Aishah Abu Laban is 70 years old. It has been 30 years since the fateful day in 1989 when an Israeli soldier shot and killed her daughter Rufaydah, 13, but she will never forget it. Rufaydah, who lived in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, was killed on her way home from the funeral of Naser al-Qassas, 16, who had also been shot dead by soldiers a day earlier. The IDF Spokesperson responded to Rufaydah’s death by declaring “There was no connection between the death of the girl and IDF activity in the area.” Thirty years on, as Aishah puts it, there is only one conclusion: “When the judge is your enemy, who can you complain to?”
Twelve years later, we find ourselves in another refugee camp in the West Bank. This time Nur a-Shams and her two young sisters, Hanan, 11, and Iman, 8, were wounded in their home by an Israeli tank shell. Their mother, Najah Abu Sha’ala, was fearful of the tanks encircling the camp, when the shelling grew heavier, she led her family to the safest place in the house: the staircase leading up to the roof. Then the shell hit. The IDF Spokesperson said: “After reviewing the overall circumstances of the incident, the decision is that there are no grounds for ordering an investigation by the Military Police Investigation Unit into this matter.”
Iman was taken to a hospital in East Jerusalem, but Najah couldn’t go with her as she didn’t have a permit to enter Israel. Several months later, Iman was scheduled to go to Jordan with her father to have the shrapnel from the shell removed. A few weeks before the trip, soldiers shot and killed her father at Anabta checkpoint while he was on his way to work.
Nine years earlier, soldiers shot dead three-year-old Na’im Abu Amneh in the city of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip (“The decision is not to take legal action against the shooters,” said the IDF Spokesperson). Fast-forward 27 years, and Na’im’s mother, Asmahan, recalls how her little boy would always tell her how strong he was. It never crossed her mind that she would have to live without him – her eldest son, her first pride and joy.
Maryam Abu Nijem lost her husband, Bilal, in the summer of 2014. The bombing of their home in Gaza’s Jabalya Refugee Camp also killed Bilal’s father, his grandfather, and two of his brothers. Three neighbors were killed, including Raghad, 3, and Shaymaa, 14. Maryam’s mother-in-law, Fawzeyeh, was also gravely injured. A few years earlier, in another bombardment of Gaza in 2008, Fawzeyeh’s parents’ home was bombed and eleven family members were killed.
Rewind to 1991, the West Bank village of Beit Rima. Muhammad al-Barghouti, 23, who had a mental disability, was sitting at the entrance of a house. When Israeli soldiers arrived, he stayed put. So they beat him (IDF Spokesperson: “Under these circumstances, we did not see fit to order any legal proceedings against the soldiers, and the investigation file was closed”). Since then, whenever Muhammad heard that soldiers were in the village, he would run for his life.
Six years later, another place, another Palestinian: Border Police officers beat Jamal Sukar from Dheisheh (“I have decided to close the case on the grounds that unfortunately we were unable, despite our efforts, to locate the suspect”). Jamal has never forgotten that day, nor the pain in his leg. But he has never shared the experience with his children in order to spare them the resentment and rage that he feels.
Seventeen years after her son Nidal was killed, Muna Abu Muhsen hates the holidays and stills feels like he died yesterday. In 2002, in the town of Tubas, soldiers used her son as a human shield (“The examination found that the commanders of the forces on the ground did not estimate that employing the assistance of Mr. Abu Muhsen would place his life in danger”). Three years later, in the same town, Shahrzad Abu Muhsen would lose her youngest child, Salah a-Din, 14, whom soldiers shot and killed while he was playing with a plastic gun with a friend (“The complaint was not located,” said the IDF Spokesperson).
Hadil Ghaben from Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip loved cartoons. When she was seven years old, an Israeli artillery shell exploded in her living room. The Military Advocate General did not launch an investigation. Thirteen years later, the surviving members of her family are scarred in body and soul. Early 2009, again Beit Lahiya. This time, a white phosphorus bomb burned six members of the Abu Halima family to death, including Shahd, 1. The survivors were driven to a nearby hospital by tractor wagon. On the way, soldiers shot and killed two more of them (“The investigation file was closed”).
In 1994, a week before he was shot and killed by soldiers west of the town of Halhul, Imad, the eldest son of the al-Adarbeh family, took several of his brothers on a trip to the Dead Sea. After he was killed, his brother and sister named their children after him. The soldier who killed Al-Adarbeh was sentenced to a two-month suspended prison term for two years.
Ramzi Abu Amshah similarly named his eldest son after his 19-year-old brother, Yusef. Yusef was shot dead in 1995 by a soldier while sifting through settlement landfill for copper and aluminum to sell, in the northern Gaza Strip. (“The Southern Command Advocate decided in his report, which was approved by the Military Advocate General, to take disciplinary action against an officer and a soldier who were connected to the incident”). The Abu Amshah family’s suffering didn’t end there: in 2003, the army demolished their home, and in the summer of 2014, the father of the family was killed, along with his second wife, in an Israeli bombardment.
In 1998, Saber Abu a-Russ, 21, from Qalandiya Refugee Camp, was ashamed at the time to tell B’Tselem’s field researcher all the details of the beatings and abuse he had undergone (“The case was closed after the investigation due to lack of evidence”). Today, at 40, he is more open about the psychological pain he has carried all his life. To this day, he “can’t watch movies that have violence or news reports about incidents with the Israeli army, although every Palestinian should be aware of what’s happening around them.”
Amin Hamdan is also still afraid of anything related to the Israeli military or police. Sixteen years ago, soldiers beat him at the Ein Ariq checkpoint in front of cameras, an incident that gained international attention (“The case has not been located”). The next day at the same checkpoint, the very same soldiers prevented him from going to the hospital. It took three days before he was allowed to get medical treatment for jaw and rib fractures. In the months until his ribs healed, Hamdan felt as though he was being stabbed with every movement he made – and with every time his little boy asked how his father let himself get beaten up like that.
Twelve years after soldiers killed her father, Dr. Samir Hijazi, from a distance in 2004 (“The Military Advocate General did not see fit to order an investigation by the Military Police Investigation Unit”), Bayan Hijazi of Rafah decided to honor her late father’s wish and enrolled in medical school. Five years earlier, soldiers opened fire at fishermen in the Gaza Strip, wounding Sa’id al-Bardawil and Mahmoud a-Sharif from Khan Younis Refugee Camp. “They didn’t even curse [at us]. They just opened fire and that’s it” (“We find no cause to order an investigation”).
Medat Shweiki, 23, on the other hand, was cursed at as the soldiers’ blows landed. In 2000, a soldier claimed he was “trying to be a big man.” The beating that ensued led Shweiki to be admitted to the hospital hours later, where the police threatened to arrest him (the Department for the Investigation of Police “decided not to prosecute the officer due to lack of sufficient evidence”). The scars on Shweiki’s body remained — as did the depression. Nineteen years after that summer evening, he has one conclusion: “I have no faith in any system that is supposed to get justice for Arab victims whose rights have been violated.”
In 2010, in the city of Ashkelon, Muhammad Dababseh from Tarqumya was attacked by an Israeli police officer. After passing out at the police station, he woke up in hospital. (IDF Spokesperson: “We decided to close the case for lack of evidence”). He lost the ability to speak and didn’t believe he would ever get it back.
In 2012 in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, police beat Amir Darwish, 9. After about two hours at the police station, he was released. Jihad, Amir’s mother, recounts how her son’s childhood changed that day, followed by more arrests and more abuse (based on previous experience, the family found no reason to complain to the investigation department).
Twenty-nine years have passed since Amneh Fanun, now 77, was beaten by soldiers in the village of Battir (“We passed on the complaint for review by the Office of the Advocate of Central Command”). She still remembers what happened. In her words: “Life goes on, despite the pain.” Meanwhile, every day, she hears about more military killings and assaults.
The family of Yazan Safi from Jalazoun Refugee Camp had to obtain a permit every six months to enter Israel repeatedly during their son’s adolescent years. A teargas canister fired by a soldier had hit Yazan in the mouth in 2008 when he was 13, and he had to get prosthetic teeth that needed to be adjusted regularly (“The case was closed after an examination by military officials,” said the army). Sometimes the family didn’t get the permit and the boy had to go alone for the treatment. When Yazan turned 18, the army stopped giving him permits.
In 2011, Salma a-Sawarkah of Juhar a-Dik in the Gaza Strip was 74. That’s when soldiers shot her from the Israeli side of the fence while she was grazing her flock inside the strip (“The case was forwarded for supplementary investigation by the MPIU”). After the injury, she was afraid to go near the Gaza-Israel fence ever again.
Tharwat Sha’rawi, 73, was shot dead in her car by soldiers in Hebron. That was four years ago (“The case was closed after an examination of the operational debriefing”). She wanted her car to be sold with the proceeds donated to Al-Ahli Hospital after her death, but the car was foreclosed.
Six years after his brother Samir was killed in 2013, Mahmoud Awad turned 16 – the same age his brother was when soldiers shot him at the separation barrier, near the West Bank village of Budrus. Mahmoud’s father Ahmad became unemployed after Israel revoked his work permit immediately after the army killed his son (The indictment against two soldiers involved in the incident, for “reckless and negligent act using a firearm,” was withdrawn two and a half years later). Ahmad has turned the documentation and exposure of the occupation into a central part of his life — a living commemoration of his son and all Palestinian victims of injustice.
Six years earlier, at another fence east of Deir al-Balah in Gaza, sixteen-year-old Mahran Abu Nseir was shot dead and two of his friends wounded by IDF fire. The three wanted to escape poverty in Gaza and look for work in Israel (“The case was closed after an examination by military officials”). Mahran’s father says his firstborn was a quiet, beloved boy.
Ata Amira from the West Bank village of Ni’lin was born an orphan. Soldiers killed his father Atallah in 1996 (“The MAG ordered the investigation file closed”), while his mother Hanaa was five months pregnant. Twenty-three years later, Hanaa is a 56-year-old widow. She speaks painfully of the time that followed, and of raising her children without their father.
The same year, in another shooting incident, four soldiers were sentenced to “a fine of one agora (0.01 of a shekel)” for the offense of “failing to comply with compulsory army regulations.” About three years earlier, they had killed Iyad Amleh of Qabalan, who was traveling with his friends on the way back to his village. The soldiers’ sentence was overturned on appeal and the defendants were sentenced to a one-month suspended prison term for one year. Iyad’s parents never recovered.
To 2016; Muhammad a-Tabakhi from a-Ram is the father of Muhyi a-Din, who was killed by Israeli Border Police, when he was 10 years old. In the first year after Muhyi’s death, Muhammad would still say his late son’s name whenever he tried to call one of his sons.
To 2017; Baraa Kan’an from the village of Nabi Saleh was 19 when soldiers arrested him and abused him for hours on end. He was blindfolded when one of the soldiers threatened to shoot him. He heard the gun being loaded and was certain he was about to die. Kan’an was abandoned late at night and picked up by a passerby. His father says the arrest and abuse drove his son to continue protesting the occupation. A year later, he was arrested again and sentenced to 14 months in prison.
To 2018; Alaa a-Dali from Rafah was 20 when he was wounded by Israeli army gunfire. He was riding his bike to a Land Day demonstration when was shot from afar in his right leg. Israel refused to permit him access to hospital in Ramallah, and doctors in Gaza had to amputate his leg. A member of the Palestinian cycling team, he couldn’t participate in any competition outside the Gaza Strip because of the blockade. He now dreams of getting an advanced prosthesis.
And so, in 2016, after 25 years of experience and hundreds of cases, B’Tselem decided to stop cooperating with Israel’s whitewashing mechanisms. The organization has not contacted Israeli authorities since then to investigate incidents where Palestinian residents of the occupied territories were killed or wounded.
All the cases above are from B’Tselem’s archives, researched and documented by B’Tselem field researchers and data coordinators since 1989. They are featured in a new B’Tselem project highlighting thirty stories of Palestinian victims of Israel’s occupation, one for each year since the organization’s founding.
Author: Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
Edited for IMEMC: Ali Salam