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Israel's enemy within: Palestinian militants gird for battle

Part 3: Tensions rise between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

I asked Zubeidi if he and Jenin’s other militants were making specific preparations for war with the settlers. The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has more or less disarmed the militias that fought Israel in the second Intifada, so Zubeidi and his comrades may find it harder to obtain weapons if a new conflict in the West Bank erupts.

“Of course we are preparing,” he said. “It will be dependent on individuals — to bomb themselves [as suicide bombers]. And some small guns. If the guns are not available and explosives are not available we have experience using stones,” he added, referring to the legendary clashes of the first and second intifadas between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and the heavily armed Israeli Defense Forces.

He pointed out that it was mainly with the tireless throwing of stones in the first intifada that Israel agreed to the establishment of the first autonomous Palestinian areas and the government of the Palestinian Authority. But he also recalled that the guns used in the second intifada were not immediately available to the Palestinian fighters. Things could change quickly if a full-scale war with the settlers erupts.

“I don’t fight in the shadows,” Zubeidi said. “I am in the right. They are taking my freedom. They are oppressing me. They are taking our land. Why should I fight in the shadows? We, the Palestinian people, are fighting for our freedom.”

On the evening of Jan. 19, exactly two weeks after Zubeidi predicted a renewed war between Palestinians and settlers in the West Bank, a 34-year-old settler named Moshe Avitan was driving with his wife Sarah from their home in the settlement of Shvut Rachel — by chance, the same community that is home to American-born Jack Teitel, who was recently charged with 14 acts of terrorism, including murder — to a meeting in another settlement named Kochav Hashahar. It was dark on the West Bank roads, which are shared by both Palestinian and Israeli vehicles (although the Israeli government and military can keep Palestinian cars off the roads at a moment’s notice).

At four minutes to nine, Sarah’s mother called her on her cellphone. At that moment the car behind them accelerated and veered around them on the road.

“A few minutes before we arrived a car overtook us and started shooting at us,” Sarah told me a few days later. We were sitting in a waiting area in Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, just outside Jerusalem.

“I’ve been shot, I’ve been hurt,” Moshe cried out.

Even though he couldn’t see and blood was pouring out of his nose and out of a bullet hole in his cheekbone just below his left eye he managed to stop the car on the deserted road. The attackers drove on.

“Moshe’s been shot,” Sarah shouted into the phone to her mother.

Sarah jumped out of the car and ran round to Moshe’s side and asked him if he could lift himself over the gear shift and the handbrake into the passenger side. Still conscious, he dragged himself across the front seat. There was blood everywhere, “streaming out of his nose.” Sarah got into the driver’s seat and managed to dial emergency and put the paramedic on speakerphone. She began to drive the short distance toward Kochav Hashahar.

“Is he conscious?” the paramedic asked.

“I am, I’m conscious. I can’t see,” Moshe replied.

“Press a cloth to the wound and see if he has any more,” the paramedic told Sarah.

When she arrived at Kochav Hashahar Sarah was able to check Moshe’s body and found no other bullet holes. As instructed by the paramedic, she turned her husband’s head sideways. She took off one of the two shirts she was wearing and used it to staunch the bleeding until the ambulance arrived.

As we spoke, family members kept arriving at the hospital, thanking Sarah for saving Moshe’s life. “He kept me alive because he got the shot,” she said.