Buried alive

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“We will dynamite the well and bulldoze the land, including the cave. If there are men inside, they will die. Call them out, because if they die, you will be responsible for their deaths,” the Israeli army officer, Elias, warned to Khalid Dar Daoud, just before giving his soldiers the order to begin the operation.

The small cave located on Dar Daoud’s land provides the only entrance to an old dried-up well. Little did he know that it might become a mass grave for three Palestinian resistance men wanted by the Israeli authorities. According to local residents, Israeli troops had been on the lookout for the men in the Sheikh Gheith section of Deir Ghassaneh village since June 12.

On the morning of June 13, Israeli forces raided Deir Ghassaneh, which lies north of Ramallah, at five in the morning. They immediately announced the imposition of a curfew through loud speakers, and then headed to the Sheikh Gheith area, where Dar Daoud’s home is located.

“We were awakened by the sound of gunfire,” remembers Dar Daoud, “and by the sound of soldiers yelling over their loudspeakers for anyone in the well to come out.”

He and his brothers ran to the windows to see what was happening, and discovered that their home was surrounded by soldiers. “Then they broke in and forced us out,” he continues. “They handcuffed, blindfolded and arrested us.” Dar Daoud was then put in a jeep with an officer, who told him that men were hiding in the area, inside the old well to be exact. Dar Daoud didn’t know anything about it.

“The officer then showed me a picture of one of the young men from my village named Rashid Rimawi. Everyone in the village knows that he is wanted by the Israelis,” Dar Daoud recalls.

The officer pressed Dar Daoud on whether he knew Rimawi.

“Yes, I used to work with him. We are both farmers, but since the start of the Intifada, we haven’t seen him in the village,” he explained to the officer.

In an attempt to extract a confession that he knew men were hiding in the well, Dar Daoud says the officer told him that his father was calling for them to come out of the cave. “Your father is an old man. Go and help him and let your father rest,” Dar Daoud says the officer told him. But he insisted that there was no one hiding there.

Meanwhile, he tells, the officer had given orders to his soldiers to blow up the cave. At almost seven in the morning, the cave was dynamited. According to local residents, the soldiers then spent another seven hours bulldozing the land around it, until finally leaving the area at two in the afternoon.

The villagers immediately crowded around to see what had happened. Suddenly, someone hushed the crowd, saying they had heard a cry for help from down below.

“I heard a faint voice from beneath the ground calling for help,” says Sharif Rabi, another Deir Ghassaneh resident. “I asked everyone to be quiet so I could hear better. When all was quiet, it was clear that the voices were coming from beneath the piled-up earth. The sounds were stifled, but they were definitely the voices of young men.”

Rabi says he instructed the villagers to fetch shovels and an electric drill to help crack open the rocky land above. “Everyone helped in the rescue, so we did not need much time. In about half an hour, we were able to open a hole for air, through which we saw the three men huddled together in what looked like an old underground well,” Rabi says.

Seeing the men only urged the villagers to work faster, he tells, and they widened the opening to pull the men out. It took the villagers about 45 minutes of digging before they could rescue the three men from beneath the rubble of earth. One of them turned out to be Rashid Rimawi, the wanted man from their village.

“One of them could not move,” remembers Rabi. “He was exhausted from the lack of oxygen, and so I tied my waist with a rope and climbed down to get him. Then the people above pulled us up out of the well.”

The army returned after the villagers managed to pull the men out, Rabi tells. “One young man parked his car in the middle of the street to try and intercept the soldiers. But they totaled the car and started shooting in all directions when they saw us gathered in the area of the cave.”

He says that skirmishes broke out between the soldiers and villagers, during which time other villagers were able to smuggle the wanted men out of the area. The people then began to gradually disperse, while the soldiers arrested some villagers and dragged them to the well.

“When they saw the opening, they went crazy,” says a villager who was arrested and then later released. “They knew that the wanted men had gotten away.”

When the soldiers realized what had happened, they turned to the Palestinian Medical Relief clinic in the village, which was closed at the time, because they believed that if the men were injured they would be hiding inside. Rather than searching the clinic, however, the soldiers were ordered to dynamite it.

The Israelis did not want to merely arrest them, local residents concluded from this action. Rather, the soldiers’ operation in Deir Ghassaneh that day was proof that they wanted the three men dead, they say.

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