9 days after alleged car-ramming, eyewitnesses say Israel hasn’t contacted them

9 days after alleged car-ramming, eyewitnesses say Israel hasn’t contacted them

Palestinians say video shows security forces firing 9 rounds several minutes after incident; army declines to comment on claims

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Israeli troops arrive at the scene of an alleged car-ramming attack in which two Israeli servicemen were injured in the central West Bank on March 4, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops arrive at the scene of an alleged car-ramming attack in which two Israeli servicemen were injured in the central West Bank on March 4, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Palestinian eyewitnesses said Israeli authorities have not sought their testimony on an alleged car-ramming attack in a central West Bank village, over a week after the incident.

Majed Abu Rahma, an eyewitnesses who said he was standing 50 meters away from the alleged attack in Kafr Nima, said he would be willing to tell Israeli authorities what he saw. Another eyewitness, Majdi al-Deek, said he would not agree to give testimony.

The Israel Defense Forces, which said it was investigating the incident, referred a question on whether authorities spoke to eyewitnesses to the Shin Bet security service. A spokesman for the Shin Bet did not respond to a request for comment.

In the early morning of March 4, a car carrying three Palestinians drove into Israeli security forces, wounding a soldier and a policeman, the IDF said in a statement at the time. Troops subsequently responded with fire, killing two of the Palestinians and injuring — and later arresting — the third Palestinian, the army said, adding that its initial investigation suggested the the group of Palestinians had thrown firebombs at troops near a highway shortly before the ramming.

The IDF also said it found firebombs in the car the Palestinians were driving, but did not distribute photos of them.

The Haaretz daily reported that the Palestinian man who was arrested confessed to authorities that the three of them had thrown firebombs at soldiers, without citing a source.

Israeli troops arrive at the scene of an alleged car-ramming attack in which two Israeli servicemen were injured on March 4, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Palestinian authorities later identified the two Palestinians who were shot dead as Amir Darraj, 20, and Yousef Inqawi, 20; they also named the third Palestinian who was arrested as Haitham Alqam, 20.

The two eyewitnesses said what they saw did not match up with the army’s conclusion that a car-ramming had taken place.

“I saw the car coming quickly down the road. I tried to stop it, but the driver apparently did not see me. A few seconds later, I saw it approach the soldiers and their jeeps,” said Abu Rahmeh, a Kafr Nima resident who said he was on his way to work when the incident occurred. “I then heard the car slam on the brakes and saw it swerve to the right, away from the soldiers, before crashing into them. Everything I witnessed clearly shows that what happened was an accident and that they tried to avoid hitting the soldiers.”

Deek, another Kafr Nima resident whose brother was arrested by the IDF the night before the alleged ramming, echoed Abu Rahmeh’s account.

Azmi Darraj, an uncle of Amir Darraj who was sitting in the passenger seat of the car that collided with the security forces, shared with The Times of Israel photos of what he described as skid marks that he said confirmed Abu Rahmeh and Deek’s account that the vehicle attempted to stop before hitting them.

Both Deek and Abu Rahmeh also said that the road was wet and visibility was poor when the incident occurred and pointed out that accidents on the road are frequent.

“There are no lights on that road and it is narrow. People here call it the road of death,” Deek said, asserting that several accidents take place on it each month.

Azmi Darraj says this image shows the car attempted to break before colliding with the Israeli security forces. (Credit: Azmi Darraj)

The IDF declined to respond to a series of detailed questions about the eyewitness accounts; it also refused to answer an inquiry about whether any of the three Palestinians had previously been involved in terrorist activity. The army instead sent a comment that restated its account on the day of the alleged ramming.

Abu Rahmeh said that immediately after the alleged ramming, the security forces shot one bullet at the Palestinians in the car, and then fired several rounds some five minutes later.

“Right after the crash, there was only one round fired, but then approximately five minutes later, there was a whole volley shot off,” he said.

A video posted on Facebook, which Deek said he filmed, appears to largely align with Abu Rahmeh’s account. In the footage, a car can be seen passing before a large boom is heard; thereafter, a bullet being fired is audible and four minutes and 15 seconds later, eight additional rounds are heard, and then one more 28 seconds later.

The IDF said it could not comment on the video because it was still investigating the incident.

Shlomo Brom, a retired IDF brigadier-general, said he did not feel comfortable evaluating the contents of the video, contending it could have been edited.

However, families of the Palestinians who were shot dead in the incident argued that the footage raises questions about what happened.

“Why were the soldiers unable to arrest my son in the many minutes after the first bullet was fired?” Mahmoud Darraj, Amir’s father, said. “This is a question that I need answered. If the army is saying that he was involved in an operation, I need it to show me evidence that proves that. Everything I’ve seen indicates that what occurred was simply an accident.”

Mahmoud Darraj speaking to a Palestinian news outlet on March 4, 2019. (Credit: Wattan News Agency)

Mahmoud said he was certain his son was on his way to a bakery he owns in Beitunia, a town outside of Ramallah, when the collision took place.

“His friends often pick him up and bring him to the bakery, where he helps me every morning bake hundreds of pastries,” he said. “I am sure he was going there.”

Amir, who also worked as a security guard for a school, was slated to marry his fiancée in late July.

Mahmoud and Yasser Inqawi, the uncle of Yousef Inqawi, also questioned the likelihood that three people would carry out a ramming attack.

“Does it make sense that three would do that?” Yasser said.

Brom said he had never heard of a situation in which three people carried out at a ramming in the same car. Alon Eviatar, a retired defense official, called such a situation “rare.”

“In shooting attacks, often there is more than one person in the car — one driving, another shooting and a third giving directions,” Eviatar said. “In ramming attacks, it’s almost always one person.”

Mahmoud also lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for declaring hours after the attack that Israel would demolish his home.

“How is it that he comes out and says our homes will be demolished before any investigation is completed? What right does he have to say anything before we know exactly what happened?” Mahmoud said. Amir lived in Mahmoud’s home.

Netanyahu had said in a televised statement in the morning of March 4: “We will do everything to speed up the demolition of these terrorists’ homes.”

A spokesman for Netanyahu declined to respond to Mahmoud’s comments.

In recent years, Israel has frequently demolished the homes of terrorists’ families.

Israel holds the practice of demolishing homes of terrorists’ families is an effective means of discouraging future attacks, though it has been criticized by human rights groups as a form of collective punishment and by some analysts and former defense officials as an ineffective deterrent measure.

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