Ahmad Erekat was in a rush. It was his sister’s wedding day, and he had so much to do: pick up flowers, take his newly rented car to get to adorned with wedding decorations, pick up his sister and mother from the beauty salon, and the most important task of all — bring his sister home in a procession of honking cars and deliver her to her groom.
But Erekat, 27, never got the chance to fulfill his tradition as a Palestinian brother and bring his sister home.
While on his way to the beauty salon to pick her up, he was shot and killed by Israeli forces at the “container” military checkpoint outside of Bethlehem on Tuesday afternoon.
Photos and videos of an injured Erekat, lying bloodied on the ground in a fetal position, as armed Israeli soldiers walked past him and pointed their guns at him, flooded social media in the hours after his killing.
Israeli border police claimed that Erekat committed a car ramming attack with the intention of injuring a number of soldiers stationed at the checkpoint. One female soldier was reportedly lightly injured and taken to a hospital in Jerusalem for treatment.
Israeli authorities released CCTV footage of the incident on Wednesday afternoon, which shows Erekat’s car suddenly veering into the direction of the median where the soldiers’ outpost is located.
Erekat’s car crashes into the outpost, throwing back one of the soldiers. His figure, blurred out by Israeli authorities, can be seen immediately exiting the vehicle and seemingly, in a disoriented manner, backing away from the soldiers.
The soldiers immediately open fire on Erekat, knocking him to the ground.
According to local media reports and witness testimony, Erekat was reportedly left on the ground bleeding for over an hour, as Israeli officers refused to give him medical treatment, and prevented any Palestinian bystanders from doing so either.
The Palestinian Red Crescent in Bethlehem told the media that their ambulances were prevented by the soldiers from reaching Erekat’s body.
In an Op-Ed for Haaretz, Dalal Iriqat, a cousin of Ahmad, claimed that when Ahmad’s father arrived at the scene and saw his son lying on the ground, he called out to the soldiers, begging them to let him approach his son.
Another video circulating on social media taken by a witness to the incident, whose car was just a few meters behind Erekat’s car, shows an injured Erekat lying on the ground in a fetal position, with blood streaming down the road from his body.
In the video, the man says “it’s 3:50 pm, at ‘the Container,’ a young man was martyred right now. They shot him right here in front of us. May he rest in peace.”
He added: “they left him [lying] on the ground until he died.”
Family in a state of shock
In the wake of his killing, Erekat’s family and friends have expressed their shock and disbelief at the situation, saying that their son could never possibly commit such an attack, especially on the day of his sister’s wedding.
Palestinian-American activist and cousin of Ahmad, Noura Erakat, took to social media to express her outrage over the characterization of Ahmad by Israel as a “terrorist.”
“The only terrorists are the cowards who shot to kill a beautiful young man and blamed him for it,” Erakat tweeted.
Erakat echoed sentiments expressed by her extended family to the media, saying that the likelihood of Ahmad committing an attack on the day of his sister’s wedding was unfathomable, suggesting instead that he might have lost control of his car and unintentionally crashed into the outpost.
“Palestinians are so securitized as a threat that we can’t make human mistakes, like lose momentary control of our car, press the accelerator in a moment of haste, get in a car accident,” Erakat said.
She continued, saying: “There is such deep dehumanization that the obvious question of journos should be why is there a checkpoint [between] 2 #Palestinian cities? Why would he do this on his sister’s wedding day? Why did the soldiers shoot him lethally? Why did they deny access to paramedics?….Why is his image blurred so that we can’t see he is unarmed and confused?”
In Ahmad Erekat’s hometown of Abu Dis, hundreds of mourners gathered around the family’s home, and the wedding hall where his sister Iman was supposed to get married that night.
“Everyone is in a state of disbelief,” Dr. Abdallah Abu Hilal, a local emergency medical doctor and friend of the Erekat family, told Mondoweiss.
“Ahmad was a good friend of ours, he was always happy, laughing, and friendly,” Abu Hilal said. “When we heard he was martyred, we were shocked. We still are.”
“He didn’t have any problems in his life at the moment; he was happy. He was supposed to get married next month. Why would anyone in his position ever commit an attack? We dont believe it,” Abu Hilal said
Dr. Abu Hilal was called by the family to check on Erekat’s mother and sisters, who he said were in a state of total shock when he arrived.
“His sister, the bride, she was beside herself, she couldn’t speak, she was in a trance,” he said. “His mom was in total disbelief. She couldn’t believe that she was getting ready for her daughter’s wedding, and then suddenly had to prepare for her son’s funeral.”
“It’s tragic,” Abu Hilal continued. “To see the house all decorated, and ready for a wedding. And then to see what was supposed to be the wedding hall, now turned into a wake.”
‘He was executed’
Photos of Erekat flooded Palestinian social media following his killing, with friends sharing tributes, and strangers expressing their sadness over his killing.
One Twitter user wrote: “Ahmed was my grandma’s neighbor in abu dis, Jerusalem..she says he was the kindest & happiest young man..always made everyone around him smile. He will always be remembered for his pure heart. God ease this pain on his family. May his soul rest in peace.”
Others expressed frustration over what they said was an excessive use of force on part of the Israeli soldiers, specifically following eyewitness accounts the Erekat was apparently backing away from soldiers when he was shot.
Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the PLO and a relative of Ahmad’s, said his nephew was “killed in cold blood,” and that any accusations that he was committing an attack was a “lie.”
In an interview with Democracy Now! on Wednesday, Noura Erakat explained: “What we understand is that Ahmed lost control of his car or was confused while he was in his car. That was all it took to have a knee-jerk reaction, for the car to jerk a little bit and immediately to cause the soldiers to open fire on him multiple times.”
“Note that these soldiers, who are fully armed at this checkpoint, are behind barriers, are not actually out in the open, and then left Ahmed to bleed for one-and-a-half hours,” she continued.
Erakat went on to stress the context under which Ahmad was killed, saying: “why is there a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Abu Dis, two Palestinian cities? Why are there checkpoints anywhere? Just think about those questions as we answer this broader question of the context that Ahmed was killed in.”
Ahmad Erekat was one of 11 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the occupied territory this year. His killing comes just weeks after Israeli police officer shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian man with autism, Eyad al-Halaq, in occupied East Jerusalem.
Israeli rights groups like B’Tselem have been vocally critical of Israel’s “shoot-to-kill” policy, and the fact that Israeli soldiers often fatally shoot Palestinians, even in instances where they could have arrested or detained alleged suspects without lethal force.
The UN Human Rights Council has said of Israel’s use of force against Palestinians that Israel often uses lethal force against Palestinians “on mere suspicion or as a precautionary measure,” even when their lives are not immediately in danger.