For Arkan Muzhir’s 15th birthday on August 20, his father Thaer planned to buy him a phone. The elder Muzhir uses the Hebrew word for cellphone, pelefon.
But four weeks before his son’s birthday, during a raid on Al-Deheisheh refugee camp before dawn on Monday July 23, an Israeli soldier shot Arkan. He hit him “exactly in the right corner of his heart,” Muzhir said, pointing to a photograph of his dead son, his T-shirt folded and showing a child’s chest.
“We have 180 photographs of Arkan; show me one where he’s not smiling,” Muzhir said at the beginning of the week, sitting in the diwan – the neighbourhood guest room – in a narrow alley where the family’s house is also located.
The three official mourning days had passed, but the men in the camp continued to come to the diwan to express their condolences, sit on a chair in the room, listen to Muzhir talking about his boy who is gone, and add memories of their own. And of course move on to political conversation.
“The boy enrolled at a vocational school for the next school year,” Muzhir said. “He wanted to study electrical engineering for cars or car mechanics. Everyone – his friends, his teachers, his sisters – say how pleasant he was, well-liked, ready to help.”
About a year and a half ago the boy moved to sleep in the room of his grandmother Nadhmieh, who isn’t well, to be near her if she needed help during the night. Over Ramadan he filled bottles with carob juice and lemonade, sold 25 of them and gave away 25 more.
In the last five months he spent a lot of time with his relative Hassan Muzhir, 17, who was paralyzed after a bullet fired at him by an Israeli soldier lodged in his spine.
Carried responsibility beyond his age
Arkan left the West Bank only once, when he accompanied his father on a trip to Amman. He never saw the sea, the Galilee, or cities like Jaffa and Acre. “And there’s something else you have to know about Arkan,” the father said when we were sitting in the tiny apartment of the family of nine, now eight.
Muzhir pointed at the comfortable sofa on which he sat with his wife Isfahan and their eldest daughter Kayan and said: “Arkan built this with his own hands.” Young as he was, he worked as a carpenter’s apprentice to help the family out, so his father bought him tools and rented him a room in the camp where he could make furniture. The sofa was the first thing he made.
A neighbor confirmed: “Only a few days ago he took measurements in my mother-in-law’s house to build them a sofa as well.”
“And there’s something else you have to know about Arkan,” his father added. “He bought me clothes with the money he made. I told him it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted.” Arkan wanted his father, 45, to travel to work in Be’er Sheva and return with tidy, fresh clothes.
“Arkan carried responsibility beyond his age,” said his mother, 42. At the beginning of the conversation her eyes were dry; only her red nose betrayed that she had been crying. Later she sobbed, wiped away the tears and continued talking.
She was asleep the night of Sunday into Monday July 23. “I saw Arkan at around 11pm when he returned from Hassan and went to his grandmother,” who lives in the apartment across the way. “Suddenly at 4am his grandmother came knocking and asked if Arkan was with me.”
As the mother quotes the grandmother, “He told me he was going out to eat something and didn’t return, and now I heard shooting and the army was outside.”
Arkan’s mother now stops the flow to explain: “Sometimes he would go out to buy toast or something at night. Here in the camp, especially in the summer, people stay awake until late at night.”
The army everywhere
“Where did he go?” Arkan’s mother asked his grandmother. “And she said he told her he was hungry, and that it was maybe 3:30am. She told me and my head went dizzy. I wanted to know where he went,” the mother said.
“And then they phoned my daughter and told her he had been wounded,” she continued. “I got dressed quickly and went out; the road was filled with the army. I couldn’t go near the street. I was boiling inside but waited patiently for the army to leave. I went to the hospital. What I knew was that he had been wounded. I saw crowds of people outside and inside the hospital. I started running, I entered a room and saw that he had been killed.
“The bullet in his chest. I couldn’t believe it. I lost consciousness, I awoke and found myself at home. I wanted to go back to the hospital to see him. They let me enter the refrigerator [the morgue] to say goodbye to him. I saw him and kissed him. A boy, what did he do?”
Arkan, with some other young people, had gone to the camp’s main road and threw stones at 10 to 15 military jeeps that had just begun leaving the camp. Witnesses who spoke to Musa abu-Hashhash of the rights group B’Tselem estimate that Arkan was 20 to 40 meters (131 feet) from the jeeps. They believe he was shot by one of two soldiers who hadn’t yet entered a jeep.
Shot in the chest
A few hours earlier about 25 soldiers raided homes in the Ja’afra neighbourhood near the main road. They had with them dogs and ladders. Dozens of other soldiers remained among the jeeps, firing tear-gas and stun grenades in every direction, while dozens of young people threw stones at them from the rooftops and neighbouring alleys. The soldiers also broke into two grocery stores and a small toy- and stationery store.
One of the witnesses told the veteran B’Tselem field researcher that while he was watching the youths throwing stones at the jeeps driving away, he heard two live bullets being fired. He saw one of the young people, who was running in the middle of the road, put his hand on his chest, turn around and run a few steps before falling to the ground.
This witness and others ran toward the stricken youth, who wasn’t moving. A volunteer paramedic took the boy’s shirt off and saw a chest wound, though the bleeding was light. Borrowing the car of an owner of a falafel stall, they drove him to the hospital.
According to the military spokesman, as part of arrest activity in the Deheisheh refugee camp on the night of July 22, violent disturbances erupted during which Palestinians threw stones, Molotov cocktails and explosives at the forces. The forces responded by using crowd-control methods and shooting.
Following this, the spokesman said, there was information on a Palestinian who was killed. The event is being investigated by the commanders, while the military police have also opened an investigation. The findings will be given to the military prosecution. During the operation two suspects were arrested.
The phone awoke the father at around 4:30am, when he was in Be’er Sheva. A few hours earlier he had spoken to his son and saw him on WhatsApp. Arkan also sent his father a recording of himself and his 2-year-old brother Ghassan, after he had bought the toddler ice cream.
“They told me he was wounded,” the father said. “On the way home I hoped against hope that he was only wounded. If he threw a stone, couldn’t they shoot him in the leg?”
Footage shows the father leaning over his son, who was wrapped in a Palestinian flag and the red flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The father can be seen kissing his son’s forehead and eyes, pinching his chin and saying “I love you.”
In the diwan last Sunday evening, one of the mourners told the father, “Now you have 100 children.” Muzhir replied: “I know, I’m not angry.”
I took the liberty of saying I didn’t believe it. Muzhir response was this monologue: “What are you, soldiers, doing here in Deheisheh? You see a 15-year-old boy and shoot him? My son didn’t go to you in Tel Aviv or Haifa or Etzion. He didn’t put you under any risk. You come masked, all armed, black [masked or with faces painted]. Your lives weren’t in danger.”
Muzhir went on: “You in Israeli society – your media spoils you. So you don’t see the truth. I lost my son. The most beautiful thing in my life. I wanted to be happy with him, to get him married. Maybe I won’t live to see my little son grow up. In the end you executed my son in cold blood. Whoever shot him took my whole life away from me.
“And then the officer, the soldier, or the Shin Bet [security service] man who killed him went back home, took off his uniform, fed his son and gave him milk before going to bed. In the end every one of you is a soldier, a security man. You come from [Camp] Etzion, kill a child and say you killed a terrorist? That’s the terrorist you killed?”
Israeli media called him ‘terrorist’
To explain what Muzhir was talking about, someone showed me the article on the website 0404 with the headline: “A terrorist was killed and another wounded after they attacked our forces during operations in Deheisheh,” by Noa Magid.
Muzhir continued his monologue: “In Israeli society you raise a child and a dog. Sometimes two girls and a dog. If the dog disappears, the police look for him. I raised children in my house. Arkan was a child. You people call 22-year-olds ‘children.’ In Europe – 30-year-olds. Based on that, Arkan was a baby. I won’t treat his killing as a mere car accident.”
This was a reference to the suggestion by an Israeli officer that Arkan’s killing be treated as “a car accident.” It’s not clear who the officer was – a Shin Bet investigator who questioned a detainee, another Shin Bet man who called someone on the phone, or an Israeli liaison officer who spoke to a Palestinian counterpart.
But those present in the diwan say they’re sure it was said, and the contempt in the statement fits with the army’s campaign against them, as reflected in the routine violent raids on the camp and its homes, the live fire and the arrests. They say the camp – home to the descendants of dozens of demolished villages – is determined and adheres to Palestinian principles, so the army is trying to subdue it like Gaza and other camps.
Unlike other refugee camps, the political organizations in Deheisheh – like Fatah and the PFLP, which still maintain some social authority – have ruled against carrying and using arms. “We do not want to give the army a pretext to destroy the camp and put us in more danger,” they explained this week. “Nevertheless, we have the right to resist the raids and violence.”
In her home, on the sofa her son made, the mother says: “Arkan is with our Creator. But how will we live without him? How will I hold up? He’s in heaven, and I want to fly to wherever he is. I can’t take it. May God punish them.”