Before sunrise 17-year old Mohammed Sami al-Kasbah went to morning prayers at a mosque one block from his house in Qalandia refugee camp in Jerusalem, which is separated from the rest of the city on the West Bank side of Israel’s security barrier. By afternoon he returned to the same building, his remains carried by neighbors and relatives for a funeral after he was shot and killed by Israeli forces while trying to cross into Jerusalem. Two of his brothers were also killed by Israeli forces during the Second Intifada.
“He walked with the people…with the people who wanted to go to al-Aqsa,” Abu Ismail, 65, al-Kasbah’s uncle told me while sitting on a plastic chair outside of the refugee camp’s main mosque as the ceremony was in progress. To his side, hundreds of Palestinians stood in front of shops that lined the potholed street. The house of prayer was well over capacity as dozens congregated by the two entrances. In every direction Palestinians knelt over asphalt using flags and flattened cardboard boxes retrieved from waste piles in an alleyway as prayer rugs. Masked gunmen and camp residents affiliated with Fatah’s militant faction al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades walked through the main artery, firing salutes every few minutes throughout the afternoon.
Between rounds, Abu Ismail motioned to a nearby school where he said al-Kasbah worked in the cafeteria with his father. Quranic verses blared over loudspeakers.
“I have been to 40 or 50 funerals,” mourner Mahmoud al-Badtha, 18, also from Qalandia refugee camp said.
Al-Kasbah was struck with three bullets—in his abdomen, head and back—at 6:30 am fired by a senior Israeli military officer in the West Bank city of al-Ram next to Qalandia checkpoint. He died in a Ramallah hospital 30 minutes later. Two other Palestinians were also brought to the hospital for injuries from the same incident.
The Israeli army said al-Kasbah was part of a group that ambushed soldiers driving in a vehicle, hurling stones at a “very close range,” a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said. “In response to the immediate danger the forces fired toward the suspect,” the spokesperson continued.
After the shooting, the IDF released a photo of the army car. The windshield was smashed with a baseball sized hole in the glass. The Israeli army has opened an investigation into the killing.
Yet witnesses say al-Kasbah did not throw stones. Palestinian media reported he was attempting to illegally enter Jerusalem to join the thousands of Palestinians who receive permission by the Israeli authorities to pray at al-Aqsa mosque during the holy month of Ramadan. Because of his young age, al-Kasbah was ineligible to receive a permit and sought to climb over the wall. Until last week Palestinians men over the age of 30 could receive permits. After two Israelis were killed in attacks carried out by Palestinians in the recent few days, the age requirement was raised to 50.
Al-Kasbah was preceded in death by two older brothers, Yaser and Samer, both of whom were killed by the Israeli military. “I saw the army when they shot him,” a resident of Qalandia said of Yaser al-Kasbah, killed in 2001 also near Qalandia checkpoint. “He was 12 years old.” Forty days later, Samer al-Kasbah was killed outside of the Israeli settlement of Beit El at the age of 16.