Days of Palestine

Saturday, February 4

‘He Was a Child, Why Did They Kill Him?’: Israeli Troops Ambush Palestinian Teens With Gunfire

Five Palestinian teenagers went on an outing in nature, maybe just to hike, as they say. Or maybe to throw stones at cars. Israeli soldiers ambushed and rained heavy fire on them, killing one and wounding the others, one seriously

M.Y | DOP -

The village, the street, the wall of the house and the deceased’s room – all are now adorned with two portraits: one of the uncle, Wilyam Rimawi, who has been incarcerated in an Israeli prison for 21 years, and the other of his dead nephew, Diaa Rahmi, 16, whom he never met.

Wilyam was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 30 years in prison for a series of security offenses that included attempted homicide and illegal possession of a weapon. Diaa was shot and killed during an Israel Defense Forces ambush a month ago. The three bullets that struck him from behind as he fled put an end to his short life.

Wilyam Rimawi’s mother, who is Diaa’s grandmother, will visit her son in prison next week and tell him about the dead nephew he never knew. The last time 64-year-old Grandma Fawziya visited Wilyam was the day before her grandson was killed. There were times when all four of her sons were imprisoned simultaneously. Now the portraits of her son and grandson hang side by side in her home in the village of Beit Rima, in the central West Bank, where her extended family lives.

Ten days before Diaa was killed, Beit Rima lost two more of its sons: Jawad and Zafer Rimawi, brothers aged 22 and 19, respectively, were shot to death by soldiers before dawn on November 29, while on a visit to the village of Kafr Ein. The soldiers suspected that one of them had thrown a Molotov cocktail at them, and when his brother tried to pull him away they shot him to death too.

Now Beit Rima is also weeping for Diaa, an 11th-grader. Four of his friends were also wounded in the same incident, which took place on December 8. One of them, Hisham Taha, 17, was hospitalized, arrested and released on bail Monday, after which he was transferred to Istishari Arab Hospital in Ramallah, where he remains in serious condition.

On the afternoon of that same Thursday, five friends from Beit Rima finished school – four of them are taking preparatory classes for the matriculation exams at the end of the year – and set out for the neighboring village of Aboud. Diaa, a year younger than the others, had a mashtuba, an undocumented car, which he’d bought for 1,500 shekels (about $430) from his savings; the group piled in it.

Young people from Beit Rima, a village with no Israeli settlements nearby, often travel to neighboring locales like Aboud, Nabi Saleh and Kafr Ein, to take part in protest and resistance activities. That may have been the case with these youths, too – but they deny it. They say they went on a nature hike, to enjoy themselves on the weekend, which for them begins Thursday afternoon. In Aboud, they collected another friend, so the group now numbered six.

They parked on the side of a dirt road on the outskirts of Aboud, and started to walk up it. The road roughly parallels Highway 465, which the settlers call the Trans-Binyamin Road; an IDF guard tower overlooks it. Halfway up, one of the youths realized he had forgotten his cell phone and went back to get it. That apparently saved him. Now they were five.

They had advanced about 200 meters from their car when, suddenly, a lone shot rang out. Immediately afterward, with no warning, the group came under heavy fire from all directions. A moment earlier they hadn’t seen one soldier in the area, as A., who was wounded and is now recuperating at home, would later tell us.

A cold wind lashed us on Tuesday this week when we visited the site where the teenagers were shot, along with Iyad Hadad, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. We wanted to get a better look at the highway and the watchtower. Playing it safe, we didn’t get too close. An hour earlier, at the entrance to Nabi Saleh, two soldiers armed with heavy and terrifying rifles had approached us, demanding to know what we were doing.

Back to the youths. The soldiers had taken cover in an ambush between a grove of olive trees and the main highway. Diaa and his friend Hisham Taha were felled in the first volley. A. recalls that the friends tried to extricate Diaa, who was probably killed instantly, having been struck from behind by three bullets, and Hisham, who was hit by even more rounds but survived, but the soldiers went on shooting and the others were forced to run for their lives.

A. was hit in the thigh – the bullet left a formidable cavity, as we saw this week in a photograph – but he still managed to flee and actually realized that he had been hit only after his friend M., who was also wounded, called to him for help. A. then suddenly felt pain in his leg and saw that it was bleeding. Two soldiers chased the group and shot at them, until they gave up and retreated.

The soldiers collected Diaa’s body and the seriously wounded Hisham. A Palestinian passerby told researcher Hadad that a short time later he saw soldiers transferring a body wrapped in shiny Mylar-foil body sheets, along with a wounded person who was hooked up to tubes, from one ambulance to another at a gas station next to the small town of Rantis, west of Aboud.

The two wounded youths who had escaped, A. and M., together with their friend from Aboud and the other teenager who had gone to retrieve his phone, used Diaa’s car to drive quickly to the clinic in Aboud, but it was already closed. They went on to the clinic in Beit Rima, where they were administered first aid; from there they were transferred to Istishari Hospital in Ramallah.

We met A. this week at home in Beit Rima. He was lying next to a spiral coil heater, and still needs a crutch to walk. He’s a good-looking youth who hopes his wounds won’t affect his matriculation exams adversely. After we left, he said he would visit Hisham – who was released from detention on Monday.

Hisham was initially taken by the army to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, and then transferred to its Schneider Children’s Medical Center; a detention order was issued against him. A court extended his remand twice, for eight days each time, throughout his entire period of hospitalization. He is still suffering from injuries to his limbs and several vital organs; apparently no fewer than five bullets sliced into his body. His admittance form to Schneider states: “Was involved in terrorist activity against IDF soldiers. Relates that he was with friends who threw stones and he played with his phone. Felt he was being fired at. Doesn’t remember how he got to Schneider.”

Hisham subsequently received further treatment at the Israel Prison Service hospital in Ramle Prison. After being released from there this week on 5,000 shekels bail ($1,415), he was transferred directly to Istishari.

We asked the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit this week why the youths had been subjected to such heavy fire. This was the response: “On December 8, a number of suspects threw stones and bottles of paint at vehicles traveling on Highway 465, in the Ephraim territorial sector. IDF soldiers who were in the area conducting planned activities to secure roads in the area fired shots in the direction of the suspects. Following the incident an investigation was opened by the Military Police Investigatory Unit. Upon its conclusions the results will be sent on for further investigation to the military prosecution.”

The mourning hasn’t ceased in Diaa’s home. His mother, Yusra, 34, is attired in black and wears a pendant bearing photographs of her son – her eldest, out of a family of two daughters and now two sons – on both sides: On one, there’s a picture of Diaa kissing Yusra; on the other, of her and her deceased son, at his grave. Diaa’s sister, Noor, also dressed in black, wears the same pendant. Their father, Mohammed, 40, who works in agriculture in the northern West Bank, wasn’t home when we visited.

On the morning of his death, his sister remembers that Diaa woke up early and went to school. When he returned, he went, as usual, to his grandparents’ apartment, which is attached to that of his family, to help bathe his paternal grandfather, the 69-year-old Shafiq. Shafiq lapsed into dementia about half a year ago; this week, when he entered the living room, wearing a galabia and a keffiyeh, he waved his cane and shouted threateningly at the family. His wife, Anisa, 71, was by his side; Diaa’s other grandmother, Fawziya, also sat on the mourners’ sofa.

After Diaa helped his grandfather, he left without saying where he was going or when he would be back. He never returned.

In the afternoon, Yusra said her brother Tareq called to ask her if she knew where Diaa was. She responded that he’d gone out sometime earlier and had not come home – whereupon her brother came to the house and gave her the bitter news.

A member of the Palestinian security forces had sent him a photograph of the deceased teenager’s face, which he had received from the IDF for identification purposes. The Israelis handed the body over to the family the same evening at the Rantis checkpoint. Diaa was buried in the village the next day.

In an unusual act among Palestinians, Yusra attended her son’s funeral and even helped carry his body. A grim photograph shows her next to the exposed face of her dead son.

“I wanted to accompany my son until the last moment,” she told us this week. “To the grave. I didn’t want to feel guilty for not being there when he was buried.”

The bereaved mother added that she had fainted when the body was brought to the house before the funeral. Afterward, her legs simply took her to the grave and no one stopped her.

“He was a child, why did they kill him?” she asked this week. “He was 16 and didn’t know anything yet.”

“Let’s say he threw stones,” her brother Tareq asked, barely concealing his pain. “Who shoots at a group of children? Do they think our lives are so cheap? That we don’t love life? That we don’t love our children? What did he do? And if he did throw stones?”

The family later related that Diaa had liked white doves, and when he was asked why, he would say: “The dove takes us to peace. The dove takes us to our country, without checkpoints and without an occupation.”