An Israeli checkpoint sustained significant damage in the West Bank village of Beit Ummar near Hebron on Friday after clashes broke out following the funeral of 3 Palestinians killed earlier in the day.
Israeli forces incurred into the village of 20,000 on July 25th to quell protests following midday prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan around 2:30pm. Witnesses say two of the three were killed by snipers stationed atop occupied Palestinian homes; a tactic they say is common during clashes.
47-year-old Hashem Abu Maria, a local human rights activist and employee for Defense for Children International was shot, shortly after the protest began around 3:15pm. Witnesses say the killing was unprovoked, as the father of three was simply standing in the vicinity of the demonstration. It’s unclear if he participated in the initial march.
Also killed was Sultan Al Zaaqiq, 30 and Abed Breigheth, 35.
20-year-old Amir Alami, a young relative of Sultan, witnessed the incident.
“It was the first time I’ve watched someone get shot and killed,” said Alami.
“Sultan was standing between two houses and there was a soldier on rooftop with a sniper rifle. Then the soldier shot him in his back.”
35-year-old Abed Breigheth was nearby and went to help before he was shot twice moments later, first in his leg and then his stomach. Both died shortly after.
After thousands gathered for the funeral procession of the three men later the same day, protesters unleashed a torrent of stones on the Israeli watchtower and checkpoint at the main entrance to Beit Ummar on the way to the cemetery. Youth heaved scrap metal onto Road 60 barricading the thoroughfare and set tires ablaze inside the walled off open area of the checkpoint used for storage.
At one point, several protesters tossed a propane gas tank into the billowing flames and minutes later, it exploded sending flames soaring as high as the watchtower.
Palestinian youth spent 20 uninterrupted minutes inflicting damage before Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and dispersed the crowds up the hillside, close to the main road.
While medics were treating youth for tear gas inhalation, several live shots snapped through the respite and sent the crowd to a sprint. A jeep pulled up firing more just before protesters reached the main street. Live rounds were fired three additional times sending uninvolved families ducking for cover as youth and medics darted in all directions.
Beit Ummar, an agricultural mainstay in the West Bank has been enduring and resisting Israeli military incursions and settler violence for decades. Nightly clashes broke out following the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and intensified with the Israeli attack on Gaza. It has one of the highest arrest rates for children and minors in West Bank and its often weekly demonstrations are suppressed unfailingly by Israeli soldiers as nearby settlement blocs continue to seize land.
52-year-old activist Ibrahim Breigheth, relative of deceased Abed Breigheth speculated on the nature of the killings.
“Shooting and killing this number within an hour in a normal demonstration protesting the occupation just reflects the reality that there is a decision to kill some people,” said Breigheth.
“All of the shots were on the upper part of the body with live bullets with no real face to face confrontation or clashes and as everyone is aware, Palestinians only have stones to throw.”
Six Palestinians in total were killed by Israeli forces within twenty-four hours across the West Bank on Friday with live ammunition increasingly becoming a normal means of crowd dispersal by the Israeli military. Demonstrations in cities and villages alike only show signs of further escalation.
Electronic Intifada reports approximately thirty Palestinians killed by Israeli live fire in the West Bank in 2014, nearly three times more than were killed during the same period in 2013 according to data from UN’s OCHA.