Muhammad Issa Maharaza: Frightening ordeal (Photo: Samih Shaheen)
Photo: Samih Shahin

Palestinian cab driver relates hijacking, shooting incident

Six IDF soldiers drove through Dahariya in cab they stole from Muhammad Issa Maharaza, while he was bound in the back seat. Maharaza describes to Ynet what happened during ride, which ended in near-fatal shooting of Palestinian youth. 'They asked his name and when he told them, they shot him' he says

"I heard one of the soldiers ask the guy his name. When he answered there was suddenly a shot and then the soldier jumped into the cab and yelled 'Drive! Drive away!"


Palestinian taxi driver Muhammad Issa Maharaza, whose vehicle was hijacked by IDF soldiers in the West Bank village of Dahaniya Thursday while he was held handcuffed and blindfolded in the backseat, revealed details of the incident to Ynet on Friday.


The soldiers, who were dropped off by helicopter to carry out a patrol in the village, took the taxi for an apparent joyride, which ended in the near-fatal shooting of a Palestinian youth who soldiers involved claim was mistaken for a fugitive.


Five soldiers and one officer from the Lavi Battalion of the Kfir Brigade were arrested for involvement in the incident, the details of which were published first on Ynet Friday morning.


The six are suspected of several severe offenses including unlawful confinement and abduction, aggravated assault, unlawful use of weapons, operating outside their authority to the point of endangering state security, lying during questioning and obstructing justice.


According to the investigations thus far, it appears that the officer decided to steal a Palestinian taxi and carry out a raid in the village without authorization.


'They took my cab at gunpoint' (Photo: Samih Shaheen)


Soldiers stopped a taxi at random, told its passengers to get out and tied up and blindfolded the driver. From what please gathered so far it appeared that at a certain point a Palestinian carrying a shovel neared the vehicle and the troops called to him to stop. When the man failed to stop, the commander, apparently feeling threatened, ordered the soldiers to open fire. After wounding him, they left him bleeding on the street and fled the scene.


Witness' story

Maharaza's testimony sheds light on the incident: "Yesterday (Thursday) at around 10:00 am, when I was driving four laborers, a group of six masked soldiers jumped before the car suddenly. They pointed their weapons at me and one of them yelled at me 'Turn off your car!' After I did, they kept their weapons aimed at me and made the passengers get out. Then they asked me if I spoke Hebrew. When I said no, they made me tell the laborers to go and took my ID card."


Maharaza, 21, stressed that all the passengers had legal work permits, since he prefers not to have "headaches with the Israelis."


One of the soldiers then turned to Maharaza and said, "We want to use your car, and we have to handcuff and blindfold you. We need to take a drive around Dahariya and then we'll bring you back here," the cab driver related, adding that he couldn't tell whether the soldier's tone was polite or threatening.


The frightened driver said that he feared for his life multiple times during the ride. "We were in the Wadi Jamri area, south of Dahariya. One soldier drove and another sat next to him. They sat me in the middle of the back seat between four soldiers. I saw that near the settlement of Teneh, the two soldiers in the front took off their uniform shirts.


"After changing their shirts, they turned the car towards the center of town. I saw we were stopping in front of a block factory called Harhash. After a short stop we kept going."


'Scared for my life'

During the whole ride, Maharaza said one soldier held his head so he couldn't see the route, but he managed to see anyway. "When I tried to raise my head to see better, someone hit me with the butt of his gun. They drove to the center of Dahariya, then turned around at the municipality and headed back towards where they kidnapped me."


According to Maharaza's testimony, the soldiers were apparently searching after a Palestinian youth who works at a stone factory, because after stopping at Harhash, they continued on to a second stone factory, where the shooting took place. Maharaza said the soldiers entered Nazmi Shalabi's factory, and "one soldier got off at the entrance and asked a boy (Shalabi's son) his name. When he answered, there was a shot, then the soldier got back in the car and yelled at the soldier driving to get out of here fast."


The soldiers drove for another few minutes, then abandoned the vehicle with Maharaza still tied up in the back seat, close to the stop where they had picked him up. "It took me a few minutes to free myself, but I managed, and then drove straight to the factory where the boy was shot. They said there that he was critically wounded."


Maharaza then went to report the incident with the Palestinian police, and when he returned home the father of the boy that was shot was waiting for him. "He said the Israeli police were looking for me. I went to the Ramadin checkpoint and soldiers transferred me to the Kiryat Arba police, where I gave testimony and they told me I should come back to be questioned by the Shin Bet in 10 days."


Although the soldiers were not extremely violent, he still feared for his life, even after the ordeal was over, Maharaza stressed. "I didn't know if I was still scared, or more worried about the boy that was shot. It was really scary. It was very tense in the cab, even though I'm not sure if it was coming more from me or from the soldiers, " he said.


פרסום ראשון: 07.27.07, 21:08
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