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Brutalized by War, A Savage Mob Turns On Its Own

24 April 2002

The first body was hanging upside down, one gray left foot tied to the electricity pylon with wire, his right leg hanging at an obscene angle, his head lolling below what remained of a black shirt.

This was Moussa Arjoub of Doura village. The second body was infinitely more terrible, a butcher's carcass; again, hanging by a left leg, but this time his almost naked torso was riven with stab marks and holes into which Palestinian boys of 10 or 12, whooping with glee, were stubbing cigarettes. This was Zuheir al-Mukhtaseb. His head was almost severed from his remains, moving slightly in the wind, bearded, face still distorted with terror.

He reminded me, oddly, of that fearsome portrait of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, all arrows and open wounds. But Zuheir al-Mukhtaseb was reviled, not honored, children and middle-aged Palestinian men roaring with delight when stones thumped off the collaborator's bloodied corpse.

"This is a lesson to all here." I turned round to find a middle-aged, portly man with a big brown beard, gesturing towards another revolting bag of flesh behind me. "This was Mohamed Debebsi. This is a lesson for the people. Everyone should see this." As I watched, a group of young men with grinning faces hurled his corpse into a rubbish truck.

What do you do when a people go mad with joy at such savagery? At first, I could not write the description of what I saw into my reporter's notebook and drew sketches instead to remind me of what I was seeing. "Allahu Akbar" God is Greatest roared that awful crowd. There were girls on rooftops, young men in suits and ties staring at the corpses from only 10 feet away, boys throwing stones to finish the decapitation of Zuheir al-Mukhtaseb.

And the street where this let us call it by its name and say this pornography took place? "Sharia Salam." The Street of Peace.

The three men had been imprisoned in the local jail sentenced so long ago that many of the crowd did not remember the date for collaborating with Israel's occupation forces. Did they guess their fate, a few hours earlier when they heard the Israeli Apache helicopter firing four missiles, the explosions audible in their Palestinian Authority prison half a mile away? The Israelis had sent a helicopter death squad to eliminate Marwan Zalum, one of the heads of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in Hebron, the four missiles (made by Lockheed Martin of Florida, according to the bits I found) turning his Mitsubishi car into a fireball.

Zalum, who was 43 and married with a little girl called Saja, died at once to a chorus of delight from the Israeli army. He was, they said, "the equivalent of an entire armed militia" a ridiculous exaggeration and referred to suicide bombings arranged by his men and the "hundreds of shooting attacks". Three times, the Israeli Army's death squad admission talked of "Jewish communities" when it meant Jewish settlements built illegally on Arab land. And it failed to mention that Samir abu-Rajab, a friend of Zalum, was killed with him by Israel's missiles.

No matter. By 9.30 yesterday morning, the Al-Aqsa brigades and probably Hamas, and no doubt a vast rabble of Palestinian youths, decided to take revenge on the Israelis by slaughtering Israel's three Palestinian collaborators who sat, helpless, in the local jail. A civil engineer watching the crowds told me that they were dragged to the scene of the car explosion, beaten insensible by the mob and then shot by gunmen.

So the people of the Hebron suburb of Ein Sara arrived to celebrate this revolting scene. A few touched the corpses; others threw stones. It was a meat shop, the kids climbing electricity pylons to pose beside this butcher's work for friends with camcorders. And how they cheered when the garbage truck moved through the crowds.

After Debebsi's bloody remains were flung into the back, the lorry moved to the pylon where Mukhtaseb was hanging. His head almost parted from his body as it was thrown into the grey-painted vehicle, to another roar of delight from the crowd. So the citizens of the nascent Palestinian nation behaved yesterday in anger and fury and terrible pleasure at their revenge on Israel for the killing of Zakum and abu-Rajab.

On the way back to Jerusalem, one could well imagine the reaction of the inhabitants of those illegal Jewish settlements. Savagery, barbarism, beasts acting like beasts. One knew, of course, what the Palestinians thought. These three men worked for Israel, for the country which has occupied their land for 35 years. "They probably did it for money," a driver mumbled.

All three collaborators were married men. It was said in Hebron that they would be refused a Muslim grave. And one wondered how brutalized the Palestinians must become before they inherit a state.

Robert Fisk
Published in the lndependent © 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd

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