by Anne Gwynne | Palestine Monitor | August 2005
This is a rare eyewitness account (with photographs) of one of the hundreds of illegal “targeted murders” by Israel of young Palestinian men, members of the legal Resistance. As such, its importance cannot be overstated. It is the only eyewitness account of this particular brutal murder and thus supersedes the plethora of erroneous reports that have circulated in the media in recent weeks (see, for example, the press report excerpted at the end of this piece.)
As a professional journalist, an elected member of the National Union of Journalists (UK) and of the International Federation of Journalists, Anne Gwynne is entitled to interview whomsoever she wishes, wherever she wishes and whenever she wishes in pursuance of truth and justice.
Anne was part of a team from ITV Wales which made two films in Balaata/Naablus shown in the UK in January 2004 and January 2005. The second featured Muhammad Al-‘Assi. She was gathering material for a follow-up of that interview, to piece together the story of the Al-‘Assi family’s unequalled suffering since 1948, when they were driven from their home near Jaffa by well-armed, invading Jewish colonists.
* all timings may have 5 minute error.
* the report is not definitive, as she may remember more details of this devastatingly traumatic night as time goes by.
This is her testimony and commentary.
I felt that I must put the record straight as so many lies have been written and spoken about this murder.
What follows is the only true account of what really happened on the night of Wednesday/Thursday, 13/14 July, 2005 at my home in Sharra’ Imreij – a quiet street of villas in the leafy residential neighborhood of Raffidiya, Nablus – a happy place where I have lived contentedly for months, a place whose peace was shattered on an idyllic summer evening by up to 100 Israeli ‘soldiers’ who, without warning, attacked my small villa, brutally murdering an unarmed man within a few minutes, and abducting a student to the dreaded Petakh Tikfah torture center.
At the moment of the attack, by Israelis dressed as Palestinians who poured out of unmarked Palestinian-plated vehicles, there were many people in the street, including groups of children, some playing, some sitting and talking, on one of the lovely, cool eventides which have usually followed the exceptionally hot days of this particular July.
23:00 hours – I had been out walking and I returned home to continue chronicling the story of a member of the Resistance, Muhammad “Niinu” Al-‘Assi; our interpreter was Mutassim Adel 'Ayl, a student with an exceptionally deep understanding of English. He has fulfilled the role of interpreter for me on many occasions. I am a very close friend of both families, having known Mutassim for nearly three years and Ninu’s sisters for more than 2 years since the murder of a second brother, Faaris. Niinu was incarcerated at that time and we met in November 2004.
Contrary to the wild stories in the press we three were the only people in the home and we were talking in the reception hall off the verandah. We were actually discussing Niinu's need for a hearing aid since he lost all hearing in the left ear, and 50% in the right, as a result of a June 14th 2004 missile attack on the car in which he was travelling with a close friend, the esteshaad (hero) Khaliil Marshoud. Khaliil and the taxi driver were killed and Niinu grievously injured. On this very day Niinu had said he would announce his engagement and, to his joy, Mutassim had arranged funding for him to get the precious aid. At that moment…
23:15 hours – …an unusually large motor stopped in the street: I went to the window - a huge, very long white truck or bus (I could see only the roof) was outside the gates and the street was full of Israeli soldiers dressed as Palestinians. Shooting and shouting started. … and
23:16 hours – there were prolonged volleys of Israeli shooting to all directions, and much shouting and screaming from the Israelis, via a megaphone, amongst fleeing children. I froze - “Oh my God! Special forces”- I did not realize yet that my house was the target but was absolutely terrified since I have witnessed first hand the carnage they cause. As I turned from the window, I caught just a glimpse of Muhammad as he ran out the side door, barefoot, in shorts and singlet, into the garden on the left.
We are all barefoot in the house, never walking on indoor floors in outdoor shoes and so Muhammad was barefoot, wearing summer shorts and singlet. He had no weapon, not even a handgun. Why would he have - he was there to tell a story? He could easily have been arrested as he ran out of the door but they wanted him dead.
There are lists for two categories of men hunted by the Israelis, al-maTTloubiin and al-muTTaradiin. The mattloubiin are generally 'wanted' for capture, although they are often killed. The list varies – it is possible for men to be on it for many years, constantly harassed and chased and repeatedly injured; they can even 'drop-off' the list when it grows too long. The muttaradiin (assassination) list, apart from being illegal, is different – muttaradin are, like the foxes Tony Blair has worked so hard to save in the UK, for hunting to death and killing. The Israeli vengeance is unrelenting and for ever, and once a boy or man is on the list the only way off it is into the ground.
‘Niinu’ Al-‘Assi was muttaarad – that is on the illegal Israeli assassination list – there could have been no escape for him whatever he did – they were determined to kill him.
Mutassim Adel ‘Ayl is neither muttaarad nor mattloub. He is just a student – but then scores of students around Nablus have been murdered on, and hundreds incarcerated from, the road to learning.
Someone called the Israelis to tell them that Niinu was in the house – a collaborator, that most despised of people bred by occupation. The Israelis do not mount a big operation like this unless they are quite certain of a kill. The collaborator will, like most of the others, be found out and he will pay the ultimate penalty for his crime.
Niinu is killed
There were no warnings - I did not hear any and neither did Mutassim.
Mutassim slumped down on a sofa, muttering - what can we do? - and we despaired - ‘nothing’. All the lights in the house were on so whilst he was putting on his cargoes, shirt, and boots and socks I crawled under the line of fire to put out at least those in the three front windows of the house and the verandah. With them on we really were sitting ducks.
In a minute, 4 or 5 jeeps, a troop carrier, and a prison van arrived with much shooting and noise in the street and the so-called ‘special forces’ withdrew very quickly – they do not wish to be photographed of course and as soon as the legal, uniformed soldiers come they melt away as though they had never been.
The Israelis had powerful beams of light and Muhammad was clearly caught in them several times – they saw he was unarmed and how he was dressed - he could have been arrested at any time without harm to the ‘soldiers’ - dozens of them with at least 4 dogs who were trampling over my beautiful, peaceful, tree-filled garden, firing bursts from M16 assault rifles at Muhammad; the firing was coming from all directions.
About a minute after Niinu ran out there was sustained firing from the road at the rear. I believe he ran up the terraces to the rear wall and road and, on finding that way closed too, he must have run back and to the other side of the house because, in the brilliant Israeli lights, from a side window I saw him jump onto the garden wall, where he was cut down by multiple M16 bullets inside his left leg just above his ankle, shattering bone, flesh and tendons - virtually severing the foot. Other bullets slammed into his body - at least one grievously wounded him in the groin and blood poured from the severed artery while 3 hit his right leg. Wounded, but not fatally so, Muhammad jumped down into the adjacent garden; the shattered leg folded under him and he dragged himself about 20 feet to a small wall where he collapsed onto his back. He could have been arrested here too.
I repeat because this is important:
These shots did not kill him – he could still have been arrested at any time.
No warning shots were fired – no warning was given.
Muhammad was unarmed, without even a handgun, barefoot and wearing only singlet and shorts and this was clearly seen before he was shot.
23:30 hours - Multiple shots were then fired into his head from an M16 at very close range, “much less than 10m” said the pathologist, causing severe injury and instant death. The scalp and bone of the crown above the right eye and behind were completely destroyed and most of Niinu’s brain was blown onto the garden. Dr Samiir Abu Zaghour opined that between 4 and 7 bullets were fired into Muhammad’s defenceless head: he could not be sure because the horrifically damaged head did not hold the bullets and they had fallen somewhere with the brain. In pathology, the term ‘crush injury’ is used for such a massive injury that a part of the body -for example the skull, bone and brain- is completely destroyed. Niinu was dead some 10-12 minutes from the arrival of the Israeli uniformed soldiers - so much for their later reports that they 'warned militants in the house' and that it was 'some hours later' that they attacked.
Niinu al-‘Assi had a very beautiful, level gaze from large, wide-set eyes and, at the moment of his death his eyes were wide open looking straight into the eyes of his executioner and a small smile parting his lips over very white teeth: No screaming or pleading – he met his death with supreme courage asking for no mercy, not with hatred, anger and fear, but with the quiet softness of the love in which he had lived.
The smile and the soft open eyes remained (we could not close them), and this is how he now lies in the earth of the beautiful, tragic maqbarra of Mukhayyam Balaata, the Cemetery of Balata Refugee Camp, at the side of family martyrs – his younger brother Faaris, and his older brother Khaaled, amid the hundreds of his beloved friends, the shuhadda (martyrs) who have given their lives for Palestine in this Intifaada and before.
Whilst still in the direct, clear gaze of these eyes an Israeli officer found in himself enough hatred to then fire 7 bullets from his handgun into Muhammad’s right rib-cage and upper-arm (already defiled by the scars, shrapnel and proudflesh of previous attacks) and two more bullets were found in his back. The entry wounds are tiny, indicating extremely close range – the X-rays show the bullets in his body beside many bright pieces of shrapnel which remain after extensive surgery following his miraculous escape from the missile attack I referred to earlier.
My pictures show what seem to be several other points of entry of bullets in Muhammad’s body and extensive, parallel abrasions indicating that he was dragged some distance over a hard surface. No report on these exists for there really was no purpose to be served by further disturbing the ‘soft flesh of the young fighter’ (Fadwa Tuqaan) to investigate any more wounds. He had suffered enough.
Not content with murdering Muhammad, the Israelis then dragged the body of this unarmed man, murdered in cold blood as he lay looking up at his killer, to the street. They dumped Niinu into a vehicle in an inhuman fashion, and took him away even though there were two ambulances outside my house – one driven by the brave Tony Ghratiit (Red Crescent), the other by the fearless Jareer Kanadillo (PMRS) as well as doctors, including the courageous PMRS manager Dr Ghassan Hamdan. The Israelis dumped Muhammad back in Nablus some 5 hours later. It is hard to see any reason for, or to excuse, this utter inhumanity.
The murder of Niinu Al-‘Assi was finished 15 minutes after the Israelis arrived and the abduction of his body by about 00:15.
The House is Besieged
00:15 hours - For an hour, Mutassim and I had been in the besieged house, to which the Israelis now turned their attention. We huddled together in a corner of the front bedroom which we hoped was out of the line of fire, our arms around each other for comfort. All the time we felt that we would die here too - I could hear Mutassim’s rapid, heavy heart beat on my ribs and I’m sure he could feel mine.
There was intensified shooting from all sides coupled with the explosions of grenades and “sound-bombs” all around the house as well as hundreds of rounds of M16 fire. Sound bombs are terrifying as they mimic real bombs exactly and cause multiple reverberations and explosions, especially when detonated from several sides, as well as severe nerve damage to the ears. Afterwards I found the remains of four such bombs and one grenade in the garden – there may well have been more.
01:00 hours – By megaphone we were told to “come out or we will bomb the house”. We could hear a helicopter attack gunship, and it was not my house, so we agreed that we had to go out and, in any case, it seemed a choice between ‘death by crushing’ or ‘death by shooting’ and we definitely preferred the latter. This was the only warning we were given the whole time.
I knew that the moment Mutassim emerged they would kill him on sight, but felt that they might not be so ready to murder a saHaffiyya ajnabbiya, a foreign woman journalist, so I went out first – calling out “don’t shoot, don’t shoot - I am a journalist” many times. I told them clearly, slowly and calmly that I was going to put on the verandah light and pull the screen aside, and asked them again not to shoot, holding my hands vertically, palms facing them, and also my blouse up to my bra, as they seem to believe that everyone here sleeps in a commando belt.
I had committed no crime, neither had Mutassim – well, other than being alive – but here we were, two innocent human beings pleading for our lives with a hundred gunmen with their assault rifles all pointed our way!
When I felt confident that they had understood, I asked Mutassim to join me but behind.
We walked the path and down the steps to the gates hand in hand, where I was unable to locate the correct key, but Mutassim calmly took the ring from me and unlocked them.
All the neighbours had been put into the street with the exception of one family from the next-door house. The soldiers gestured to us to walk slowly forward with our shirts pulled up to the neck. It doesn’t feel great walking up a street of people like that, believe me.
01:15 hours - An Israeli grunts something from the other end of an M16. I think he asks if I am English and say an emphatic No - (I am Welsh).
‘You don't speak English?' he repeats. But I needed none anyway!
Rapping out “there” and pointing to a ‘stalls seat’ on the tarmac with his multi-purpose M16 rifle, he indicated that I should sit in the street with two of my neighbours, a Christian family, Suhayla and her daughter from the basement flat in the next-door Jaaber house.
No one asked me my name, no one asked Mutassim his name; no one warned Muhammad or asked who he was. No soldier asked for ID or anything. They just
blindfolded Mutassim, a hard plastic electrical cable tie was pulled painfully tight around his wrists, and he was taken to the next door garden where Muhammad was murdered and where his ankles were then manacled. I could not see any more of that. Mutassim did not beg or plead – he stood strong and proud and dignified and he walked tall.
Most of the soldiers with their dogs then went into my garden and surrounded my house, approaching it as though they believed there was one of Israel’s 400 nuclear missiles ready to fire - and after a while they all went in and ransacked my simple possessions.
01:45 hours - Of course, having found nothing since there was nothing there to find, they came out without speaking and hung about until 02:15 when the troop carrier returned and they all got in, putting Mutassim in the prison van and telling me “you can enter house after 5 minutes.”
Then they all drove off leaving more lives destroyed, more families devastated, more murder and mayhem, and an even more determined Resistance in their wake.
As for the ‘soldier' who, at point-blank range, first pumped the bullets into Muhammad’s head as he lay grievously wounded at his feet, and the officer who later emptied his hand-gun into the soft flesh of the already-dead young fighter, I cannot but wonder what will they see when they look into a mirror – will they forever see the wide hazel eyes which continued to look into theirs for long after Niinu had left this life? Will they, and the rest of them, hear the sickening squelches of Muhammad’s brain and lung and duck from the sprays of blood in their dreams? How will they be able to live with these pictures and sounds?
"Look upon your works, O Ye Israel and despair!" - I pity your inhumanity.
Dear reader: I have many more photographs of Niinu in life and in death. Please visit this link to view them: http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/niinu_alassi/my_photos
Anne Gwynne is an elected member of the International Federation of Journalists and the National Union of Journalists (U.K.). She contributes articles to Al-Ahram Weekly, the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs, and CounterPunch, and has reported for the Pacifica Radio Network. Anne’s work in Palestine has been the subject of television and radio programmes on ITV and BBC Wales. Anne can be contacted at email@example.com
**** Excerpt from press report:
Israelis kill Palestinian militant in Nablus raid
14.07.2005 - 06:48
By Nadia Sa'ad
NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) – [Israeli] Troops killed Mohammed al-Asi, a local commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Nablus, during an exchange of fire with Palestinian gunmen after surrounding a building and calling on militants inside to surrender, the army said.
"After several hours they identified one of the wanted men trying to escape. They called
on him several times to stop and eventually opened fire," an army spokeswoman said.