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This Palestinian Protester Wasn’t Endangering Anyone. Israeli Police Shot Him Dead

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The video clip: A group of about a dozen young people wearing black hoodies is scattered in the street, most of them sheltering behind a charred dumpster on which they have placed an improvised launcher for firecrackers. Bright flashing lights and the sounds of explosives. Three more young men stand on the side, throwing stones. At a distance, and out of the frame, is another group of young people of around the same age – Border Police officers, about 10 in number, armed and armored from head to toe. They are shooting live rounds at the first group; the gunfire can be heard.

Amer Aruri, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, has measured the distance between the police officers and the young Palestinians: 90 meters. No firecrackers hit the officers, nor did any rocks, he says. According to Aruri’s investigation, the young men shot off 14 firecrackers and the officers fired seven live rounds at them. Firecrackers versus bullets – that’s the whole story.

It was just hours after the massacre in Jenin, on January 26, during which nine Palestinians, including a 60-year-old woman, were killed by Israeli security forces, and the entire West Bank had erupted in turmoil. Young people from A-Ram, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, also came out to protest, at the entrance to their town. They dragged the dumpster into place, using it as a barricade, near a store called the Kingdom of Smoking.

A unit of the Border Police, which had been dispatched from a nearby base, stood facing them, dozens of meters away, and opened fire: first with tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets and then live rounds. Suddenly one of the rock throwers collapsed near the dumpster, apparently hit in the abdomen by an officer’s bullet. The group retreated, carrying the wounded man to a car parked nearby. Then a second person fell to the ground. Yousef Muhaisen. Screaming, the group rushed to pick him up too and carried him to the same car, which sped away.

Muhaisen succumbed to his injuries; the other man was still being treated at the Palestinian government hospital in Ramallah, as of earlier this week.

A-Ram is one of the locales that suffered the most from the construction of the cursed separation barrier, which began some 20 years ago. The huge cement wall slashed the town in two, leaving part of it in Jerusalem and the rest in the West Bank. Even the town’s main street was bisected. The result: From a Jerusalem suburb, A-Ram has become a slum whose wretchedness cries out to the heavens from every corner. From the top of the small mountain on which it is planted, one can see part of the separation barrier snaking along in the valley below. One particularly bizarre sight is that of an abandoned dwelling next to the wall that has become a haunted house – abandoned like the entire steep, spectacular valley where people once hiked. No one dares to approach now.

The road to the Muhaisen family’s home is paved with piles of trash whipped up by the cold wind that pummeled the area earlier this week when we visited. But the entrance to the neglected house at the edge of town is quite astonishing: It leads straight into a long, narrow living room, whose walls and ceiling are all wrapped in crimson fabric with a striped design, which matches the reddish upholstery on the couches.

In the darkness of the room a space heater spreads its meager warmth. Yahya Muhaisen, 56, the bereaved father, is barefoot. The descendant of refugees from the village of Iraq al-Manshiyya, which is today Kiryat Gat, he grew up in the Al Arroub refugee camp and moved to A-Ram 28 years ago. He and his wife, Manal, 46, also from Al Arroub, have three surviving sons and one daughter. Yousef was their second youngest child.

For years Yahya held down two jobs in Jerusalem, working as a guard at the Old City’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and at Makassed Hospital, until about eight years ago when he was denied an entry permit to Israel – ostensibly for security reasons that were never explicitly explained to him, he says. The Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that oversees holy sites in Jerusalem, and people at Makassed found alternative jobs for Yahya in A-Ram, guarding a college and the hospital’s outpatient clinic, but his life is no longer what it used to be. Even now, when he is unwell and supposed to undergo a cardiac bypass, Israel will not permit him to go to the hospital where he worked for years, the only place where his health insurance will cover the surgery.

Yousef, who was killed two days before his 23rd birthday, had worked at a sandwich restaurant in town, delivering food on a motor scooter. Although he had successfully completed his high school matriculation exams, he refused to continue studying. In recent years he did everything to find a wife, for whom he intended to build a home on the roof of his family’s house. Yahya says he already had a “candidate,” but work on the home had not yet begun.

Recently, when there were demonstrations in town, Yousef would join in, like all the young locals. That was also the case on that Thursday a few weeks ago. Yousef went to work in the morning and then discovered that a general strike had been called in A-Ram to protest the killings in Jenin. He returned home, showered, changed and left home again, without saying where he was going. Soon afterward, his father went out to withdraw money at the l bank and met his son on the street. He tells us that he tried to persuade him to come home to eat, but Yousef refused. Yahya thinks he may have gone to the restaurant, which was closed, to prepare food for the next day, and may even have tried to make it home, but starting at noon the Border Police arrived and Yousef would have had difficulty getting home.

One way or another, his parents will never see their son again.

The young man smiling in the pictures in the tiny memorial corner at one end of the family’s crimson living room had joined the young men throwing rocks and firecrackers at the officers who invaded their town. It was around 3 P.M. About an hour earlier, his father began calling his cellphone, to no avail; the device was turned off. He called friends of his son, but they didn’t know where Yousef was. Yahya began to worry. He knew there were clashes at the entrance to town.

After a while, Yousef’s younger brother, Abdel Rahman, 17, came home and asked their father for the keys to the family’s small car. The youth had heard rumors that his brother had been injured, but did not tell their father. Yahya recalls that Abdel Rahman paced anxiously around the house and didn’t utter a word. Yahya became more concerned, sensing a disaster. Then he noticed, thanks to the security cameras mounted outside the house, that his two other sons, Ibrahim, 26, and Mohammed, 24 – who usually work at an aluminum factory in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone outside Jerusalem – were walking to and fro outside, talking excitedly on their cellphones before quickly dashing off somewhere.

By then it was 4:30 P.M. and Yahya asked himself: Why were they running? What happened? There was no longer any doubt in his heart that something terrible had happened to Yousef. Yahya, Manal and Yahya’s brother-in-law rushed off in the latter’s car toward the government hospital in Ramallah. Traffic was slow. They arrived at 5:30, where doctors in the ICU were trying desperately to revive his son. Yahya told them: “Let him be. He’s dead. Give me his body.”

Yousef was declared dead at 6 P.M. A bullet had entered his right side and exited from the abdomen, injuring several organs along the way.

The parents left their son’s body in the hospital overnight, in order to notify relatives living in distant places in the West Bank and give them time to get to the funeral. Yousef was buried the following day, on January 27, in A-Ram’s cemetery.

Yahya tells us that one eyewitness told him he had seen a female Border Police officer kneel down and open fire at Yousef and his friends.

Asked this week why the officers used live ammunition when their lives were apparently not in danger, the Border Police spokesperson’s unit sent Haaretz the same announcement it issued on the day of the incident: “Following violent disturbances and riots that included the throwing of firebombs and launching of firecrackers at the forces in an effort to hurt them … the Border Police strived to engage, with the aim of detaining the suspects. At one point, a Border Police officer who felt his life was in danger due to the direct firing of the firecrackers and a firebomb from a range of a few meters, carried out precise fire at the two suspects and neutralized them. The two assailants were moderately wounded and were evacuated for medical treatment.”

That account, it must be said, is not supported either by the video clip taken by a bystander who documented the shooting of the young men, or by the testimonies collected by Aruri of B’Tselem. Nor was Yousef “moderately” wounded.

Back at home, the bereaved father continues to talk about his son: His friends called him Chik Chak – Hebrew slang, meaning “very quickly” – because he always rushed around. On Facebook after his death, their post read: “We lost Chik Chak. Chik Chak is dead.” Indeed, Yousef lived chik chak, and died chik chak.

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Article source: Haaretz | Gideon Levy and Alex Levac | Feb 11, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000