June 29, 2008
Hebron / - The Israeli military has been slowly escalating its intimidation tactics in Beit Ommar over the last three days, often patrolling the streets at sundown, provoking youth by parking outside of the mosque and waiting for young boys to come and throw stones before shooting tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.
The increasing terrorization of the village culminated at approximately 9:30 pm Friday when a 17 year old boy, Mohammed Anwar Al-Alami, was shot in the heart and killed.
Soldiers first entered the southern West Bank’s town at 4 pm and began slowly circling the village, often stopping in the center of town, shooting a few tear gas canisters, but otherwise staying in their jeeps. They were not searching houses nor made any other indication that they were engaging in any authorized operation. Shortly after sundown, at approximately 9 pm, they began arresting residents: blindfolding and handcuffing nine men in total and bringing them to the entrance of the village. Four were later released, five remain in Israeli custody. Several more jeeps and Armored Personnel Carriers (APC's) entered the village. Young boys began throwing stones and empty bottles which bounced off the armored military vehicles harmlessly. Still, for the Israeli military a rock against reinforced metal is reason enough to end the life of a young man, about to finish his final exams and graduate from high school.
Mohammed was quickly rushed to the hospital, but he had been shot in the chest and the bullet entered his heart, killing him almost instantly.
When international activists approached the soldiers one was thrown to the ground and his camera was stolen from him. Another observer with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, who was on crutches, was also knocked to the ground by the commander of the Israeli forces. The video tape and memory cards of the cameras of the CPT activists were all taken, erasing evidence of the assault on them presumably in an attempt to cover-up the egregiously excessive violence used by the Israeli army against young people.
On Saturday at 10:30 am international and Palestinian activists with CPT and Palestine Solidarity Project joined the community as they took the body from the hospital in Hebron and drove in the funeral procession back to Beit Ommar. The long line of cars with Palestinian and political faction flags hanging out the windows was soon accompanied by two Israeli military jeeps. Not given a moment to grieve, the Israeli military soon brought in reinforcements and gathered a mass of jeeps and soldiers near the cemetery.
After a visit to the murdered student's home and the mosque, the entire village, several thousand people, marched down the main road to the cemetery. The soldiers, not wanting to allow the participants to use the main entrance of the cemetery, ostensibly because of its proximity to their reinforced concrete watchtower that looms over the entrance to the village, parked two jeeps on the main road, cutting off the residents and forcing them to a side road leading to the back entrance to the cemetery. Community leaders, trying to prevent a confrontation with the soldiers, managed to persuade most of the procession on to the side road; approximately 50 or so, however, were insistent on their right to approach where their dead are laid to rest from the front entrance.
These men walked past the parked jeeps and gathered at the entrance to the cemetery as well as gathering on the roof of a house across the street from the watchtower. It was at that time that the same commander who oversaw the killing of the boy the night before got out of his jeep. The member of the Christian Peacemakers Team who had been pushed to the ground the night before approached the soldiers with a video camera, reminding the commander that the CPT member was now a witness to the funeral of the boy his unit had killed the night before and demanding that he, a Palestinian-American, and other Palestinians, be treated with the dignity they deserve. The soldiers soon began pushing the crowd back towards the cemetery and threw a sound grenade, effectively disrupting not only the crowd, but the family's moment to mourn the death of a young man.
Residents soon returned to their homes while young men, many of whom were fellow students of Mohammed’s, began to throw stones at the armored jeeps. The soldiers, rather than leaving the village which would have both eliminated the source of tension and allowed the community to mourn properly, instead decided they had not 'taught their lesson’ well enough and again invaded the village. This time, at least two were injured: one young boy was hit with a ricochet in the head, and another was light injured when his arm was grazed by a bullet.
Members of PSP and CPT again went out into the street to document. Although they were less than 50 meters away and clearly visible to the soldiers, they also had to soon take cover as live ammunition, rather than "crowd-dispersal weaponry" such as tear gas or rubber-coated steel bullets which are less lethal, went whizzing past their heads. And so it continued that lethal force, when less lethal means were well at their disposal (though some of the soldiers were outfitted with plastic-coated steel bullets which are against international law) was used against stone-throwing children and international activists. It is this low-level war—the murder of a child here and there, the unending expansion of Israeli settlements and theft of Palestinian land—that is ongoing in the West Bank; less obvious, perhaps, than the brutal attacks on Gaza, but no less devastating.