Thursday, December 7, 2000

I told the Shin Bet man: 'Sweetie, I'm not a liar'

Four Palestinians were killed 11 days ago in an offensive action by the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip. Initial army reports spoke of a Fatah cell, but testimony by a taxi driver from Rafah, and other witnesses, tell a different story.

By Amira Hass


On Thursday, November 23, police detective Shlomi Avraham requested a 30-day extension to the remand of Nahed Fuju, 27, of Rafah. The request submitted to Military Judge Lieutenant Colonel Nissim Saroussi, said: "suspected of damaging security in the region" and "see classified material.".Fuju was outraged. This is what he told his attorney, Tamar Peleg of the Center for the Defense of the Individual, in the Hebrew that he acquired beginning at age 15 in five years of working in Israel: "They brought me to a high officer, with lots and lots of things on his shoulders. I don't know how many." Peleg told him the officer was a military judge. Fuju continues: "They want me to stay here [in detention] for a month, to examine me. I told him, 'Listen, honey, I have small children who want milk. How will they live?" Give me 15 days, no more.' And he agreed."

In the remand extension log, the judge gave the reasons for his decision: "At this stage, as the investigation is in its early stages, the suspect shall be detained for 15 days to determine the extent of the charges and suspicions against him."

Meanwhile, Fuju's family, at home in Rafah, did not know his whereabouts. They knew only what eyewitnesses had told them: He stepped out of the taxi he was driving, which had been fired upon by IDF soldiers. His two passengers had been killed by IDF fire. According to initial IDF reports, they were not even in his taxi, but rather in a different car, a black Hyundai, in which Jamal Abd a Razek, 30, was riding. The IDF determined that Razek was responsible for many shooting incidents in the Gaza Strip. According to the initial reports, it was a "cell of four Fatah members" that was killed in an "offensive action" whose main aim, according to the IDF, was to arrest the "cell members." Razek, the IDF report said, drew his gun and then he and his driver companion, Auni Dheir, a 38-year-old land dealer and father of 10, were shot.

Sources in Rafah related that the two had traveled to Khan Yunis to study at the open university of Al-Quds. They also said that the two passengers in Fuju's taxi were Sami Abu Labban, 27, a bakery owner, and his employee, Nael Al Liddawi, 20. They were going to Khan Yunis to look for kerosene for the bakery oven, since supplies in Rafah had run out. Abu Labban lived in Gaza and traveled every day to his bakery, but due to the internal closure imposed by the IDF on the southern section of the Gaza Strip, he was unable to return to his home. Fuju did not know them, however: he decided not to wait for the taxi to fill up, believing that he could collect more passengers along the way.

This is what he told attorney Peleg about the events of Wednesday, November 22: "At about 10 [in the morning], I am traveling in the car, a white Mercedes taxi, on the road from Rafah in the direction of Khan Yunis. Near Maraj [Morag Junction] I'm going 50 kph. I got to the intersection. Suddenly a truck comes forward and blocks the way. I stopped. I couldn't go on. I wanted to go back but didn't make it, the truck was about 15 meters long. They started to shoot automatic fire from a Border Police car at the car, something like 300 bullets. Afterward the detectives told me in jail: 300 bullets, and how is it that you're alive? I slid from the seat down, turned my head aside and closed my eyes. Like a corpse. [When it was all over] the Border Police soldier opened the door. He called, 'there's one here who isn't dead.' He got me out.

"In my car there were two people dressed in work clothes and they told me, when they got into the taxi, to go to the market in Khan Yunis. I didn't know them. I still don't know who they are. I drove and thought, on the way, I'll find another two to fill up the taxi. The car was clean, beautiful, it had a cell phone in it, about 100 shekels, it had the licenses and an identity card and the driver's license. It was clear to everyone that this was a taxi for work, not for terrorists. Soldiers took me to the Katif bloc, the whole way they kept drawing their weapons to scare me. Later, at noon, they transferred me to Shikma Prison."

Field workers in the Palestinian human rights organizations gathered testimony and depositions from eyewitnesses the same day. A new road in the direction of the Morag settlement was paved recently east of the road leading to Khan Yunis: the intersection that Fuju mentioned. A low hill on which a tank and two jeeps are stationed commands a view of the road. According to witnesses, about 30 to 50 meters before they neared this road, the soldiers shot at the Hyundai with machineguns.

At the same time, a truck or military armored car (the eyewitnesses did not remember exactly) came from the eastern road and blocked the way north. The Hyundai tried to evade the fire and veered to the left, colliding with Fuju's taxi. Then, when the two cars were already stopped, several soldiers descended from the hill. A couple of them passed the Hyundai and fired dozens of bullets through the front windshield at the passengers sitting inside. Shots were also fired from another hill where soldiers were stationed. The field workers estimate that at least 200 bullets were fired, judging from the numerous holes in both cars.

Three funerals were held in Rafah and another in Gaza on Thursday, November 23. Fuju's family did not know where he was or what had happened to him. There was a rumor that he was wounded and hospitalized at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva. On the evening of Saturday, November 25, the IDF Spokesman at the Southern Command told Ha'aretz that the question of his whereabouts should be referred to the Shin Bet security services. Fuju's family applied to Peleg the following day; she located him within an hour: at Shikma Prison in Ashkelon, under Shin Bet interrogation. On the morning of November 27, five days after the arrest, she met with him in prison.

He admitted to still being in shock and was unable to judge how much time had elapsed since he arrived at the prison. "In prison I was taken for a medical examination, I had a high fever. I vomited. I didn't know where I was. I received pills. I didn't sleep, I stood and cried. They brought me to a Shin Bet man in civilian clothing, who asked me what had happened. I told him everything. He told me I was a liar, and I told him: 'Motek [sweetie], I'm not a liar.' I told him about my work in Israel, with Dan Y. in Rishon Letzion. Relations with him were like family. I told him about the trust he had in me. I worked for him from age 15 to 20, I was like at home. He raised me, until seven years ago [the Oslo Agreement].

"Afterward I didn't get entrance permits, I was harassed endlessly until I went crazy, and decided to work in Gaza. I took driving lessons to be a taxi driver. My whole life all I did was work and never got involved in other things. But the Shin Bet officer tried to convince me that I was connected to the cell. And I told him: 'Listen, motek, I have four children including a three-month-old daughter. I'm looking for food so I can raise them, and nothing more.' He asked me 'Who are your friends' and I said: 'My friend is the money I have in my pocket to support my family. The car isn't mine. I earn NIS 30 a day.'"

The Shin Bet agent interrogated him only once, for three hours. On the first day he was put into solitary confinement. The next day he was taken to a comfortable cell with four other people. There is a television set, a shower and a toilet in the cell. Attorney Peleg does not know whether or not he understood that they were asafeer ("birds" in Arabic, collaborators whose job was to get other prisoners to talk). Fuju only told her that "I don't care who they are, I don't know where they come from, I don't want to talk to them. They wanted to talk to me and I told them I had a headache and didn't want to talk."

Peleg sat with him for about an hour in the room used for remand extensions. At 11 A.M., when their conversation was over, she called a guard. Fuju went out and the guard handcuffed his hands, which were stretched in front of his body thumb-to-thumb, and then affixed leg restraints, after which he placed dark glasses over his eyes (instead of the sacks that the Shin Bet used to use for this purpose). The links of the hand restraints fell in front of him and he walk heel-to-toe to the rustling of the chains.

"All at once he shrank, his shoulders drew forward and he started feeling about in the dark with his feet," Peleg relates. "The guard was nice actually, he led him and said, 'Don't be afraid, there's a step here."

Peleg obtained the judge's decision and told the wardens that she intended to submit a request for his immediate release. Five hours after she left the prison, Fuju was released and sent home - nine days before the end of the remand period set by the military judge


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