Forty-Seven Israeli Soldiers Saved by Palestinian Policemen

On Sept. 26, 1996 after Israeli troops opened fire on unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and Palestinian police, Palestinian forces besieged the Israeli garrison protecting the alleged site of "Joseph's Tomb," an isolated position ringed by tall buildings.

Six Israeli soldiers were killed and reinforcements in armored personnel carriers were unable to relieve the survivors. Palestinian police then witnessed the surrender of the 47 remaining Israeli troops, who raised their hands in defeat.

"We could have killed them all if we had wanted to," stated one member of Force 17, the elite combat unit of the Palestinian Authority, which controlled the entrances to the "Joseph's Tomb" site. Another Palestinian officer added: "We are very proud. They said the Israelis were the invincible army, and in the end we beat them."

The day started in Nablus, in the West Bank, with a crowd of Palestinian marchers protesting against the opening of the Hasmonean tunnel in Jerusalem.

In Nablus, a contingent of Israeli soldiers stationed at Joseph's Tomb, in the Balata refugee camp, opened fire.

Palestinian police said they at first tried to keep the protesters away, but when the Israeli soldiers began shooting at the demonstrators, Palestinian policemen returned the fire to defend the civilians.

"We had them (the Israelis) surrounded on all sides," explained one commander. "We used loudspeakers to tell them that further resistance was useless."

After the surrender, Palestinians climbed onto the site to remove the Israeli flag and raise the Palestinian flag. Once inside the Israeli compound, the Palestinian policemen protected the helpless Israelis' from the outraged crowd.

'They are not our enemies, but they are not our friends. They are our cousins, and cousins can fight each other," a Palestinian policemen said.

Their morale was very low," said another Palestinian. "They were frustrated. They asked us to keep the civilians away so they would not see that they had been taken prisoner. They said they felt like captive animals."

After overwhelming the Israeli defenders, Palestinian officers offered them food, water and even portable phones with which to telephone their families to tell them they were alive.

Joseph's Tomb, originally a mosque, was taken over by Jewish settlers who declared it to be the burial place of the Biblical patriarch, Joseph, despite suspicions that it is really the burial place of an Arab sheikh. The Israeli commanders knew that Joseph's Tomb could not be defended, yet the government insisted it should remain under Jewish control even after the army's withdrawal from Nablus.

The Israeli authorities have not openly admitted that their soldiers surrendered; they merely conceded that, after the fighting, the garrison was being "protected" by the Palestinian police, led by Palestinian Commander Jibril Rajub, who helped to safeguard the Israeli soldiers.

The next day, Sept. 27, the Israeli garrison awoke to find itself still in the custody of the Palestinians. The Israelis had taken the precaution of not raising their flag again, which allowed Palestinian officers to tell residents that they had gone. All 47 Israeli soldiers were eventually returned to their lines unharmed.

Israeli army Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shachak subsequently fired Israeli Col. Tzvika, the senior officer at the site of the Israeli surrender at "Joseph's Tomb."

Copyright©1996 Independent History and Research

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