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murder of children
Journey to Beitunia, Tuesday, 22 February, 2005
Ronni Hammermann, Tamar Goldschmidt and Aya Kaniuk
On Tuesday, February 15, around 4:30 in the afternoon, one of the guards
of the apartheid wall that was to be built in the Beituniya area,
murdered Hanni Alla, 15, and seriously injured Ussama Abu Muhsen, 14,
his best friend.
We went with Basem, the father of the injured Ussama, to the site where
it took place. Basem himself had not been there yet. The place was a
valley at the foot of a hill, at the end of which stand the last houses
Bellow, in the valley, a “clear and clean” line of a road was drawn. The
wall will be built there, to link with the one already built, that
begins at Qalandiya.
Next to the wall’s construction site in Qalandiya, and along the wall,
three children were murdered over the last two years by soldiers at the
checkpoint. Small children throwing stones, and soldiers with security
vests and helmets sniping at them. Omar Matar, 14, was shot with a live
bullet to his neck by a soldier, while he was fleeing. Ahmed Latifa, 12,
climbed on the fence. The wall was not yet built. The soldiers chased
him. He got stuck on top and couldn’t get over the fence.
First they shot at his legs, then they shot him in the back, and he
Fares Jamzawi, 15, was 30 meters from the fence that will turn into a
wall, just fleeing from the soldiers with his friends. The jeep stopped
and the soldiers got out. One aimed and fired and he was hit with a
rubber bullet in the face and died.
Chronicle of a death foretold.
Meanwhile, near the construction of the wall in Beituniya, two have been
murdered, one by a soldier, the other by a security guard.
There was a demonstration of settlers a few days ago. Some of the young
settlers were throwing stones. No one shot and killed them.
The ultra-orthodox often throw stones at cars in Jerusalem. No one
shoots and kills them.
No one even hurls teargas at them, nor rubber bullets.
This is for a very simple and amazingly clear-cut reason: they are Jews,
and the blood of Jews, as is known, is worth something. The blood of
Palestinians is worth less, their blood is unclaimed, and as you recall
from the events of October, 2000, the blood of Israeli Palestinians is
also worth less.
Even in the case of Palestinian citizens of Israel it is not evident
that human life is a supreme value, that you don’t sacrifice it for any
reason. Not when they are Palestinians, whether Israeli or not. Race, it
seems, is destiny.
It begins in the morning. Almost every day, between 7:30 and 8:00. Basem
says you can set your watch by it. Two army jeeps are parked in front of
the elementary school (for children up to the age of 14) in Beituniya,
The children respond to the soldiers’ provocation and start to throw
stones, just as is expected of them. And the soldiers, of course, shoot
gas and rubber. For now the injuries are mild, but only by chance.
Remember, a rubber bullet is a steel bullet covered with rubber. And
On December 9, 2003, Fares Jamzawi, 15, the last to be murdered (for
now) around the wall of Qalandiya, was shot with a rubber bulled. He and
his friends were throwing stones at the wall. A jeep stopped nearby. A
soldier came out, aimed his weapon, and fired. A rubber bullet hit him
in the face and he fell and died. The soldiers left.
“And what stops it?” we ask.
The bell rings. The small children go to the classroom, and the soldiers
Sometimes, Basem says, one or another teacher will take some personal
initiative, depending perhaps on how much gas and rubber is being fired,
and ring the bell before the scheduled time.
There are two schools, primary and secondary. The soldiers start with
the little ones and then move on to the bigger ones.
Around 12:30, at the end of a day of learning at the primary school,
again two jeeps are stationed at the same spot at the entrance to the
school, waiting for the youngsters. And again, the children respond to
the provocation, throw stones, and then shots. Shots stones, stones
shots. And then the jeeps drive to the high school to wait for the
bigger kids who are about to exit.
Stones, gunfire, until one-thirty-quarter-to-two.
“How does it end here?” We ask.
“The soldiers leave. If the soldiers stay, so does the fighting.”
The afternoon scene ends on its own. Maybe everyone is a little tired.
Basem, who drives a taxi and travels the city a lot, driving kids to
school, says that if he sees the jeeps next to the school he knows that
the school day is over. He knows what time it is.
“I usually go there when he comes out,” Basem says, “but not always. But
what can I do? He can’t sit at home all day.”
In the afternoon the children of Beituniya walk to the end of the town.
They usually decide at school whether or not they will go on that day.
They know that the soldiers are already waiting for them at the
apartheid road that follows the road on which the wall is being built,
among the tractors and trucks that are working there.
The children throw stones, and the soldiers, who have a small opening in
the top of the jeep, get out and fire gas and rubber.
A few months ago, like every day, Ibrahim, 14, a friend of Ussama and a
veteran battle hero (although he has never been injured, and with envy
he looks at the bandaged Ussama who has “scored”) when the construction
of the wall had just begun, four or maybe three months earlier. The work
was proceeding to the south of today’s location, in the direction of
Qalandiya. A group of kids, among them Hussein Alian, 17, threw stones
at the soldiers. One soldier may have been hit, Ibrahim is not sure, but
what is certain is that Hussein was cursing the soldiers, and one of
them looked out from the opening in the roof of the jeep, aimed his gun
at him, and fired a live bullet to his head and he fell, fluttering,
like a slaughtered chicken, says Ibrahim, until he stopped moving.
The soldiers continued watching them as they dragged their dead friend
to a car that took them away.
Over the course of these shining games of life and death of the children
and the soldiers of occupation and oppression another organ of the
occupation joins in. Former soldiers, in the form of wall security
guards, it seems, sometimes after the end of the scene of the soldiers
and children. After one to one-and-a-half hours, until one side gets
tired and the soldiers leave, the guards arrive. Two pickup trucks, one
blue and one white (it looks like an Isuzu pickup). In each truck sit
two guards, and sometimes, as has happened many times, the guards take
shots at the children, who by now generally keep their distance.
One of them was Yasser, the children say. On this occasion there were no
soldiers, only the white pickup. Yasser started shouting at the guards
and cursing, and he made this sort of gesture, the children explain. The
guard immediately raised his gun and fired. A live bullet to the leg.
On February 5 only the guards arrived. There were two of them in the
truck. Yusri Said, 17, was hiding behind a rock. They stopped the truck.
Two guards poked their weapons out the window, aimed at Yusri and fired,
a bullet entered his abdomen, from the side, and he was seriously
injured. After 16 days he was released from the hospital and his parents
were told that he would be fine.
On the 15th of the month, a group of children were throwing stones
toward the army jeep, that was parked as usual, intentionally, on the
road on which the wall is to be built. It was about 1:00 PM, when
everyone had gone down to the wadi, the meeting place. “We threw stones,
the soldiers fired rubber and gas, after about an hour we got tired, as
did the soldiers, and they left,” says Ibrahim. The children also turned
to leave and they were plodding up the hill toward the first group of
The white pickup came down from the adjacent mountain, on which the
children say stood the trailer in which one of the guards lived. The
children called the guard “The Bedouin,” since, according to them, he
speaks Arabic and lives in a trailer near the wall’s construction site.
He is the main shooter. And indeed, he got out of the pickup. The
children had their backs to him. 100 meters away. “You with the white
shirt,” he shouted to Ussama, “this is your last day,” and that was the
last thing that Ussama remembers. A live bullet hit him in the shoulder,
from the back, and exited in front, half a centimeter from his heart.
Children tried to pick up the unconscious Ussama, but he was heavy and
they were panicked and apparently unsuccessful, and were also frightened
by the gunfire. And they left. Meanwhile, an adult from Beituniya, who
apparently saw what happened from the distance, starting coming down the
hill toward Ussama, who was lying on the ground. And one of the children
as well, Hanni, 15, Ussama’s friend, approached him.
Hanni just managed to reach him, without even reaching out his hand,
when he was hit by three bullets, two in the chest and one in the neck.
The bullet to his neck entered from behind on one side and exited on the
other. And he fell.
Meanwhile, the adult reached them, and together with the remaining
children, dragged the two children, the injured Ussama and the dying
Hanni, to his car. He took the children to the hospital. Where were you
hit, he managed to ask Hanni, who pointed to his chest and his neck, but
could no longer speak, fading. A few minutes before they arrived at the
hospital Hanni stopped breathing.
The place where the children throw stones is a symbolic place. The wall
is not yet standing, only its early signs.
By the way, if the solders had arrived, no stones would have been
thrown, although it is because of the stones that they are there.
Babies with guns. Conquerors.
And why do I say that there is still no wall there? Why bring up that
fact? If it was, would they still answer stones with gunfire?
When I say that “it is not their fault,” they didn’t throw stones at the
wall, there is no wall there, am I joining the legitimation that says
there is or could be a reason or a context in which children throw
stones and soldiers or guards or someone shoots at them?
Basem did not know that his son throws stones. The kid always said no,
that he doesn’t. Nine days before he was injured his father suddenly saw
him next to the hospital. “What are you doing here?” Basem asked in
surprise. “ Ah, I came to study with a friend,” was the child’s excuse,
when in fact he had come to visit his friend Yusri, who had been shot in
To see Ibrahim, Ussama’s friend, looking at his bandaged friend who had
almost died, with a child’s longing, adoring, and consumed with envy, an
envy that doesn’t know the reality of death, but only the word, and
Ussama at his side, the hero, wears his injury with a celebratory,
restrained, and proud modesty,
Every moment, every second, and probably in the afternoon of one day or
another, at the foot of the mountain on the outskirts of Beituniya, he
might arrive any moment, and when he arrives he is likely to murder the
When Basem called by to tell me about his son’s injury, he said, “I want
my child to be the last casualty.”
Even he knows that this is not about to happen. It was more like a
prayer, like an inoculation. A way to deal with the terrible
frustration, and the debt of gratitude, the anger and sense of threat.
Like blowing a shofar, whose voice opens the gates of heaven so that the
prayers can get out.
Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall