Checkpoint Violence: Blood and Occupation in Palestine
On December 17, Naseer was driving from Nablus to Ramallah. Light rain fell as he approached the Israeli military’s checkpoint at Huwwara. In front of him was another car, moving cautiously. About fifty meters before that car was an Israeli military vehicle. Caution is the order of the day in the vicinity of the Israeli military. No sense in provoking their ire. Naseer kept some distance between the cars. They were moving slowly.
Beside the road, on the grass off the sidewalk, a young boy walked in the same direction of the cars. Naseer observed that the boy seemed to be on the grass to avoid the puddles on the sidewalk.
The Israeli military vehicle braked. An order must have come from the soldiers. The boy put his hands up. Naseer did not hear them but saw him obey. The car in front of his began to go around the military vehicle. Naseer followed. He saw the boy with his hands up. The next minute, in his rear view mirror, Naseer saw the boy on the ground. All this happened in a split second. One minute the boy was standing with his hands up, and the next minute he was dead on the ground.
Naseer stopped his car, as did the driver of the car in front of him. The two men exchanged information. They had both witnessed an execution. There was no opportunity to approach the Israeli soldiers, who had already cordoned off the area.
Not long after, Israeli state media announced that their military had killed Abdullah Hussein Nasasra (age 15) from Beit Furik (near Nablus). The Israeli military said that Nasasra had “charged the forces while armed with a knife.”
Naseer said that he saw no knife. Nor did he see Nasasra charge the military men. They had guns trained on him. Why would he try to attack them with a knife?
Over the course of the past few weeks, Israeli military and security forces have used deadly force against a number of children whom they accuse of knife attacks. Israeli political leaders have given carte blanche to their military to kill anyone they see as a threat. Interior Security Minister Gilad Arden said, “Every terrorist should know that he will not survive the attack he is about to commit.” Yair Lapid, former Minister of Finance in the Israeli government, concurred, “You have to shoot to kill anyone who pulls out a knife or a screwdriver.” Since the Israeli military is the Judge, Executioner and Investigator of these incidents, there is no accountability for them.
When Kamal Badran Qabalan drove his ambulance to the scene, the Israelis blocked him from access to the body. There will be no independent investigation of this death. The miasma of Israeli propaganda – terrorist, knife – has already covered over the facts. Naseer says he is ready to testify against the Israeli military. But how does he do it? There will be no trial. The case will close quietly. Naseer is a distinguished man. His eyes are kind and honest. His voice is defiant as he tells me the story – “I saw them kill a boy,” he says. But what can Naseer do? His body language bespeaks the Occupation. There is futility here beside the defiance.
No light at the end of the tunnel
The day before the Israeli military shot to death Nasasra at Huwwara, Samah Abdul-Mo’men (age 18) and her father drove toward that checkpoint. Israeli soldiers opened fire in the vicinity of her car, hitting her (she died in hospital later that day). Why did the Israeli military open fire at the cars with civilians? They claim that they had come under attack from Alaa’ Khalil al-Hashshash (age 16), from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus. He is said to have tried to stab Israeli soldiers, who then retaliated. Did al-Hashshash actually carry out a “knife attack”? If he did, why did the Israeli soldiers fire at all the cars in the vicinity, killing Abdul-Mo’men? The Israelis will take none of these questions up in seriousness. The questions are seen as an irritant.
In the evening of Friday, December 18, the road between Ramallah and Jerusalem – only ten kilometers – is congested. Qalandiya check point is virtually closed. We decide to go around – driving forty kilometers as detour around the illegal “separation wall.” Later we learn that two young men attempted to drive their cars into military vehicles. These are known as “vehicular attacks.” The men drove their cars futilely at the heavily armed checkpoints. The Israeli military easily shot Muhammed Abd al-Rahman Ayyad (age 21) to death. The other man, age 30, stumbled out of his car and was shot by the military. None posed any real threat to the checkpoint. Their bodies – weighed down by frustration – were no matches against the Israeli military.
Why did these men try to drive their cars into the checkpoints and why do the children use knives to attack the settlers? Why – in particular –given that their attacks are unsuccessful and that they lose their lives in the process? The Israelis have killed over a hundred and thirty Palestinians since October. Most of those shot have been children.
Some of these children have indeed attacked settlers in their streets. But not all of them. Nasasra had no knife in his hand, nor did Abdul-Mo’men. But others did. Why did these few others attack Israeli settlers with knives? UNICEF notes that it is the “existence and expansion of Israeli settlements including in East Jerusalem, illegal under international law, [that] have been a primary driver of protection threats against children.” Palestinian children are exposed to violence early in their lives, which are constrained by the loss of their families’ land and livelihood.
Lives lived encaged by the Occupation produce – says UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – “fear, humiliation, frustration and mistrust. It has been fed by the wounds of decades of bloody conflict, which will take a long time to heal. Palestinian youth in particular are tired of broken promises and they see no light at the end of the tunnel.” Secretary Ban blamed the “settlement enterprise” for the tension in the region.
Frustration is the order of the day. I meet some young men from a camp near Ramallah. They see no outlet for their anger. Everyday they see their families and friends humiliated by the Occupation. This situation drives them to desperation – “we have to do something,” says one young man. His eyes are tired. He looks older than his teenage years. He has lost his friends to Israeli violence. “We marched to Qalandiya last year,” he says, “in a peaceful protest. They fired on us. My friend died.” Colonial violence bears down on his spirit. Around him young children are eliminated by the Israeli military. His body twitches with anxiety and fear.