Authority security official confirmed that Israelis had not been involved in the killing of Hassan al-Zanin.
"The Palestinians have no power to stop such a phenomenon," he said. "The authority has its own internal problems." He speculated that the clan was particularly angry at the militants because members had lost a house, a car and part of an orchard in a previous Israeli retaliation.
"The people have started to have the courage the face the militants," the official said.
Israeli military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the broad outlines of the Beit Hanun killing and emphasized that their soldiers had no involvement.
"This is part of a growing trend, where residents are exasperated with gunmen," one official said. "We saw it in Rafah, where people were angry at the militants building tunnels under their houses. And in Nablus , where the residents weren't sorry that we were arresting the bad guys in their neighborhood."
Hundreds of residents in Beit Hanun demonstrated last year to protest the launching of rockets from their town by militants, though the militants who bore the brunt of the anger then were from Hamas, which is frequently at odds with Fatah.
According to news reports at the time, 600 demonstrators marched down the main street, burning tires and chanting slogans against Hamas, saying that because of its activity, the Israeli Army was destroying their orchards and their homes.
One of those quoted at the time was Omar Zanin, who said: "We've had enough, because the people here have paid a very heavy price. The Israelis have turned our lives into hell because of the rockets."
The latest death, according to Agence France-Presse, brings to 4,189 the number of people killed since the start of the current Palestinian uprising, or intifada, in September 2000. The toll includes 3,192 Palestinians and 926 Israelis.
Early Friday morning, Israeli forces and intelligence agents raided Yatta, a village south of Hebron in the West Bank , and arrested Mahmud Mahmed Abu Hutza, a militant they had been seeking for more than two years in the killing of five people.
The army official said that in July 2002 in the Mount Hebron region, he had fired shots at two Israeli cars, killing three settlers and an army escort. The following October, the army official said, Mr. Abu Hutza staged an attack at the Zif junction, south of Hebron, killing one Israeli and wounding two other people.

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