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Aziz Salha, one of the lynchers, waving his blood-stained hands from the police station window.
Salha was later arrested by Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment.


The 2000 Ramallah lynching was a violent incident in October 2000 of the Second Intifada in which a Palestinian mob lynched two Israeli reservists, Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami, who had accidentally entered the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Ramallahmarker in the West Bankmarker. The brutality of the event, captured in a photo of a Palestinian rioter proudly waving his blood-stained hands to the crowd below, sparked international outrage and further intensified the ongoing conflict between Israelimarker and Palestinian forces.

Incident

On October 12, 2000, two non-combatant Israeli reservists (serving as drivers), Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami, mistakenly passed an Israeli checkpoint and entered Ramallah. Reaching a Palestinian Authority roadblock, where previously Israeli soldiers were turned back, the reservists were detained by PA policeman and taken to the local police station. Hearing rumors that undercover Israeli agents (like from the elite Duvdevan Unit) were in the building, a crowd of more than 1,000 Palestinians gathered at the station, calling for the death of the Israelis. Soon after, Palestinian rioters stormed the building, beating and stabbing the soldiers to death. At this point, a Palestinian (later identified as Aziz Salha), appeared at the police station window, displaying his blood-stained hands to the crowd, which erupted into cheers. One of the soldier's bodies was then thrown out the window and stamped and beaten by the enraged mob. Soon after, the mob dragged the two mutilated bodies to Al-Manara Square in the city center as the crowd began an impromptu victory celebration.

Reactions and military response

The brutality of the killings shocked the Israeli public, intensifying Israeli distrust of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, who had recently rejected Israel's peace overtures at the July 2000 Camp David Summit. Notably, the event also deeply damaged the Israeli left-wing's faith in the peace process. Amoz Oz, the internationally acclaimed Israeli author and "authoritative voice of Israel's peace camp," stated, "Without any doubt, I blame the Palestinian leadership. They clearly did not want to sign an agreement at Camp David. Maybe Arafat prefers to be Che Guevara than Fidel Castro. If he becomes the president of Palestine, he'll be the leader of a rough, Third World country and have to deal with sewage in Hebron, drugs in Gaza, and the corruption in his own government."

In response, the Israeli military launched a series of retaliatory air strikes against Palestinian Authority targets in the West Bank and the Gaza Stripmarker. Israeli forces sealed off Palestinian cities as Israeli helicopters fired rockets at two police stations in Ramallah (the police station where the lynching took place was destroyed); the Beit Lahiamarker headquarters of Tanzim, the armed wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction; and buildings near Arafat's headquarters in Gaza City. Later in the day, Israeli helicopters destroyed the Voice of Palestine radio station in Ramallah.

Media coverage

An Italian film crew, later learned to be employees of Mediaset, Italy's largest private television station, captured footage of the lynching. The picture of one of the lynchers waving his blood-stained hands from the window shocked and outraged many around the world, and became another iconic image of the conflict.

British photographer Mark Seager attempted to photograph the event but the mob physically assaulted him and destroyed his camera. After the event, he stated, "It [the lynching] was the most horrible thing that I have ever seen and I have reported from Congo, Kosovomarker, many bad places.... I know they [Palestinians] 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."

An ABC News team also attempted to record the incident but the mob also prevented them from doing so. ABCNews producer Nasser Atta said that when the crew began filming the lynching, "youths came to us and they stopped us with some knives, with some beating."

RAI Scandal

Following the lynching on October 16, 2000, Riccardo Cristiano, the deputy head of the Jerusalem bureau of Italy's state television channel RAImarker, published a letter ( see text) in Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official daily newspaper of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In the letter (entitled "Special Clarification by the Italian Representative of RAI, the Official Italian Television Station"), Cristiano denies that RAI had any involvement with the filming of the incident and that one of the station's Italian competitors was responsible for the footage. He wrote, "We [RAI] emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because we always respect (will continue to respect) the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for (journalistic) work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work." The Italian correspondent also praised the PA, declaring, "We congratulate you [the PA] and think that it is our duty to put you in the picture (of the events) of what happened on October 12 in Ramallah.... We thank you for your trust, and you can be sure that this is not our way of acting. We do not (will not) do such a thing."

As a result of the letter, the Israeli Government Press Office suspended Cristiano's press card. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, "His letter implies that he will never again film events which are liable to cast a negative light on the PA, such as the recent lynching of IDF reservists in Ramallah.... The State of Israel, as a democratic society, welcomes the foreign journalists working here and invests considerable effort in both assuring freedom of the press and assisting journalists in their work. All that we ask from foreign journalists is that they abide by the rules of press ethics as is accepted in democratic societies.

Cristiano's letter, which effectively identified Mediaset as being responsible for the footage, necessitated Mediaset to withdraw its staff out of fear of Palestinian revenge attacks. In response, Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi and owner of Mediaset, said, "The letter is indicative of an anti-semitic attitude in elements of the Italian left." The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera declared it a shameful day for Italian journalism.

For its part, RAI disowned the letter and recalled Cristiano, stating, "He will no longer work from Jerusalem. Rai had no knowledge of the letter and its content." Regarding Cristiano's motives for the letter, RAI asserted that the journalist had recently been injured while covering other Palestinian riots and he wished to dispel rumors that RAI was responsible for the footage.

Claims of Palestinian censorship

In relation to media coverage of the event, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Palestinian broadcasting stations of making "every effort to hide the horrible pictures which were shown around the world." The ministry further asserted that "according to reporters' evidence on the scene," the Palestinian police attempted to prevent foreign journalists from entering the area in order to obstruct reporting of the incident.

Regarding the RAI scandal, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a pro-Israel media watchdog group, stated, "Mr. Cristiano’s letter brings into rare public focus the very successful campaign by Palestinians to control western media coverage, whether by cajoling or by overt threats and assaults. The day of the lynching in Ramallah, for example, journalists had their cameras ripped away and smashed on the pavement, their film confiscated or ruined, lest they record the bestiality underway."

Arrests of lynching suspects

Israel also began to individually pursue the Ramallah lynchers:

  • Aziz Salha was arrested in 2001. He admitted to being one of those who broke in to the police station and choking one of the soldiers while others beat him bloody. When he saw that his hands were covered with the soldier's blood, he went to the window and proudly displayed his blood-stained hands to the mob below. In 2004, an Israel court convicted him for the murder of Corporal Vadim Nurzhitz and sentenced him to life imprisonment.


  • Muhammad Howara, a Tanzim activist, was arrested in 2001. He admitted breaking into the police station and stabbing one of the soldiers.


  • Ziad Hamdada, a Fatah Tanzim operative who set fire to the body of one of the Israeli reservists, was arrested in 2002. He had also participated in and planned other terrorist attacks.


  • In 2005 the Israeli Shin Bet announced that it arrested Mohamed Abu Ida, a former member of the Palestinian police force in Ramallah. During his investigation, he admitted to having had led the two Israeli soldiers to the Ramallah police station after which he joined the other rioters.


  • On September 26, 2007, Israel captured the last member of the Ramllah lynching, Haiman Zaban. The Tanzim operative was also preparing further terrorist attacks against Israel.


See also



Footnotes and references


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