A film by Suhaib Abu Doulah
The moment the first bomb exploded, Dr Fathi Shaqaqi’s fate was sealed.
On January 22, 1995, months of planning came to fruition when two members of Islamic Jihad, an armed Palestinian separatist group, disguised themselves as Israeli soldiers and headed to a busy crossroads between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
It was Sunday and Beit Lid junction was full of Israeli soldiers returning to duty after the weekend. At 9:30am, the first bomber walked into a group of soldiers and set off his explosive belt.
Three minutes later, as rescuers arrived, a second suicide bomb was detonated.
An estimated 21 Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack, along with the two bombers.
Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, allegedly ordered that Shaqaqi, Islamic Jihad’s founder, and general secretary, be killed immediately.
“Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin went to Beit Lid to view the situation,” Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman told Al Jazeera.
“He saw the bodies. He saw the protesters who were demonstrating against his control of the situation, demanding him to do something”.
Nine months later Shaqaqi would be assassinated outside a hotel in Malta – but the circumstances surrounding his death, and who was responsible, remain something of a mystery.
As an adult, Shaqaqi became a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which advocated reforming Arab political systems by creating a society governed by Islamic laws and morals. He went to university and worked as a maths teacher, before going on to study medicine in Egypt.
But by 1981, Shaqaqi had become increasingly frustrated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s rejection of violence as a means to combat Israeli occupation of Palestine. He left to form his own organisation, Islamic Jihad.
Islamic Jihad was the first Islamic resistance group to be founded in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank. The group’s aim was – and still is – to fight the existence of Israel and to form an Islamic, Palestinian state within the pre-1948 borders of Palestine.
The group’s activities made Shaqaqi the subject of frequent interrogation and eventually imprisonment by Israeli authorities in 1986.
The following year six Islamic Jihad members escaped from a prison in Gaza, leading to a fierce battle with Israeli forces, which helped to spark the mass protest movement now known as the first Palestinian Intifada.
Surprisingly, Shaqaqi was released only two years into his four year jail sentence.
He was then deported to Lebanon before moving to Syria as a “guest” of then-president Hafez al-Assad.
It was from Damascus that Shaqaqi plotted the Beit Lid attack.
A Mossad assassin being caught in Damascus - the only outcome is death.
“The Beit Lid attack was the most devastating after the signing of the Oslo Accords,” says Nafed Azzam, a current Islamic Jihad member.
According to Ronen Bergman, the task of assassinating Shaqaqi fell to Kidon, a department of the Israeli national security agency, Mossad, thought to be responsible for executing opponents – but the challenge was how to do so in Syria.
“Damascus is a very risky arena for Mossad to work. A Mossad assassin being caught in Damascus – the only outcome is death,” he says.
Bergman says that at the time, secretive political negotiations were also taking place between Syria and Israel that could not be put at risk.
An opportunity presented itself in September 1995 when Shaqaqi was returning from a trip to visit Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.
Shaqaqi travelled via Malta. He checked into the Diplomat Hotel at 10:20 in the morning but in less than five hours, he was dead, shot in the head five times at close range by two men on a motorcycle.
Even now, the Maltese officials who investigated the case at the time are reluctant to state categorically who was responsible for Shaqaqi’s death.
“Mossad might be the one who killed him, but we did not rule out a role from the Libyan secret services,” said Dr Anthony Abela Medici, former director of the Malta Police’s Forensic Science Laboratory.
“We had information about a tense relationship between Islamic Jihad and Gaddafi during this period. We cannot confirm which foreign side killed him,” he told Al Jazeera.
More than two decades after Shaqaqi’s death, Islamic Jihad maintains its presence in the occupied territories, continuing its campaign against Israel outside the political process.
Over the years it has claimed responsibility for more than 30 suicide bombings of both military and civilian targets and continues to be supported by Palestinians angered by the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank, illegal Israeli settlements, intransigence over the peace process – indeed Israel’s very existence.
Despite Maltese prevarication over how he died, Ronen Bergman seems very clear that he was assassinated by Israeli intelligence and, as such, his death must be ascribed to Mossad as a further extra-judicial killing.