Mohammad Tamimi, 15, was shot point-blank in the face with a rubber-coated steel bullet following a protest in the village of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank in December.
The bullet, considered by Israel as a “non-lethal weapon” in the West Bank, entered his face below his nose and lodged into the back of his skull.
He was placed under a medically-induced coma and woke up 72 hours later after a series of surgeries.
Doctors were forced to remove a portion of his skull owing to inflammation in his brain. His head is now deformed and a part of his brain is left unprotected.
Manal Tamimi is Mohammad’s relative and a prominent activist in Nabi Saleh, where residents have led non-violent protests against the Israeli occupation for years. She saw Mohammad’s injury just a few minutes after the incident. “His face was full of blood. We couldn’t even tell it was him. We all thought he was going to die.”
The doctors who performed the surgery were preparing the right words to inform Mohammad’s family that their son had lost his life. But, surprisingly, he survived. “No one thought he would make it,” Manal told Mondoweiss.
Since Mohammad was released from the hospital, his condition continues to be “very bad,” Fadel Tamimi, Mohammad’s father, tells Mondoweiss. He has not recovered even 50 percent, he says.
“He still doesn’t see well with his left eye and his right hand and leg are not strong. He has to swing himself when he walks. Somebody must always stay near him to make sure he doesn’t fall down when he walks,” Fadel said.
The teen is not permitted to even ride in a taxi owing to his exposed brain, Manal adds.
However, Mohammad’s severe injuries did not stop Israeli forces from barging into his family’s home at 3 a.m. on Monday and arresting the teen, along with nine other residents — the majority of whom were minors.
To add insult to injury, before Mohammad was released from Israeli custody a few hours later, he was forced into confessing that his head wound was not sustained by Israeli forces shooting him in the face, but was instead the result of an unfortunate bicycle accident.
Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), celebrated Mohammad’s alleged confession on the agency’s Arabic Facebook page, saying that the minor had admitted himself during interrogations that the injury was sustained from a bicycle accident.
This statement was published despite the fact that it contradicts medical records, a CT scan, eyewitness accounts, and an image of the actual rubber bullet after it was removed from Mohammad’s skull.
Manal’s first reaction was to laugh. “Israel will literally say anything to discredit us and ruin our village’s image. They can’t stand that the rest of the world is on our side.”
On Tuesday, COGAT released another statement on the incident saying that Mohammad had “conveyed” the bicycle story “a number of times” to Israeli officials.
“According to the boy’s version, he suffered a head injury when he fell from off his electric bicycle and his head bashed against the bicycle handlebars,” the statement read.
The statement goes on: “We shall continue revealing the truth in order to expose the Palestinian mechanism of incitement.”
However, Mohammad says that he admitted that he was injured from a bicycle accident because Israeli forces had “beaten him” into confessing.
“We were in a car on our way to the interrogations and there were two Israeli officials who kept beating me in my face, back, everywhere and kept telling me that I had to admit it was a bicycle accident,” Mohammad told Mondoweiss.
The Israeli officials also confiscated medicine from Mohammad’s pocket; medicine which is crucial for his recovery. They refused to give it back to him unless he admitted that Israeli soldiers did not actually shoot him, Mohammad says.
“I was very scared and I didn’t want them to continue beating me, so I confessed,” the 15-year-old explained.
Fadel, Mohammad’s father, remains confused about Israel’s motives. “I don’t know why they are so focused on discrediting the truth. I think they just want to find a way to get out of taking responsibility for what happened — especially since Mohammad’s case has gotten so much media attention.”
When Ahed Tamimi was informed of Mohammad’s injury on the same day, the then 16-year-old, who has witnessed her parents dragged away by soldiers on numerous occasions and her relatives killed, finally snapped.
She threw a slap that sent ripples throughout the world. Following her arrest a few days later, hundreds of journalists paraded to the small some 600-person village to interview the residents.
“Since Ahed’s arrest there has literally only been three days that we haven’t had a journalist come to our home,” Manal told Mondoweiss.
The international attention the Tamimi family has received in the wake of Ahed’s arrest has not sat well with Israeli authorities. Some Israeli officials have advocated a harsh prison sentence for Ahed, now 17, while others went so far as to encourage violence against the teen.
Last month, reports emerged that Michael Oren, an Israeli deputy minister and former ambassador to the United States, had led a Knesset subcommittee inquiry two years ago into whether the Tamimi family were indeed a real family.
The inquiry explored whether the Tamimi family were hired actors who were put together in order to advance “Palestinian propaganda,” and questioned whether they were Palestinian at all, owing to their blond hair, light skin, and blue eyes.
Fadi Quran, senior campaigner at the advocacy group Avaaz, says that Israel uses these tactics to “shift the spotlight away from its abhorrent abuses of basic human rights.”
The Tamimi family has become a prime target for Israel’s crackdown because the residents were able to “humanize Palestinians to an international audience” during their near decade-long nonviolent resistance.
“People saw brave men, women and children facing live bullets and armed soldiers,” Quran pointed out.
But, according to Quran, the “humanization” of Palestinians is a dangerous challenge to Israel’s policies in the West Bank.
“Israel’s goal is not just to de-legitimize the Tamimi family, it is to dehumanize them so that the world does not flinch if they are shot in the head or their children are dragged from bed and arrested,” he said.
“This is not new — Israel has pursued [a campaign] of dehumanizing Palestinians in the media for decades.”
While Israel leads a campaign to “dehumanize” the Tamimi family on the international stage, they have simultaneously led a crackdown on the village for months.
At least 19 residents have been arrested since Ahed’s slap. At least 13 are still in Israeli custody, including Manal’s two sons. Most have been arrested during overnight detention raids.
According to Mohammad, when he was released from Israeli custody, he was told by Israeli authorities to send his village a message: “We will arrest everyone in your village.”
On Monday evening, Israeli intelligence called the homes of seven families in Nabi Saleh and ordered their sons to come to the police station for interrogations, according to Manal.
They threatened the families that if their sons did not show for interrogations, then Israeli forces would raid the village again and “everyone will pay the price,” Manal tells Mondoweiss.
The escalating crackdown on the village has forced residents to take unprecedented measures, including organizing “practice drills” earlier this month to prepare the children and teens in the village for Israeli detentions.
The drills included blindfolding some 30 children in the village and having them undergo mock interrogations, based on the experiences of other residents who have been arrested by Israeli forces.
Quran was the individual who led these drills in Nabi Saleh and he has done the same with 2,000 other Palestinian children across the West Bank who were expected to be targeted in Israeli detention raids.
“Our trainings teach the children key skills in psychological well-being, remaining silent, knowing what to expect when arrested, and building community that helps ensure they withstand even the toughest forms of interrogation and abuse,” Quran explained.
This is imperative to protect the children, Quran said. He said that, for instance, Israeli authorities had threatened Ahed that they would arrest her 11-year-old cousin Jana Jihad if she refused to confess to the charges against her.
The drills were aimed to prepare them for Israeli interrogation tactics like these and to ensure that the children understand their rights, Manal says.
While some have criticized the village’s use of these drills, residents argue that it’s an unfortunate reality that Israel targets children in the village with detention.
And, indeed, one of the participants of the detention drill, 13-year-old Sohayib Tamimi, was one of the 10 residents detained in the overnight raid on Monday. Residents hope that the training and preparation he received will make his experience in Israeli detention less traumatic.