Caught Red-Handed

Israel has arrested two more Palestinians it said were involved in the brutal lynching of two Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob in October, bringing the total arrests up to 15.

The front-page photos in the Hebrew dailies couldn’t have told the story more graphically: There was Abed al-Aziz Tzalha, 20, grinning in triumph, raising his bloody hands to the lynch mob in Ramallah. and there he was again, raising his handcuffed hands on command for the camera, expressionless, now in the custody of the Shin Bet.

Until now, nobody knew Tzalha’s name, but most of the world knew his face — and his hands. He became famous from that Oct. 12 photo — a symbol of the savagery to which the then-two-week-old intifada had descended.

Two Israeli reserve soldiers, Vadim Norzhich and Yosef Avrahami, took a wrong turn into Ramallah and were stopped by Palestinian police, who brought them to the Ramallah police station. A mob learned of the arrest, stormed the station, attacked Norzhich and Avrahami, then threw them out of the window. The crowd below then attacked the two with whatever weapons they could find.

By the time Norzhich and Avrahami were dead, their bodies mutilated, the crowd had grown from 1,000 to 2,000. Some danced on the Israelis’ blood. People applauded, chanted, held their babies aloft. It was like Carnaval in Rio.

Tzalha, 20, admitted to his captors that he ran with the mob into the police station, then began choking one of the soldiers while the victim was being beaten. When Tzalha saw that his hands were red with the soldier’s blood, he raised them out the window to the excited crowd below.

The scene was filmed by an Italian TV crew. The throwing of the soldiers out the window, the mob’s attack on them, and the celebration that followed the lynching was broadcast over and over on CNN.

The incident had a transforming effect on Israelis, extinguishing nearly all of the sympathy for the Palestinians that had existed in this country. As a destroyer of dovish sentiments, it surpassed even the Gulf War legend of Palestinians "dancing on the rooftops" as Scuds flew overhead on their way to Tel Aviv.

The photo of Tzalha, and the footage of the lynching, also featured prominently in Israel’s propaganda campaign for the intifada. They were Israel’s answer to the searing images of 12-year-old Palestinian Mohammed al-Dura crouching in terror behind his father, both of them caught in a crossfire between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers, before an Israeli bullet killed the boy.

Arrested along with Tzalha was Mohammed Nuara, 18, a guerrilla who admitted stabbing one of the two soldiers in Ramallah. Both were captured in Palestinian villages that are under Palestinian Authority civilian rule, but subject to Israeli security control.

In all, Israel has arrested 15 Palestinians involved in the lynching — mainly Palestinian policemen. Israeli security authorities have vowed not to rest until all the perpetrators are captured. Depending, though, on one’s definition of the word "perpetrator," that could make for a very long "wanted" list.