Palestinian minister killed after beating by Israeli troops
A Palestinian Authority minister was killed today in a confrontation with Israeli soldiers during a tree-planting demonstration on land earmarked to become a settlement in the West Bank village of Turmusaya, north of Ramallah.
The killing elicited a strong reponse from the Palestinian leadership, with Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, announcing three days of official mourning.
|We cannot be silent [in the face of] this barbarous act
- Mahmoud Abbas
"We cannot be silent [in the face of] this barbarous act," Abbas said in a statement.
According to witnesses, Ziad Abu Ein, the head of the PA department concerned with the Israeli separation wall and its settlements on occupied territory, was headbutted by an Israeli soldier while planting olive trees.
The planting of olive trees is an act of defiance that activists often engage in to prove Palestinians are using the land upon which trees are planted.
According to an Ottoman-era law, if a piece of land is left uncultivated for three years, its ownership automatically reverts to the state. Israel has no official borders extending over occupied territory, therefore no claim to being the state to which the land reverts. Nevertheless, Israeli officials have frequently closed off Palestinian agricultural areas as military zones, preventing farmers from accessing the land.
When the land subsequently lies uncultivated, it is annexed to existing settlements or used for new settlement construction under the Ottoman law.
Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal under international law.
Abdallah Abu al-Rahma, a fellow member of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission who also took part in the demonstration said Abu Ein was attacked.
"The soldier headbutted Abu Ein viciously, while he was wearing his helmet, which is what contributed to putting him in a coma."
Abu al-Rahma continued, "the attack on Abu Ein came after dozens of flash grenades and tear gas canisters were fired at us and suffocated us. Minutes later the soldier came and head-butted him, making him collapse to the ground and go into a coma".
|Fellow protesters carry Abu Ein away [Getty]|
The demonstrators transported Abu Ein to a clinic in Turmusaya where he was quickly transferred to a Ramallah hospital, though doctors were not able to resuscitate his heart. He died shortly afterwards.
According to demonstrators, they arrived at the site in the morning to plant olive trees and did not initiate any contact with the Israeli army. Troops, however, quickly shot flash grenades and teargas canisters at them and then attempted to disperse the protest, pushing and beating activists with rifle butts.
Abu Ein was the subject of a notorious extradition case in 1981 when, after two years imprisonment in Chicago, he was eventually deported to Israel where he was wanted for murder.
The US court decision was hugely controversial. It ignored evidence that Abu Ein's conviction in Israel rested on the confessions of two other men who subsequently withdrew their testimony.
It also flew in the face of evidence presented in Chicago that at the time of the alleged crime - a bombing in a marketplace in Tiberias in 1979 that killed two children - Abu Ein was demonstrably elsewhere.
He was imprisoned in Israel in 1982 but released three years later in 1985 as part of a huge prisoner swap deal - the so-called Jibril agreement - when the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, then headed by Ahmed Jibril, exhanged three captured Israeli soldiers, for 1,150 Palestinian prisoners.
A member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, he was seen as close to Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned Fatah leader often seen as a rival to Abbas for both leadership of Fatah and the presidency of the PA.
Abu Ein became the minister of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission three months ago after working for many years in the Ministry for Prisoners' Affairs.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.