By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent
Muhammed Shehadeh, 45, was a former member of Fatah who later became a senior officer in the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad. He was killed last Wednesday night along with 'Imad al-Kamel, 'Isa Marzouk and Ahmad al-Balboul, also from Bethlehem. They were ambushed in one of the town's suburbs by Israeli troops dressed in civilian clothes and driving a civilian car. The Israeli raid came at a delicate time for the PA and its president, Mahmoud 'Abbas of Fatah. Egyptian mediators were trying to broker a truce that would calm the hostilities between Israel and Hamas in and around Gaza, a truce that Abbas had called for after violence spiraled there earlier this month.
"Our prime minister, Salam Fayyad, went to meet your Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And whom did they send? Amos Gilad [a lower-level official]. Barak won't even see Fayyad," the younger Shehadeh said, referring to last week's meeting of a trilateral monitoring committee on the peace process. "So you killed one Mohammed Shehadeh. But as former Hezbollah leader 'Abbas Mussawi said, each time a drop of blood falls to the ground from the body of a shahid [martyr], God knows how to use that drop. Now all of Bethlehem will become Muhammed Shehadeh."
Outside the Shehadeh household, pessimism, frustration and desperation are everywhere. It seems that the people of this relatively peaceful West Bank city have given up all hope of seeing results from the attempt to revive the peace process that the United States, Israel and the PA began at last year's Annapolis Summit. They view the process as dying rapidly, making way for another round of violence with Israel.
Shehadeh's funeral, which he shared with the other three assassinated militants, was one of the largest the city has seen in recent years. Palestinian security forces estimate that it was attended by no less of 250,000 people. "Me and my friends, we led this current intifada," said Abu Dib, who is serving in one of the PA security forces and says he is wanted by Israel for his role in the violence. "We are tired already. But these boys, they were 10 years old when the clashes began. Now they're 18, and they know nothing but war and violence with Israel." Abu Dib speaks of "a whole new generation that grew up in the territories" and is more violent and radical. "They will be the ones who will lead the next confrontation," he predicted.