Two views: a mother and a sniper

In Mideast, the UN says 20 Palestinian youths have died facing Israeli fire in the past two weeks.

As far as his parents are concerned, 14-year-old Mohammed Nabil Daoud, a ninth-grader and a boy scout, died knowing he would sacrifice himself for the Palestinian cause.

On Oct. 1, the boy's friends told the bereaved parents that Mohammed was hit twice by rubber-tipped bullets, but refused to stop throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Then an Israeli sniper using standard ammunition shot him and killed him.

The boy's mother, Mona Ibrahim Daoud, sits with tired eyes and her hair shrouded in a head scarf under a framed needlepoint that reads, "God bless our home."

On the day her boy died, she made a special sweet dish. She was eating a little piece of it when a man came to tell her about Mohammed.

"All of us are ready to sacrifice ourselves," she says, referring to the three generations of her family crowded into her sitting room. "But stones are not enough. We need weapons."

* * *

On Oct. 1, Israeli infantryman Sgt. Tal Tovar, a gangly soldier with blond curly hair, had an excellent view of the area where Mohammed was killed. His position is on a hill overlooking a junction on the outskirts of this West Bank city where Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters have clashed almost daily since the end of September.

Sgt. Tovar is a sniper, but he and his commander are adamant that Israeli troops could not have killed Mohammed if he was, as his parents say, an unarmed boy throwing stones.

"The last thing I want to do is to kill someone who doesn't want to hurt me or our soldiers," Tovar says. "In my opinion a child who throws rocks at a soldier is still innocent."

His commander, Lt. Col. Erez Winner, insists that his snipers must seek his permission by radio before taking a shot, except when the conflict gets intense. In those instances - such as on Oct. 1 - Colonel Winner says the snipers may only shoot at armed opponents who are firing on Israeli soldiers.

Tovar acknowledges that he and his colleagues have shot armed Palestinians in the building where Mohammed was killed. They invite this reporter to peer through the scope of Tovar's rifle. It seems easy to tell whether someone in the sights is armed or not.

* * *

Sorting out how Mohammed actually died will take a careful investigation, if such a thing ever takes place. For now, he takes his place among a number of young Palestinians who have been killed since sustained violence broke out 14 days ago.

The United Nations Children's Fund, as of this Wednesday, reported that 22 young people under the age of 18 have died and more than 1,000 injured in the violence. That means roughly a quarter of those who have been killed are minors, a reality that undergirds Palestinian charges that the Israelis are using excessive force to contain the unrest.

Israeli soldiers counter that they are following strict rules of engagement in addressing all-out assaults by youths and men throwing stones, backed up by others using pistols, rifles, and automatic weapons.

Lt. Amit Meiselles asks a visitor "to understand that this situation isn't easy." Even though Israel's soldiers are better armed, better protected, and more disciplined, it is no picnic to sit in an armored jeep facing wave upon wave of stones, the flame-bursts of Molotov cocktails, and occasional gunfire. A soldier in such a situation "is scared, he has fear, but he knows he is not alone," says Lieutenant Meiselles.

Their colleagues are on hills, on top of buildings, and spread out over the landscape, ready to kill armed Palestinians or those who threaten the life of an Israeli.

* * *

Mohammed was not ignorant about the forces arrayed against him. His parents say he was deeply moved by the death, on Sept. 30, of a friend in the neighborhood. That boy was also shot, apparently by an Israeli sniper.

Mrs. Daoud and her husband Nabil Ali Daoud, a construction engineer, say Mohammed put on clean clothes and new shoes on Oct. 1 and refused his mother's orders to stay home. His father was away on business.

There had been disturbances for two days and Mohammed would not be deterred from joining his friends in the streets.

Before leaving the house, he spoke to his mother about the Islamic belief that a martyr absolves the sins of many of his relatives. He was determined to confront the Israelis, his parents say, in order to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of two Muslim shrines atop a small plateau in Jerusalem's Old City. The area is deeply revered by both Muslims and Jews, and a right-wing Israeli politician angered Muslims on Sept. 28 by visiting the area around the mosques accompanied by hundreds of police.

Palestinians see themselves as the guardians of these shrines and they have been warning Muslims around the world that the Al-Aqsa mosque is under Israeli threat. The visit by Ariel Sharon, the politician, seemed to embody their fears.

* * *

Winner, the commander of Tovar's and Meiselles's infantry battalion, says the Israel Defense Forces have been refining strategies for countering the sort of assaults they are now facing. The first step is to protect soldiers as thoroughly as possible and to respond with rubber-tipped bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades - loud, scary explosives that don't fling shrapnel.The second step is sniper fire to remove the most deadly assailants.

The third recourse is arrayed on the hill behind Tovar's position: two tanks, a heavy machine gun, a grenade launcher, and a mortar. Helicopter gunships are not far away. Until now, Winner hasn't had to put much of this equipment into use. For now it is just for show, a warning to the Palestinians that escalation will invite escalation.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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