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From the field

B'Tselem investigation raises grave suspicion that the killing of the three Palestinians in Nablus on 26 December 2009 was unlawful

Update: On 1 January 2012 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that it would not investigate the killings, explaining that “the actions of the IDF took place in the course of the apprehension of the suspects.”

In the pre-dawn hours of 26 December 2009, soldiers shot to death Ghassan Abu Sharakh, Nader a-Sarkaji, and ‘Anan Subuh, while each of them was at home in the Old City of Nablus. The first two were with their families at the time they were shot. State officials, among them the IDF Spokesperson, stated that the three had been involved in the shooting attack that killed Rabbi Meir Chai on 24 December 2009. They further stated that the soldiers went to the houses to arrest them, but the three refused to surrender, and the soldiers shot them when they felt their lives were in danger.

B'Tselem's investigation of the event, which included interviews with nine relatives of the men who were killed and examination of the findings at the scene and of medical reports, revealed a different version. The investigation raises a grave suspicion that the soldiers acted unlawfully and, at least in the cases of Ghassan Abu Sharakh and Nader a-Sarkaji, made no attempt to arrest them before shooting them to death.

The findings of the investigation follow.

  • About 2:30 A.M., soldiers surrounded the house of Abu Sharakh and bombed the front door of the building. The soldiers called to all residents of the building to go outside. Jihad Abu Sharakh, a brother of Ghassan Abu Sharkh, left his apartment on the third floor of the building, and soldiers ordered him to go into the yard. After he did that, soldiers beat him and cuffed his hands. In the meantime, other members of the family gathered on the second floor and began to go down the steps leading to the yard. Ghassan Abu Sharakh, who was unarmed, led the group, with his mother and sister-in-law walking behind him. According to eyewitnesses, at the moment he reached the last steps and stood facing the soldiers, they shot him and he fell and died on the spot.
  • Around 2:40 A.M., soldiers surrounded the house in which Nader a-Sarkaji lived. The soldiers opened massive gunfire at his apartment while he and his wife were sleeping, without first calling to them to go outside. Nader a-Sarkaji shouted to the soldiers that he was coming out of the apartment. After a break of about one minute in the firing, he went to the corridor leading to the yard of the house, his wife behind him. At the same moment, soldiers on the roof overlooking the yard of the house shot him in the head and he fell and died on the spot. His wife, who was standing behind him, was injured in the leg by fragments and also fell to the ground. After a few seconds, soldiers came into the yard and shot Nader a-Sarkaji again, several times.
  • Around 3:00 A.M., soldiers surrounded the house of the Subuh family, fired at the building, and called out on a loudspeaker to all the occupants to go outside. The occupants, except for ‘Anan Subuh, went downstairs and stood at the entrance to the building. Soldiers separated the women and children from the men. A soldier who introduced himself as “Officer ‘Ali” threatened the group of men, including ‘Anan Subuh's elderly father, that he would destroy their house if they didn't tell him where ‘Anan was located. The family refused to answer. Afterwards, the family heard a few blasts coming from the direction of their house. The same officer beat and threatened ‘Anan's brother Jamal, ordering him to call to his brother in the loudspeaker and convince him to surrender. During the incident, the family heard gunshots coming from the direction of the house. Around 7:00 A.M., after the soldiers left the area, the Subuh family returned to their house and found ‘Anan's body near the place where he had been hiding. 

B'Tselem's investigation indicates that, contrary to the contentions made by Israeli officials, it appears that no real attempt was made to arrest Ghassan Abu Sharakh and Nader a-Sarkaji, and they were not given any warning before they were shot to death. They were shot even though they were unarmed and had obeyed the instructions of the soldiers to leave their houses. According to B'Tselem's investigation, the claim reported in the media that Ghassan Abu Sharakh attempted to escape is unclear, given that soldiers were positioned at the only exit from the building and they shot him while he was on the stairs, before he reached the yard in which they were positioned. In addition, the soldiers shot the two immediately, without establishing whether they posed a threat to their lives.

As there were no eyewitnesses to the killing of ‘Anan Subuh, B'Tselem cannot state with certainty the circumstances in which he was shot by soldiers. However, B'Tselem's investigation indicates that, although a weapon was found in his hiding place, ‘Anan Subuh did not fire at the soldiers. The IDF's Spokesperson's announcements regarding this incident did not mention an exchange of gunfire that night.

The three Fatah activists were suspected by Israel of committing a grave offense, and stood to serve long sentences had they been convicted. However, as they were merely suspects, the army's duty was to arrest them and bring them to trial. Israel denies that it carries out assassinations in the West Bank, yet B'Tselem's investigation raise a grave suspicion that the soldiers' conduct was appropriate to an assassination mission, to an arrest operation. 

In light of the above, B'Tselem wrote to the judge advocate general, Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, demanding that he immediately order a Military Police investigation into the circumstances of the killings of Ghassan Abu Sharakh, Nader a-Sarkaji, and ‘Anan Subuh. B'Tselem further demanded that the Military Police also investigate the soldiers' violence and threats against the families of the three men and the damage caused to their property.