It all happened within seconds. Aisha al-Rabi, 48, was sitting in the car with her husband Yaqoub, 51, laughing and jesting with their youngest daughter, 8-year-old Rama.
The parents of eight children were on the way home to their village of Bidya, in the northwestern occupied West Bank, after visiting one of their daughters in Hebron on October 12.
Yaqoub and Aisha were excitedly discussing plans for the engagement of one of their daughters in two weeks. The next moment, Aisha was unconscious, blood spilling from her head.
A group of Israeli settlers, the al-Rabi family says, were hiding out on the right shoulder of the road around 9:30 pm. They waited until the family slowed down ahead of a permanent Israeli military checkpoint in the area. As the family approached the checkpoint, the settlers began hurling large rocks at the car.
“My wife was in the passenger seat and she had her head turned and was talking to me when the settlers attacked the car,” Yaqoub told Mondoweiss on the patio of his family’s home. “So when the huge rock broke through the windshield, it hit the right side of her face, directly on her ear.”
“I didn’t know what was going on, it all happened so fast. There was blood everywhere, her brain was spilling out of her head, and she had slumped over onto me,” he said. “Rama was screaming and crying in the back asking me ‘what’s wrong with mom?’.”
By the time Yaqoub arrived at the hospital in Nablus city, a 20 minute drive away, his wife of 31 years was dead.
Now, a month later, on the eve of what was supposed to be his daughter’s engagement, rather than preparing for a weekend of family festivities, Yaqoub is still receiving visitors offering their condolences for his deceased wife.
“We got married when we were teenagers,” Yaqoub said, as tears welled up in his eyes. “We started from nothing, we raised eight amazing children, tired ourselves working to build this life that we have now,” he continued as he gestured to his home.
“We finally reached a point in our lives where we can enjoy each other, and enjoy our life, and now she’s gone.”
Investigation or charade?
Two hours after Yaqoub said his goodbyes to his wife as she lay in the hospital morgue, he received a call from Palestinian authorities around midnight telling him to go back to the site of the attack, where Israeli authorities were waiting to get his statement on the attack.
He got back in his shattered car, the blood of his wife still fresh on the seats, and made his way back to the site of the attack, near Israel’s Tapuach (Za’tara) military checkpoint.
“I stayed there until 4 am, while Israeli police and intelligence officers asked me questions about the attack,” Yaqoub told Mondoweiss, adding that the Israelis took his car as part of the investigations.
When asked about the nature of the questions he was asked that night, Yaqoub shrugged and took a drag of his cigarette. “I could barely think, I still can’t even believe it’s real, sometimes I feel I’m just dreaming,” he said, shaking his head.
The next day, as he prepared to bury his wife, Israeli authorities called Yaqoub in for another interrogation about what happened. The third day after the attack, his 8-year-old daughter Rama was called in for questioning.
“They said they were trying to get to the bottom of what happened,” Yaqoub said. “But what do they need to question a little girl for?”
“The attack happened around a military checkpoint. There are cameras everywhere. All they have to do is check the footage and they could catch the guys in a few hours, but they don’t want to,” Yaqoub said matter of factly.
Yaqoub says that in the weeks since Aisha was killed, he has received no news of any arrests that were made in connection to the attack.
At the time of the attack, the Israeli police said in a statement that they were conducting an investigation. Mondoweiss reached out to the police for comment on an update on the case, but received no response.
“I really believe that all this questioning and so-called investigation was just for show,” Yaqoub says.
His brother Ayoub, 48, interjected: “If this were a Palestinian who carried out such an attack on an Israeli, they would have shut down all the roads, the entire West Bank if they had to, just to catch the guy.”
“But when a Palestinian is killed, they somehow don’t find any conclusions in their investigations,” he continued.
No justice with the settlers
While he has yet to receive any solid answers on the investigation into his wife’s murder, Yaqoub says that he recently received a call from Israeli authorities saying that “Jewish extremists” were behind the attack, but that he was not given any more details.
“This is all they told me. But we knew this already, that it was the settlers,” Yaqoub said.
“Some people tried to insinuate that maybe it was our own people who attacked us. But we have a car with Palestinian license plates,” he continued. “Which kind of Palestinian would do such a thing? Of course it was the settlers.”
Among the 3.1 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank are an estimated 600,000 Israelis living in Jewish-only settlements, in contravention of international law.
While the Israeli state incentivizes its citizens to move into the territories through government subsidies –including favorable mortgages and discounts on purchases of property declared state land, amounting to about $700 per settler per year — the majority of settlers move to the occupied territory for political and religious reasons.
Among the settlers who regard themselves as inhabiting a land that is rightfully theirs exists a fundamentalist movement that claims the entire West Bank as Israeli territory, and that stakes its claim through violence against Palestinians.
The attack on al-Rabi came at a sensitive time for Palestinians, who during this year’s olive harvest season witnessed a rise in attacks on their crops, property, and even physical assaults, particularly on farmers.
Aisha al-Rabi’s death caused an uproar on Palestinian social media, with people circulating photos of a doting Aisha and Yaqoub with their children, juxtaposed with pictures of the smashed up car — the broken glass, blood, and rocks visible on the passenger’s seat.
While Israeli officials initially claimed that the attack on al-Rabi could have been “revenge” for attacks carried out prior by Palestinians against Israelis in the same area, Palestinians, including Yaqoub and his family, maintain that settler violence against Palestinians is an unfortunate part of life here.
“I pray, I pray for the day when someone can go drive with his family in this country and not have to worry about being attacked by settlers and killed,” he said.
When asked if he was going to file a suit in Israeli court to try and get answers about his wife’s murder, Yaqoub shook his head.
“I really can’t think about any of that right now,” he said. “We know that 95% of the attacks that the settlers commit against Palestinians go unprosecuted. So even if we try to go to court, it will be for nothing.”
‘It will never be the same’
The weeks since his wife was killed, Yaqoub says, have been a daze.
One week after Israeli authorities had seized his car for investigations, Yaqoub received a call to go pick it up from the Ariel settlement.
“They made me go out of my way to pick up my car, and then when I arrived, all the blood was still there, the glass shattered. Everything was still the same.”
He says he hasn’t used the car since the attack, or even taken it to get fixed. “I can’t bear to look at it.”
In an attempt to restore some sense of normalcy to his family’s life, Yaqoub has returned to work in Israel, and most of his kids have gone back to school.
“My daughter Rama has been scarred by what happened,” Yaqoub said. “She is scared to go to the bathroom by herself. She used to sleep in the room with me and Aisha all the time, but since the attack she hasn’t set foot in our room.”
“My oldest son is at university studying engineering in Amman,” Yaqoub told Mondoweiss. “He came for his mother’s funeral and he didn’t want to return, it was too hard for him.”
“But Aisha, she worked her whole life to educate her kids, and she would want them to continue studying,” Yaqoub said, as he boasted of his children’s accomplishments: his girls were doctors, pharmacists, dentists, and IT engineers.
“Aisha was so proud of our children, of their accomplishments,” Yaqoub said. “She was so excited for their futures, to see more of her grandchildren, to see our kids get married,” he continued.
“But now I’ll have to do all that on my own,” he said.
He has has asked his daughter and her fiance when they want to hold their engagement.
“They are refusing to set a date. My daughter told me even if we do it in one year, it won’t be the same because mom is not here,” he said. “It will never be the same.”