Mistaken identity likely in Palestinian's death

Man apparently killed by militants as he drove car with Israeli plates

January 17, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - The road from the northern edge of Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Jenin can be a perilous trek, passing between rugged hills that offer Palestinian gunmen ideal cover for firing at Israeli vehicles.

Shahada Dadis, 30, a Palestinian pharmaceutical-supply salesman from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, often made that trip. Yesterday, apparently mistaken for an Israeli, he was killed - his rented car peppered with bullets as it passed by a small Jewish settlement.

With a cease-fire collapsing and Palestinian militants enraged over recent arrests and the killing of one of their leaders, shootings on West Bank roads have become so frequent during the past few days that a Palestinian driving a car with Israeli license plates is in as much danger as a Jewish settler.

Yesterday's killing of Dadis has left grieving family and friends wrestling with conflicting emotions of how to mourn a loved one who, it appears, was mistakenly killed by militants in an armed struggle - a struggle that the family insists it supports.

"He is a martyr to his people," said his cousin, Samar Kreitem, 26. "Nobody knows what really happened, and we don't want to talk about it. Israel will try and use this to turn Palestinian against Palestinian, and we just want to cry."

Dadis' mother and sibling mourned in their Beit Hanina apartment yesterday as friends and relatives gathered outside, in the close-knit community of Palestinians, most of them Christians, a few miles north of downtown Jerusalem.

They preferred to talk only of Dadis' life, of how the shy, polite young man earned a master's degree in business from the University of Chicago, and then returned to Israel and the West Bank to care for his family after his father died of a heart attack. His younger brother is a priest at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City.

No one wanted to talk about how Dadis died, or why.

"He never thought about politics," said his neighbor and friend, Walid Nammour, 44. "People don't want to think that this death is a symptom of anything, but we can't ignore that it is part of a bigger problem that we have to deal with."

Dadis was killed the same day that two Israelis were buried after being gunned down by Palestinian gunmen Tuesday - a woman who stopped for gas on her way to a wedding, and a Jewish settler who was abducted near Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem and shot execution-style in his car.

The militant wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's mainstream political party claimed responsibility for those two killings and vowed yesterday to step up its attacks. But no claims were made about the shooting of Dadis - a killing no one wanted to boast about.

It became another twist in a week of gruesome killings with unusual victims. The man killed near Bethlehem, Avi Boaz, was a 72-year-old settler and an American citizen who believed in coexistence, and had become best friends with the Palestinian owner of the Everest Hotel in Beit Jala.

Yesterday, the Israeli army sent a platoon of soldiers to the site of Dadis' shooting, about a mile from the entrance to the Sanur settlement - an artists' community that residents left six months ago and is now occupied by a handful of Orthodox Jews.

But it was not because there was great interest in solving the murder of a Palestinian, even one who was a resident of Israel.

"The army and the police are viewing this as a terror attack in all aspects, even though [the victim] was an Arab, on the assumption that the terrorists planned to hit a Jew," Israeli state radio reported.

Last night, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened his Security Cabinet to discuss how to respond to the latest wave of attacks. Sharon reportedly wants to hit hard militarily, while Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is said to favor a more moderate response.

Army tanks blockaded several Palestinian cities last night but did not enter Palestinian-controlled territory. Arafat, bracing for an attack and under siege in Ramallah, gave a rare interview on Israeli television last night and pleaded for calm.

He vowed to keep behind bars the leader of the militant group that claimed responsibility for assassinating an Israeli Cabinet minister, despite widespread protests yesterday, and said he is pressing the jailed commander to disclose the location of the suspected gunmen.

Tuesday night's arrest of Ahmed Saadat was widely viewed as a concession to Israel to stave off a military attack. Arafat said he would continue his cease-fire, but he also pleaded with Israel to end the assassination of Palestinian militants, saying such actions make it impossible for him to restore order.

Arafat accused Sharon of provoking violence. Asked whether he and Sharon could bring peace, Arafat answered in English: "Where there's a will, there's a way."

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