Palestinian villagers grieve for their Israeli friend, shot down as he waited for breakfast

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The Independent Online

Red-eyed and hovering on the brink of tears, Mursi Amira admitted he had not slept all night. Like so many others whose lives have been scarred by the brutality of the Middle East conflict, he was suffering a personal loss.

But what made his case different from so many thousands of others is that he is a Palestinian Arab from the West Bank. And yet, openly and unapologetically, he was grieving over the death of an Israeli Jew.

Mursi Amira, 22, is an amiable, burly young man who has just opened a small restaurant with his brother close to their home in Ni'lin, a ragged Arab village one mile inside the 1967 Green Line where the Israeli-occupied West Bank meets Israel.

His friend, Amos Tajouri, a taxi driver and father of three, was 60 years old. He lived four miles away on the other side of the line – once an open border, but now blocked by an Israeli army checkpoint – in Modi'in, a graceless town of mini-mall shops and Lego-like apartment blocks. Religion, history, war and a four-decade age gap separated the two men. And yet they were friends.

"He was one of us," said Mursi, lighting yet another cigarette. "He knew our culture well. The only thing he didn't do was pray with us." Around him sat a dozen friends and relatives, nodding in agreement.

He recalled how, on his restaurant's opening day, Amos walked in, ordered a cola, handed him 100 shekels (£16) and insisted he keep the change. He described how Amos would lend his silver Renault 305 to villagers. Though not rich, he was, it seems, a generous man.

At 10.30am on Thursday, Amos Tajouri was sitting outside in glorious sunshine at Mursi's new restaurant. He had just ordered a breakfast of eggs and sausage, which Mursi Amira was cooking inside.

"I had just put the eggs on the gas when I heard about seven shots," said Mursi. "I ran outside and found Amos lying with his face down on the ground.

"There was blood in his head, face and chest. He had been shot in the head. I yelled at him 'Amos, Amos!' but he was clearly dead." He spotted a man fleeing through the cacti and olive trees in a field opposite, a gun in his hand. Israeli police later said that the assassin – or assassins – used a 9mm pistol.

Since the start of the intifada, it has been dangerous for a Palestinian to be overheard expressing sympathy for an Israeli, especially in the hotbeds of resistance such as Nablus, Hebron or the Gaza Strip. Those deemed to be collaborators with the occupiers face possible death. But the people of Ni'lin were not afraid to say what they thought about the killing of Amos Tajouri, which they did not doubt was the work of a Palestinian. "The whole village is angry," said Mursi. This was "not a good act, and we denounce it", said 74-year-old Hussein Kana'an, returning from Friday prayers at the village mosque. The mayor, Taha Khawaja, publicly condemned the killing: "He's an old man who came every day to the village. We should win over people like him, not kill them." When the village found out what had happened, people gathered outside the restaurant – Palestinians weeping over a dead Israeli.

The voices of lunacy increasingly dominate the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Extremist Israelis denounce Arabs as "cockroaches", and shrug off their army's practice of routinely shooting dead unarmed Palestinians, including children, or bombing their towns with F-16s.

Extremist Palestinians scrawl bloodcurdling graffiti on their walls showing heroic suicide bombers, glorifying in the slaughter of Israeli "pigs". But there are still places where the two sides view one another with kinder eyes.

Born in Libya, Amos Tajouri was one of Israel's Sephardi Jews – Jews of Middle Eastern or North African origin – who spoke fluent Arabic. He was culturally closer to the Palestinians than to many Israelis.

Until the intifada began, many of Ni'lin's 6,000 residents worked in Israel, and Israelis visited Ni'lin to buy and sell. Amos Tajouri had tried to keep this going, working as Ni'lin's outlet to Israel. "Ask anyone in the shops here," said Mustafa Amira. "He was the village's link to Israel. We respected him." So what was the point of killing him? Some in Ni'lin suspect it was Palestinian militants trying to draw the village into the conflict.

Mursi Amira was thinking about Amos' family. "It is difficult for me to call them. I know they're angry but I would like to send my condolences – through your newspaper. And I hope they accept them."