By IBRAHIM HAZBOUN
BEIT JALLA, West Bank – Harald Fischer, a German chiropractor, had made this small Christian town his home, raising three children with his Palestinian wife of 19 years and helping rehabilitate physically handicapped Palestinians.
On Thursday, Beit Jalla mourned Fischer, 68, who was killed by Israeli fire as he tried to help neighbors who were wounded when a rocket slammed into their home.
“With our blood and our spirit, we will redeem you, oh martyr,” chanted 2,000 Palestinian mourners as they carried the wooden casket through Beit Jalla’s streets. The procession was led by black-robed priests, and German flags were raised side-by-side with Palestinian banners. Palestinian doctors in white smocks stood by the side of the road, holding up signs in German saying they mourned their colleague.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who is no relation, said he was “shocked and horrified” by the killing. Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said Israel would permit a Geman representative to participate in an investigation of the death.
Neighbors said Fischer, a native of Gummersbach, near Cologne in western Germany, had prayed for reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis. “He was not a political person, but he always wished for peace,” said neighbor Nassim Zanim, 42.
In seven weeks of fighting, Beit Jalla has been rocketed repeatedly by Israel, usually in response to Palestinian gunmen shooting on Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood just across a ravine from the West Bank.
Fischer’s house on the outskirts of Beit Jalla is in the line of fire.
Fighting was particularly heavy Wednesday, with Israelis pounding Beit Jalla with rockets and large-caliber machine-gun fire. After the shooting began about 7:30 p.m., Fischer, his wife, Norma, 46, and their three children – ages 10, 15 and 17 – took cover under a stairwell. Several of their second-floor windows were shattered by bullets.
About 11:30 p.m., paramedics knocked on the door and told Fischer that his neighbor’s house had been hit by a rocket and that there were probably casualties. After the medics departed, Fischer left the relative safety of his home to see if he could help his neighbors. Fischer had walked just a few steps when he was killed, either by a rocket or large-caliber machine-gun fire that severed his left leg.
The street was deserted because of the intense fighting, and it took two hours, until about 1:30 a.m. local time Thursday, before Fischer’s bullet-riddled body was discovered by Palestinian police and taken to a nearby hospital.
Hours after the shooting, his wife, wearing black clothes of mourning, leaned against the wall of her home for support as she spoke. “We are facing a real war here,” she said.
The Fischers married in 1981, the year Fischer came to Beit Jalla with Lifegate, a charitable group that helps handicapped Palestinians. Later, Fischer opened a private practice as a chiropractor.
His pastor, Jadallah Shihadeh, a Lutheran, said that during the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising, Fischer helped many injured Palestinians with their rehabilitation.
Few foreigners have been killed in the seven weeks of Israeli-Palestinian fighting that has claimed more than 220 lives, most of them Palestinian. Two Americans with Israeli citizenship have been killed by Palestinians.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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