Israeli Troops Kill
Palestinian Ramadan Drummer

"This is the height of brutality because they are attacking our culture, our customs," said a librarian. "The drummer is the most beautiful thing we have in Ramadan."

The Washington Post
Thursday, 28 November 2002
By John Ward Anderson

Ramadan Drummer

A traditional Ramadan drummer who wake up people before dawn to eat.
 

   Raed Faour and Jihad Natour, lifelong friends, were walking through the dark, narrow streets and alleys of the New Asker refugee camp in Nablus early today, banging their tambourine-like drums and singing a song to wake up the Muslim faithful and announce the approaching sunrise. 

The drummers, as the pair and others like them are known, are a fixture in Muslim neighborhoods during the holy month of Ramadan, when families arise before daybreak to eat a meal because their religion requires them to fast from sunup to sundown.

Just before 3 a.m., as they were singing a song praising the prophet Muhammad -- "Oh, the God of Muhammad," it went, "Take the worry from us!" -- several Israeli soldiers emerged from a hiding spot behind a taxi, aimed their guns at them and shouted in Arabic, "Stop! Stop!" Faour said in an interview. "They immediately started shooting," he said, and Natour hit the ground, shouting: "My brother Raed, I've been shot!"

Palestinians said that Natour, 22, an unemployed carpenter, died in the street after Israeli soldiers refused to allow an ambulance to pass through an army checkpoint to take him to a hospital. Residents were outraged that a drummer was killed while fulfilling a ritual that has been a part of Ramadan observances for generations.

"This is the height of brutality because they are attacking our culture, our customs," said a librarian, Naama Ajouri, 37. "The drummer is the most beautiful thing we have in Ramadan. He does marvelous work, and the children all listen for his voice and wake up to have a meal so they're not hungry all day long. I'd never heard such a nice voice as Jihad had."

An Israeli army spokeswoman said soldiers spotted the pair "and they were suspected because there was a curfew, and they were violating the curfew. The forces shouted at them to stop and fired a warning shot in the air, and when they refused to stop, they shot one of the suspects and he was killed."

"I don't think the soldiers knew who he was," the spokeswoman said. "It's not regular for people to walk in the street at that time of the night, and it raised questions. Two mistakes can be made. You can either shoot when you're not supposed to or not shoot when you should, and that's a judgment. It's a very violent city. We've arrested seven [would-be] suicide bombers in the city in last two weeks."

Faour, 28, an unemployed construction worker who has been a drummer during Ramadan for four years, said it was unlikely anyone could have mistaken them for anything else. Typically, since their duty is to wake people up, drummers make so much noise that they can be heard for several blocks in all directions, and Faour said his drum was loud enough "to wake people in the next village."

"Is the musaher [drummer] also a terrorist?" said Said Natour, 37, the older brother of Jihad. "They are creating terror when they kill a person like him. Where is the peace they are talking about? My brother was an innocent person. He never harmed anyone and was never arrested. They knew he was not armed. After all, they could hear him going around with a drum."

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with other obligations such as praying five times a day and making the pilgrimage to Mecca. During the fasting period, from dawn to dusk, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and smoking, so families typically wake up before sunrise to eat a meal, and then have a special dinner at night.

In more traditional neighborhoods, drummers walk through the streets announcing the coming fast and add to the spirit of the season. While the job is voluntary, residents often tip the drummers with food or cash when Ramadan is over.

Early today, while banging their drums, Faour said the pair sang their usual song: "Oh, listeners of my voice: Pray for the prophet Muhammad! Oh Mustafah," it went, using another name for the prophet, "because of your love, I can't sleep at night. He is lucky who goes to visit you!"

The shooting occurred as the drummers walked down Biliardo Street near the center of the refugee camp, a neighborhood of about 1,000 families in the eastern section of Nablus in the West Bank. Faour said that when the shots rang out and Natour fell, he darted about 30 feet down an alley and pressed himself flat in a shallow doorway. Soon, an Israeli soldier appeared at the top of the alley, sited his gun with a laser on Faour's forehead and ordered him to come out. Faour said he complied when the soldier promised not to shoot.

Faour said that he and Natour had halted when ordered to do so, but that the firing had begun "immediately" after the soldiers had shouted to stop. "If I had not gone inside the alley, they would have shot me, too," he said.

Faour said the soldiers ordered him to lift his shirt to check whether he was wired with an explosive belt. When they saw he was unarmed, Faour said, they threw him against a wall, knocking him out for about five minutes. When he came to, Faour said, he asked to see Natour but was hit in the head with gun and knocked unconscious again for about five more minutes. When he awoke, he said, he was taken in handcuffs to another part of the city. As he was led away, it was too dark to see if Natour was bleeding, he said, but his friend clearly was still alive.

Faour said he was detained until about 4:30 a.m. After his release, he returned to the street where his friend had been shot, he said, and found him in an alley, dead.

Amjad Rifai, 31, president of the camp council, said Israeli solders refused to allow an ambulance to assist Natour. He said an ambulance arrived at about 5:30 a.m. "This is an indication of how cheap our blood is to them," he said.

Faour said that today, the 22nd day of Ramadan, was the first time they had encountered soldiers during their rounds, and it would be his last day as a drummer.

 

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