Death in Bethlehem, made in America
Nothing to do with us, say US manufacturers of weapons inflicting random death on Palestinians
By Robert Fisk in Bethlehem
15 April 2001

Lockheed Martin of Florida and the Federal Laboratories of Pennsylvania have made quite a contribution to life in the municipality of Bethlehem. Or, in the case of Lockheed, death. Pieces of the US manufacturer's Hellfire air-to-ground missile lie in the local civil defence headquarters in Bethlehem less than two months after it exploded in 18-year-old Osama Khorabi's living room, killing him instantly. The missile engine, fuel pipe and shreds of the wiring system have been sorted into plastic bags by ambulance drivers and paramedics, alongside shrapnel from dozens of US-made fuses for shells fired by Israeli tanks into the Christian village of Beit Jalla.

Israeli troops also regularly fire American-made CS gas rounds at Palestinians in Bethlehem itself. Palestinians claim the gas has caused serious breathing difficulties among children after the rounds were fired at stone-throwing youths near Rachel's tomb. The cartridges and gas canisters are labelled "Federal Laboratories, Saltsburg, Pennsylvania 15681" and are stated on the metal to be "long range projectiles 150 yards". The rounds, show the US manufacturers' instructions on the side, contain "tear gas which is highly irritating to eyes, nose, skin and respiratory system". And continue: "If exposed, do not rub eyes, seek medical assistance immediately."

The Israeli tank crews routinely send shells into Beit Jalla when Palestinian gunmen fire Russian-made Kalashnikov rifles from the village at the neighbouring Jewish settlement of Gilo itself illegally built on land belonging to the people of Beit Jalla and most of these rounds have US fuses. All are coded: "FUZE P18D M549ACO914H014-014" (in some cases the last digit reads "5"). One of these shells killed Dr Harald Fischer, a German citizen living in Beit Jalla, last November. But the name of the firm making these fuses is not included in the code.

Lockheed has already been implicated in the massacre of four children and two women in Lebanon when an Israeli Apache helicopter, made by Lockheed, fired a Lockheed-made Hellfire 1 missile into an ambulance in southern Lebanon in 1996. Computer plates from the air-to-ground rocket whose advertising logo read: "All For One and One For All"- were subsequently taken to the US by the Independent on Sunday and identified as a Hellfire, by Boeing executives who were then joint-makers of the missile.

The engine of the missile which struck Osama Khorabi's home in February (it was, say the Israelis, a "pre-emptive strike" against the village although Mr Khorabi was no militant and his only ambition was to join the Beit Jalla theatre project) survives. It carries the coding: "189 76-1334987 DMW90E003-007" and its "lot" number (the batch of missiles from which it comes) is 481. On a small steel tube at the top of the engine is the code: "12903-9225158 MFR-5S443." A small, heavy cylindrical dome which appears to come from the same projectile is labelled "Battery Thermal" and carries the code: "P/N 10217556 E-W62, Lot No. EPH-2-111, Date of MFG (manufacture) 08776, MFG Code 81855". The codes are followed by the initials: "U.S." Other missile parts include damaged fragments of a hinged fin and a mass of wiring.

Palestinian civil defence workers are ambulance drivers and paramedics; they have dutifully collected thousands of pieces of shrapnel from bullets, tank rounds, gas projectiles and missiles after Israeli bombardments, but without trying to discover their provenance. "We are humanitarian workers, not scientists," one of them told me in Bethlehem yesterday. Many of the fragments carry codings in the Roman alphabet and appear to be also of American manufacture. They include what looks a missile part coded "SPO 2-95 RAD (then a digit obliterated during the rocket's explosion) -89".

The Israelis used Apache helicopters to fire missiles into Beit Jalla on at least six occasions including the one that killed Mr Khorabi and the Apaches are made by Lockheed at their massive arms plant at Orlando, Florida, home of the Hellfire 1 and 2 missiles.

Palestinians are still trying to discover the nature of a gas canister now regularly used by Israelis containing what they call "brown smoke". Obviously feared by stone-throwers, it is described as having a far more potent effect even than the Federal Laboratories' Pennsylvania-made gas. At least one gas canister found in Bethlehem is covered in Hebrew markings and carries the code 323 1-99. It does not appear to be of US manufacture.

American arms makers deny all responsibility when their weapons have slaughtered innocent civilians. Lockheed's scornful reaction to the 1996 Hellfire-1 bloodbaths in southern Lebanon was to point out that "no one has ever sued a bullet-manufacturer" after a murder. And it's true that the last words stamped on the Pennsylvania gas cartridges, after a warning that they must not be fired at individuals, make the usual disclaimers. "Federal Laboratories," it says, "will assume no responsibility for the misuse of this device."

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