Jul 06 2000

Rule of the thugs

Published by at 5:41 am under Articles

It is 12:30 p.m. on Friday, June 30 in Ramallah. Raji Saqr, an armed 29 year old from the nearby Amari refugee camp, enters the Duqmaq Butchery and asks for the owner. An elderly client sitting on a stool says that the owner went to pray in a nearby mosque. Who is around, the armed man asks? The old man informs him that only the owner’s daughter Ahlam is inside.

Raji goes behind the counter, fires a few rounds in the air, and then fires two bullets from close range into Ahlam’s chest.

The death of Ahlam Duqmaq turns the twin cities of Ramallah and Al Bireh and the nearby Al Amari refugee camp upside down. For the next three days a strike is observed, daily protests demand the death penalty for the killer, and youths ransack stores and advertising signs on roads. 

The Duqmaq family, well connected to the Fatah ruling party, refuses to bury their daughter until they are certain that justice is carried out. The Palestinian state security court convenes late Sunday night and by early Monday morning the death sentence is given to Raji, who has by now given himself up to the authorities. His brother, who had earlier terrorized the Duqmaq family, is still at large. Ahlam is buried late Monday night and the situation begins to return to normal by Tuesday.

I attended the wake, and found Ahlam’s fiance walking around dazedly. He had been jailed by the Israelis shortly after their engagement and she waited four years until his release ten days ago. They were supposed to be married at the end of the month.

I paid my respects to Buthina, Ahlam’s sister and her husband Ahmad Sayyad, both respected lawyers and activists in the human rights field as well as with the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners. I wanted to know why these human rights lawyers and their families insisted on the death penalty for the killer.

I was shocked by what I discovered on my visit .

I uncovered a story of terror, mafia style corruption, political patronage, and a complete disregard for the law by both politicians and citizenry.

According to the Duqmaq family, the trouble began more than a month earlier when their son, Jihad, got into disagreement with a gang of car thieves from the Amari camp. The car thieves continued harassing him, often at gun point, until one day he stood up to the thugs knocked one of them down to the applause of the terrorized residents of Al Bireh.

In response to this humiliation the Amari gang sought revenge, but since Jihad and his brothers were spirited away to Jerusalem for their safety, the girls in the family took the brunt of the physical attacks. The thugs came to the Duqmaq home several times demanding Jihad. When they didn’t find him they brutally beat the girls and shot up the house. Attempts to resist by the girls were met with heavy blows on the head.

This harassment was reported to the Palestinian security as well as the political leadership. President Arafat is said to have ordered the arrest of the gang members. He reportedly refused to leave Ramallah until he was assured the gang members were in jail.

Arafat finally left after security officials lied to him and said that the gang members were behind bars.

In fact the reported arrests were never made, and the gunmen continued to roam the streets until Ahlam was brutally murdered in the middle of the day.

At the Duqmaq home one hears hair raising stories of years of a revolving door policy in Palestinian jails. Criminal members of these gangs rarely spend more than one night in prison before they are released due to the corruption of senior PA officials. There are countless stories of high officials in the Palestinian intelligence and security forces taking money from thugs for turning a blind eye to car thefts and the use of illegal weapons.

Ahlam Duqmaq’s murder was instantly blamed on the governor of Ramallah for his lax position regarding the blatant unauthorized possession and use of guns in Al Amari camp. Four days after the murder, the governor of Ramallah visited the bereaved family and informed them that he had presented his resignation to President Arafat.

But this resignation offer didn’t seem to cool the anger of the family or terrorized residents who continued to demand the enforcement of the capital punishment as the only way to ensure deterrence and to keep such killers off the streets. For them it is either the rule of the law or the rule of the thugs.

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