An Israeli Schoolboy Died in the West Bank. To Find His Body, Foes Joined Forces.

JERUSALEM — When Palestinian militants hid the body of an Israeli schoolboy Tuesday night, they hoped to exchange it for the bodies of dozens of Palestinians who have been held captive by Israel for years without being buried.

Instead, they began an unusual diplomatic effort to retrieve the body, involving an unlikely cast of actors from opposing factions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Perplexed by the militants’ moves, Palestinian officials worked with Israeli military commanders, Arab legislators and Muslim clerics in Israel, and even indirectly with militant leaders. troops in Gaza and Lebanon – all of whom helped secure the release of bodies, according to interviews with six intermediaries from three countries.

It was a surprising moment of common purpose between people who rarely worked together, a moment that highlighted the complexities of Arab and Israeli society, highlighting the latent relationships between the leaders. Palestinian and Israeli leaders, while drawing rare attention to the Israeli practice of keeping bodies. killing Palestinians accused of terrorism.

“We need people to talk to their enemies,” said Rafik Halabi, the Arab mayor of the schoolboy’s hometown in Israel, who is at the center of reconciliation efforts. “The situation we live in is very, very complicated.”

At the center of the tragedy is a 17-year-old Israeli citizen, Tiran Fero.

Tiran is one of about 150,000 Druse of Israel — a small subdivision of the Arab minority in Israel, accounting for about one-fifth of the population of 9 million. The Druses played an unusual role in the conflict: Unlike other Arabs in Israel, they often served in the Israeli Army — but as native Arabic speakers, they also moved around easily. Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank.

On Tuesday morning, Tiran took advantage of that cultural flexibility to drive from his hometown in northern Israel, Daliyat al-Karmel, to the occupied West Bank. Accompanied by his longtime friend, Adir Daksa, also 17, Tiran hopes to purchase a new speaker system for his car, according to Adir’s father.

Tiran lost control of the vehicle while driving through the semi-autonomous Palestinian administration of the northern West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, according to an internal government report on the incident obtained by The New York Times. Both teenagers were seriously injured.

Adir’s injuries were slightly less severe, allowing Palestinian health officials to transport him to Israel, where he was taken to an Israeli hospital and still alive.

But Tiran needed more immediate medical attention, so he was transferred to a hospital in Jenin, a city administered by the Palestinian Authority and the focus of frequent Israeli Army attacks. in this year.

Later on Tuesday, the warriors in the city heard about Tiran’s presence. Thinking he was an Israeli soldier, the masked men were armed with hospital assault rifles shortly after 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to video from the scene, mediator testimony and accounts the Palestinian Authority’s internal affairs on the case.

According to Palestinian mediators and leaders in Jenin, the militants hope to exchange Tiran for the bodies of dozens of Palestinians that have been kept in Israeli morgues since 2016. Israel keeps undisclosed bodies. 111 Palestinians were buried, 16 of whom were from Jenin, according to detailed records shared with The Times by the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights, an independent human rights watchdog Palestine.

Israel’s Defense Ministry declined to comment, but Israeli officials believe all Palestinians were killed in the act of violence and that keeping their bodies could help prevent future attacks.

What happened after the fighters arrived at the hospital is a subject of debate: Tiran’s father, Hussam Fero, who rushed to the hospital to be with his son, said the fighters took Tiran out. from his life support machine while he was still alive, killing him.

“My son is breathing – he is breathing and alive,” Fero told Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, on Wednesday. “They arrested him right in front of me.”

What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What is their motivation to tell us? Have they proven reliable in the past? Can we verify the information? Even after satisfying these questions, The Times still uses anonymous sources as a last resort. Reporters and at least one editor know the identity of the source.

A foreign diplomat involved in the mediation efforts, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss more freely on a sensitive issue, also confirmed that account.

But Israeli government officials say it’s unclear what happened, while the Palestinian Authority says the teenager was dead when the militants arrived.

In any case, Tiran’s body was quickly taken to a hideout in a lawless neighborhood of the city, known as Camp Jenin, where authorities had limited control.

According to Palestinian mediators and leaders, the seizure of the body has alarmed Palestinians in both the West Bank and Israel. Israeli officials have warned that they will use force to recover the body if it is not returned voluntarily – a messy operation that could turn an already tense situation in the West Bank into total chaos. face.

The militants’ actions also feel unethical by many Palestinians. While Palestinian anger was widespread at Israel’s practice of retaining dead Palestinian corpses, many felt the gunmen chose the wrong target, especially after it became clear that Tiran was a schoolboy, not a schoolboy. must be a soldier.

“It is not an ethical act,” said Muhammad Sabbagh, head of a leadership council in Camp Jenin. “From the very beginning, the whole camp wanted to return the body.”

Senior officials of the Israeli Army and the Palestinian Authority are always in contact. disappointed of many ordinary Palestinians, who felt they received little benefit from such cooperation, and officials were contacted to coordinate the transfer of Adir.

Those connections increased after Tiran’s body was confiscated.

According to Major General Akram Rajoub, the highest-ranking government official in Jenin, the government’s security services worked through intermediaries to reach the militants.

General Rajoub said in a phone interview: “I immediately realized that I had made a big mistake. “We immediately started planning how to get the body back to the family.”

At the same time, some Arab legislators in Israel began calling Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza, asking them to put pressure on the militants, most of whom are believed to be involved. associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Islamic group.

According to Fero, a Muslim cleric in the south of the West Bank was at the center of those efforts, while the leader of the banned Islamist movement in Israel, Raed Salah, also issued a statement calling on the militants. release the body.

Ahmad Tibi, a veteran Arab lawmaker in Israel, is a leading opponent of the Israeli occupation and a longtime critic of Israel’s policy on the retention of Palestinian bodies. But Dr. Tibi still emerges as a key player behind the scenes. He called officials in the Gaza Strip who called Islamic Jihad leaders in Lebanon, who in turn called their agents in Jenin, according to Halabi, the mayor.

Dr Tibi declined to say who he had called in Gaza, but confirmed that he had been in contact with people in the strip regarding Tiran’s case.

A spokesman for Islamic Jihad, Daoud Shehab, denied the group was involved in the kidnapping or reconciliation.

Gen Rajoub said that despite these reconciliation efforts, Tiran’s body remained in the hands of the fighters throughout Wednesday, after they disagreed over what to do.

The stalemate has increased pressure on the Israeli leadership to recover the body by force, especially after two bombings in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning gave impetus to right-wing calls for tougher action against Palestinian militants.

Rising anger in the Druse community in Israel also risks causing the situation to spiral out of control. Dozens of Israeli Druses blocked a major highway in Israel on Wednesday night, hoping to draw attention to Tiran’s case. Videos go viral on social media of armed Druse men threatening revenge against the Palestinians.

By the early hours of Thursday morning, the fighters in Jenin had finally changed course.

The Palestinian Authority has approved a document that “contains information on the location of the body” that allows “forces from the police and security services” to retrieve the body and hand it over to Israeli officials, according to the statement. internal government records on the case. was obtained by The Times.

Tiran’s funeral took place on Thursday afternoon, his 18th birthday.

His death sparked unusual cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, including those who, like Dr Tibi, often found little in common with the Israeli government.

But Dr Tibi said this rare collaboration should not mask growing Palestinian anger over Israel’s policy of keeping the bodies of dead Palestinians.

Dr Tibi said dozens of “Palestinian families are waiting for their beloved sons. “Because their corpses were occupied by Israel.”

Hiba Yazbek and Myra Noveck contributed reporting.


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