License to Kill


(September 7) - The PA's quickie trial and execution this week of two killers - the first since taking control in Gaza in 1994 - has evoked debate about the nature of crime and punishment in Palestinian society.

Even a day after the traditional three-day mourning period was over, the Khalidi house in the Gaza refugee camp of Deir el-Balah was still abuzz with friends, relatives and other sympathetic Gazans coming to offer their condolences for the murder of Majdi and Mohammed.

A large sign draped over the mourning tent said: "Yasser Arafat means justice." More than 30,000 people had turned out for the funeral.

"I never imagined that this case would stir so much solidarity," said Bassem Khalidi, the victims' older brother. "In Arab tradition a man is not supposed to cry - but so many did at the funeral." He fought back his own tears.

Further north in Gaza, in Jabalya refugee camp, the Abu Sultan family, whose two sons were executed for slaying the Khalidis, conducted their own mourning rituals farther away from public view, behind a closed iron gate. Family members declined to give interviews.

Mohammed Abu Sultan, 25, and Raed Abu Sultan, 24, both members of the Palestinian Authority's police force, were the first Palestinians to be executed by the authority since the start of its rule in Gaza in 1994. Their heads hooded in black, they were shot by a firing squad on Sunday.

Many Gazans supported the executions; only a handful of intellectuals and human rights activists criticized the lightning trial and speedy implementation of the death penalty.

But the murders and subsequent executions have stirred debate over burgeoning crime and the question of capital punishment in Palestinian society.

WHILE there is an article in the Palestinian Basic Laws opposing executions, most Palestinians, including legislative council members, seem to favor the death penalty as punishment for murder.

The Basic Laws, passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council, have not yet been implemented.

Haidar Abdel-Shafi, a founding PLO member from Gaza, opposes the death penalty. Yet he said he understood the enthusiastic reaction of so many Palestinians to the executions. It stemmed, he said, from their insecurity over the status of law enforcement in Palestinian areas.

The Palestinians, Abdel-Shafi said, have the feeling that nobody is in control, and therefore anyone can use his weapon to settle a dispute.

Abdel-Shafi, a leading critic of the PA in Gaza, also blamed the authority for the fact that so many people in Gaza are armed. He said he hoped the slaying of the Khalidis had finally brought home to the PA that it needs to institute some real measures to effect gun control. In this context, he regarded the PA ruling that security personnel may carry their weapons only while on duty as a step in the right direction.

Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human-rights activist who strongly condemned the executions, acknowledged that Arafat felt intense pressure both in the Palestinian street and from the Fatah movement to punish the murderers.

Eid reasoned that the executions were part of Arafat's attempt to rein in the ever-growing murder rate among Palestinians: He was determined to show that he would not tolerate murder as a way to settle disputes.

THE Khalidis had delayed opening a mourning tent until after the executions - a signal in Palestinian society that they were seeking revenge. Now the hope is that the execution of the Abu Sultans will prevent a spiral of revenge killings.

Bassem Khalidi explained that the family had been waiting to see whether the PA would punish the killers; now that the death sentences had been carried out, he seemed to indicate that the Khalidis had agreed to lay the matter to rest.

He accused activists who opposed the executions of "ignoring the will of the Palestinian people." He maintained that legislation in a democracy should represent the will of the majority and that the Palestinians have clearly opted in favor of punishing murderers via the death penalty.

The Palestinians, Khalidi pointed out, are an Islamic society, adding that putting murderers to death corresponds with Islamic values and laws. In the case of the Abu Sultan brothers, he noted, the PA was only implementing Egyptian laws, which are in force in Gaza, since the Palestinians do not yet have their own laws or constitution.

MAJDI Khalidi, who was 32, had been a leader of the pro-Arafat Fatah movement in Deir el-Balah and had worked for the PA's Intelligence Service. His slain brother Mohammed was 30.

PA security officers believe they were shot as the result of a dispute between Fares Abu Sultan and Majdi Khalidi dating back to a time when they both worked for PA Intelligence.

Abu Sultan was supposedly dismissed from the intelligence service and went to work for the PA's Department of Political Education.

Bassem Khalidi, who witnessed the slaying of his brothers, said they were gunned down about a week ago in front of their cousin's house in Nusseirat, south of Gaza City.

He said the shootings followed an argument between their cousin Nabil Khalidi and Fares Abu Sultan, who live across the street from each other. Fares allegedly made provocative gestures at Nabil, who was on his balcony.

Fares called his brothers, who came and threatened Nabil with their weapons. Nabil called his cousins Bassem, Majdi and Mohammed, who arrived unarmed to try to calm tempers.

When they arrived, the Abu Sultan brothers were nowhere in sight, Bassem Khalidi recalls. Since Fares used to work for the intelligence service, Majdi called intelligence headquarters for help.

"When they got to the scene they told us that they couldn't arrest Fares because he no longer worked for them. They referred the case to the police," Khalidi recalled.

"Then, while they were arguing about who should arrest Fares, the Abu Sultan brothers returned and shot Mohammed and Majdi," he said.

Most of the Abu Sultan men were taken into police custody for their own protection but have gradually been released since the Khalidis' indication that they would not seek further retribution.

Although Khalidi expressed disappointment over the fact that not all the five Abu Sultan men accused of participating in the slaying of his brothers were executed, he said he would accept the PA's conclusions. The other four were given life sentences.

Arafat has so far resisted calls by Fatah members and other Gazans to execute Fares, whom they accuse of being behind the murders.

The word on the street is that Fares was a collaborator and had an Israeli ID. PA security officers dismissed this as rumors and said that only those who pulled the triggers should be executed.

"Besides, two Khalidis were murdered and two Abu Sultans were executed," one security officer said. "That's only fair and should settle the matter."

A PA security official in Gaza warned that the perpetrator of any revenge killing would also be put to death. He added, however, that this was no guarantee that other "honor" killings would not occur.

Abdel-Shafi explained that honor killings were so deeply rooted in Palestinian society that one could hardly expect them to disappear overnight; the only way the problem could be solved, he said, was by starting the democratic process in Palestinian society.

Referring to the quickie trial of the Abu Sultan brothers by the PA security court - set up on the Egyptian model by Arafat to mete out justice to terrorists, under pressure from the international community - Abdel-Shafi stressed that the PA had little respect for law and legal procedure.

That was the reason, he believed, why Palestinian society as a whole exhibited the same lack of respect.

© Jerusalem Post
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