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Fatal Drive for a West Bank Family

By Greg Myre

[IHT, Paris - 27 March 2003]:
BETHLEHEM, West Bank Israeli troops are a common sight on
Palestinian streets, and George Saadeh, a Palestinian school
principal, felt it prudent to slow down but sensed no imminent
danger as he drove his family past two army jeeps parked on the
side of a road near his home.

He had no way of knowing his timing was so bad it seemed to defy
the laws of probability. Moments earlier, Israeli troops had waged a
shootout that killed three Palestinian men traveling in a beige
Peugeot 305 sedan, including two members the militant group
Hamas, Palestinians said.

The Hamas men, Nader Jarawish, 35, and Ala Ayad, 24, were
wanted by Israel. In many similar cases, soldiers have acted after
receiving intelligence on the type of car a suspect is using, though
Captain Jacob Dallal, an Israeli Army spokesman, said he did not
know if this was the case in the Tuesday night shooting.

Saadeh, his wife and two daughters, were also in a beige Peugeot
305 sedan, and as they headed to the supermarket on a wet and
windy night, the soldiers apparently thought the car presented a
threat. The troops cut loose with automatic rifles, putting at least 30
rounds into the car, killing 12-year-old Christine Saadeh and
wounding the three other family members.

"We were stunned - we couldn't believe they were shooting at us,"
said Saadeh, 41, who was recovering Wednesday at Hadassah
Hospital in Jerusalem with gunshot wounds in his abdomen and
back. "I screamed that we were civilians. I looked behind me, and I
saw Christine had fallen to the floor."

Saadeh's wife, Najwa, suffered only scratches, and their 15-year-old
daughter, Marian, was hit in the knee.

Dallal said the first Palestinian car opened fire on the soldiers,
prompting the troops to shoot back. Saadeh's family then drove into
a gun battle and were hit unintentionally. "We do everything to avoid
having a firefight in the center of a city, but we came under attack,"
Dallal said.

But the Saadehs and Palestinian residents on Jamal Abdel Nasser
street, where the two cars came to a stop only 10 meters apart,
offered sharply different accounts.

The Saadehs, in separate interviews, said that they heard no
shooting as they approached the army vehicles and that no other
cars were immediately visible. The shooting erupted as the
Saadehs' car passed in front of the troops and then began turning a

Saadeh, 41, graduated from the University of Southern California in
1983 with a degree in aerospace engineering and then returned
home to teach. Last year he became the principal at the Shepherd's
School, a private, Greek Orthodox school with over 500 students,
kindergarten through high school.

When asked about the conflict, he did not speak with bitterness or
call for revenge, as victims of the violence sometimes do. He spoke
softly and with sadness about the inability of the two sides to live

He has Israeli friends in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, he said, but the
violence and travel restrictions now made visiting impossible. Still,
he sought to impart a message of coexistence at school.

"We teach our kids peace and love, and about democracy," he said.
"But people are just getting crazy nowadays. It's really a shame
what's going on."