Mondoweiss

‘I will shoot you in front of your mother ‘– Israeli forces follow through on threat to Palestinian youth

Zaynab al-Salhi holds up a picture of her son Raed, days before he succumbed to his wounds. (Photo: Yumna Patel)

Almost one month after Israeli forces shot him seven times during a night raid in Deheisha refugee camp, 22-year-old Raed al-Salhi succumbed to his wounds on Sunday in Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital. His mother Zaynab heard the news as she sat at home in Deheisha, in the West Bank. She didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

Israeli forces had warned Raed al-Salhi in late July that they were coming for him.

“They called him and told him ‘we will shoot you in front of your mother’,” Khaled, 24, one of Raed’s four older brothers told Mondoweiss days before Raed died in the raid to arrest him, in the small living room of their home in the camp, located in the southern occupied West Bank.

Two weeks after the call, on August 9, 2017,  Israeli forces shot Raed in the courtyard behind his home at 4 a.m, as his mother sat inside the family’s living room just feet away.

The call came from ‘Captain Nidal,’ the pseudonym for the Israeli commander in charge of military operations in the area, infamous among Palestinians in the community for his alleged threats against camp youth.

After the call, which Raed hesitantly told his mother about, he knew it was only a matter of time before the soldiers came for him.

Khaled al-Salhi points to the wall of his family’s courtyard where Raed had attempted to climb up, moments before he was shot. (Photo: Yumna Patel)

The couch where Raed was sleeping the night he was shot and critically injured by Israeli forces. (Yumna Patel)

It all happened within minutes, Khaled told Mondoweiss, recounting the events of the night as Zaynab sat quietly, too distraught to talk about the memory of her son’s faint voice crying to her that night, telling her he was going to die.

Raed was sleeping on a couch in the courtyard that night, as he had given up his bed to his brother Bassam, 28, who was visiting from Ramallah. Zaynab was awake, drinking tea and chatting with another son, Muhammad, 26.

“My brother Muhammad got a Whatsapp notification that there were soldiers in the camp, so he went outside to the courtyard to wake Raed up and tell him to get inside,” Khaled said. Seconds after Muhammad had gone back in the house to grab his phone, the family heard gunshots.

“Raed had hoisted himself up on the courtyard wall to see where the soldiers were, and they just opened fire on him,” Khaled said, pointing to the narrow alley between the courtyard wall and the neighbor’s house where Raed had fallen over, bleeding from the bullets sprayed into the right side of his body.

“We couldn’t see anything,” Zaynab said, taking a puff of her cigarette, “we had no idea, we still have no idea, what condition he was in. I just kept screaming to Raed, to the neighbors, asking if he was alive.”

While no one–neither the Israeli army nor Raed’s family–said exactly why Raed was being arrested and he was never charged with a crime while detained in the hospital, the leftist Palestinian faction the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] claimed him as affiliated with the group after he was injured. Membership in this group is considered illegal under Israeli military code.

The day after the raid, an Israeli army spokesperson told local Palestinian Ma’an News Agency that “during a raid to detain two Palestinians, the suspects attempted to flee the area,” at which point Israeli army soldiers began a foot pursuit after the Palestinians.

“During the pursuit, soldiers opened fire towards the suspects, injuring them. They were treated at the scene and then evacuated to a hospital for further medical treatment,” the spokesperson said.

But Raed’s family told a different story. “He just looked to see where the soldiers were, he didn’t try to run. They were completely surrounding the back of the house, they could have easily detained him, but they wanted to kill him,” Khaled said.

According to Khaled, from the moment Raed was first shot until Israeli forces finally detained him and transferred him to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, almost one and a half hours had passed.

“They dragged him through the camp and left him lying on the ground to bleed to death, they didn’t treat him or even try to get him out quickly.”

One week after Raed was shot, Israeli forces raided the family’s home again and detained Bassam.

Tamara (L) and Khaled al-Salhi (R) in the living room of their family home in the Deheisha refugee camp. (Photo: Yumna Patel)

In the month after Raed was shot while he was hospitalized, Zaynab had been left wondering about her son’s condition, receiving minimal information from Palestinian prisoner rights groups, who had limited to no access to Raed.

According to Zaynab, who managed to travel twice to Jerusalem in attempts to visit Raed, he had remained in a coma in his hospital bed, with two Israeli soldiers guarding the door to his room at all times.

“The first time I went, the soldiers wouldn’t let me in the room, and the hospital staff started yelling at me, threatening to call the police,” Zaynab said timidly, wary of disclosing any details of her trips, for fear it could put Raed and her other sons in more danger.

“It’s fine mom,” Khaled said, letting out a faint laugh, “what can happen that is worse than this.”

Zaynab went on to describe the second time she went to the hospital. “When the soldiers told me I couldn’t go inside, I became crazy and started yelling. I begged them to let me see my son, just for 10 minutes. I needed to see if he was even alive.”

To her surprise, against their orders, the soldiers let her in the room. Raed was unconscious, breathing only through an oxygen tube that was inserted into his throat.

“His abdomen was cut open, his hands and feet were swollen to more than twice their normal size, and his face was unrecognizable, scraped and scratched from when the soldiers dragged him through the camp,” Zaynab said shaking her head.

She couldn’t be sure how many surgeries had been performed on Raed, and without being able to talk to any doctors, she had no idea what the state of his internal organs.

Within weeks Raed would be dead, and only after his passing did Palestinian rights groups report that he had undergone multiple surgeries, as the bullets had wreaked havoc on his internal organs, with his liver taking the biggest hit.

Raed’s fatal encounter with soldiers that night outside his home wasn’t the first time he had been shot by Israeli forces. In 2014, he was shot with live fire in the leg during clashes in the village of al-Khader, just outside of Deheisha. He was detained by Israeli forces immediately after, and spent five months in prison.

Raed’s experience with Israeli forces throughout his youth and his eventual death is a familiar narrative for young Palestinian men and teenagers.

Israeli raids in Palestinian towns, villages, and refugee camps are a daily occurrence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

During 2017, on average Israeli forces conducted 85 search and detention raids every other week according to numbers from the United Nations. 

Due to the typically aggressive nature of the raids, clashes often erupt with Israeli forces who use live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas in what the Israeli army routinely describes as “crowd control measures,” against youth who throw stones at the invading soldiers.

Rights groups have routinely condemned Israeli authorities for their use of excessive force against Palestinians, particularly in refugee camps, during incidents that did not warrant a violent response.

In recent months, the Deheisha camp has seen countless residents injured with live ammunition during raids.

In June, Ma’an News Agency reported that in Deheisha in one night “at least eight Palestinians were injured, including six who were shot with live fire in the legs–one of whom was an on-duty paramedic whose brother was detained, and a youth who was run over by an Israeli military vehicle.”

The targeting of Palestinian youth with live fire, specifically in the legs and kneecaps, is well documented. In August 2016, Bethlehem-based NGO Badil documented the Israeli army’s deliberate targeting of Palestinian youth with live fire, highlighting that the “unjustified injuries were accompanied by threats from the Israeli commander responsible for that area, known as ’Captain Nidal.’”

Captain Nidal is a household name not only in Deheisha, but also in the Aida and al-Azza refugee camps in Bethlehem, where Palestinians tell stories of the captain threatening youth in the camps during and after the raids, and during interrogations and arrests.

“Ask anyone,” Khaled said with a sense of urgency, “if you have not been threatened by Captain Nidal personally, he has threatened someone you know.”

According to Badil, Captain Nidal threatened to “make all the youth of (Deheisha) camp disabled,” saying “I will have all of you walking with crutches and in wheelchairs.”

“These threats indicate that these actions are not accidental or isolated incidents, but rather result from a systematic Israeli military policy aimed at suppressing resistance, terrorizing Palestinian youth, and permanently injuring them and/or causing significant damage to their physical and mental well-being,” the NGO said.

Today, Raed’s youngest siblings, Yousif, 12, and Tamara, 10, have had nightmares every day since the killing. They are scared to use the bathroom at night.

Before her son’s death, Zaynab expressed to Mondoweiss that while she was overcome with despair, it was the hopelessness of not being able to be by Raed’s side, or even know what was going on with him, that was the most painful.

When asked if there was anything she wanted to say or do, she simply said, “I want my son. I want my son.”

Now, more than 24 hours after Raed’s passing, Israeli forces have continued to hold his body, transferring him from Hadassah hospital to the Rishon Lezion hospital in central Israel, and Zaynab and her children have still been left waiting, this time for the return of his body.