The American Friends Service Committee, a rights group, called on President Barack Obama to launch an investigation into the death of a Palestinian-American teenager killed by the Israeli military in February.
The killing of 16-year-old Mahmoud Shaalan, born in Florida, happened near the Beit El settlement, also the headquarters of the Civil Administration, which coordinates the day-to-day chore of the occupation. The AFSC said that the U.S. must investigate this allegation against its ally. The Israeli military maintains that Shaalan, the teenager it dubs a “terrorist,” stabbed an Israeli soldier and then got shot in return.
AFSC is calling on Sen. Patrick Leahy and others in congress to follow through on the concern they expressed to the State Dept. earlier this year concerning the American child’s death. The United States failing to sanction Israel for its actions against American citizens usually takes the form of finding little help from the U.S. consulate, sometimes as border officials are denying them entry at the border. Less usual is the death of an American citizen thanks to weapons American tax dollars helped purchase.
The advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace also called for an investigation.
“We don’t know the circumstances relating to Mahmoud’s death. But we can, and we should. Mahmoud was a U.S. citizen, yet not one public official at the White House or State Department has publicly called for an investigation into his death,” JVP wrote in an email.
Family members and witnesses tell Haaretz that they do not believe the boy was doing more than trying to cross a checkpoint in a place under military occupation, a sometimes deadly ordeal. A witness said he saw the soldier shoot Shalaan in the back. His family maintains he was not inspired by politics of any stripe and planned on returning to the U.S.
His family first found out of his death after photos surfaced on Facebook of the boy’s body lying, bleeding, on the ground for two hours.
“The United States has an obligation to investigate Mahmoud’s case and dozens of other apparent extrajudicial killings committed by Israeli forces since last October with the assistance of U.S. tax dollars,” the AFSC statement reads online, accompanied by a form allowing supporters to sign their names.
“This killing should be investigated, both because Mahmoud deserves the same protections as any other U.S. citizen, and because he was likely killed with weapons subsidized by U.S. tax dollars,” the letter adds.
A call to Sen. Leahy’s office was not immediately returned.
The circumstances under which Shaalan died remain unclear in the absence of an investigation, the AFSC contends. The Israeli military stopped a Palestinian ambulance from passing through to help the wounded teenager, according to AFSC and others.
The IDF gave this response to Haaretz when the paper asked about the circumstances of the young man’s death: “On Feb. 26, 2016, the terrorist Mahmoud Shaalan arrived at the checkpoint in Ramallah and stabbed an IDF soldier. The terrorist was shot by the force but again tried to attack the soldiers, so additional fire was carried out. He received medical treatment at the site from an IDF unit and from Magen David Adom [Israeli rescue service]. After the attack, the body was left at the site for verification purposes, was identified by Palestinian individuals and throughout was covered and guarded by IDF forces. The circumstances of the event are being investigated, and the findings will be conveyed to the office of the military advocate general.”
Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy found an eyewitness, who requested anonymity, saying that Shaalan was trying to get through a checkpoint normally closed to foot traffic. A soldier told him to leave, but as Shaalan did so, the soldier shot him in the back, possibly after an exchange of words. The witness did not see a knife in Shaalan’s hand.
Meanwhile, the family mourns for its son and asks questions that the families of people in the U.S. lost to police violence: Even if what the authorities says is true, why did they have to kill a child and not simply arrest him?
Shaalan’s uncle, Salman, summed up his grievances for Haaretz by calling out Israel for bias against Palestinians. Others have made the same point before, but Shaalan puts it in stark terms.
“This is a discriminatory country. It’s a country based on discrimination. The life of everyone who is not an Israeli is not considered to be worth anything. They violate every moral code and law. It was murder in cold blood, and nothing in the world can justify such murder. Their goal is to sow terror in the people and make their lives miserable, until they make them leave the country,” he said.
“The checkpoint itself is illegal. It does not serve Israel’s security. It is a checkpoint between villages and Ramallah and is intended only to ‘haze’ people by forcing them to go completely out of their way to get to Ramallah or El Bireh. We live in a situation of injustice. There is no justification for killing a 16-year-old boy. He was an American who lived a very comfortable life here, who was not bothered by the occupation. He only wanted to exercise his right to cross the checkpoint.”
Shaalan’s father Mohammed was in Florida when he found out his son had been shot five times by Israelis and died. The youth had wanted to live and study in Palestine because of the quaint, comfortable circumstances of Palestinian village life in Deir Dibwan. Like the parent of any child killed on a trip overseas, Mohammed expressed disbelief, saying he felt the village was safe.
“If I’d thought it was, I would not have allowed him to stay,” he said.