The semester’s final exam in sciences was finished, and Samir Awad was feeling pleased when he left the classroom. This was his last exam. Looking, perhaps, for some relief from the pressures of the exam, he headed out with some of his friends to the path that leads down from the school in his village, Budrus, in the Ramallah region; the group headed toward the separation barrier, located about 200 meters away. There were six of them: Monir, Hosni, Mohammed, Sahar, Musa and Samir. Some were 16 (Samir’s age), others a bit younger.
They didn’t notice the four soldiers who were concealed by the prickly pear cacti in the village, next to a greenhouse, nor did they see another two soldiers who hid in a trench next to the fence. Approaching it constitutes a test of courage for youths in this imprisoned village; the area is their only play corner. Almost every day, at the end of school, teenagers go down to the barrier, provoke the soldiers who are almost always stationed there, and wait to see how they will respond.
But this time the soldiers were hiding, and they ambushed the teenagers. It was around 10 A.M. on January 15, a Tuesday, the last day of studies before the semester break. When the group reached a point a few dozen meters from the fence, some of Samir’s friends took fright and retreated backward, toward the hill.
Samir decided to proceed onward alone, undaunted by whether or not this counted as a test of courage. He passed the first part the prison-like grid that closes off his village somebody had ripped an opening in the barbed-wire fence. He then crossed another, relatively low, iron fence; this too apparently had an opening. He now found himself trapped between two fences, one that he had passed beyond, and another, high electronic one that he had no chance of getting through.
Exactly at this moment, Armored Corps soldiers emerged from their ambush and fired two warning shots into the air, using live ammunition. Samir was startled, and apparently lost his composure. Alarmed, he tried to climb back over the iron fence and return to his village he was too frantic to look for the opening. The soldiers then fired and wounded him in the knee. He tried to escape, and managed to climb over the low fence despite his wound, and began to run toward the village. Blood stains were still evident this week on rocks in the area, marking the trail of his flight.
One of the soldiers grabbed him by the arm, but Samir managed to extricate himself and flee. He continued just another few meters until, from a distance of about 10 meters, the soldiers fired two more shots at him. One bullet penetrated his skull and went out through his forehead, over his left eye; the other bullet hit him in the back, and exited through his chest.
I saw a photograph of his corpse, which documents the entry and exit points of bullets, leaving no room for doubt: Samir Awad was hit in the back by live bullets. The Israel Defense Forces announced that it will investigate the matter, and a Central Command officer told Haaretz: “Clearly this event is not good.”
Samir fell on one of the rocks next to the cacti and lost consciousness, blood flowing from his wounds and mouth. Soldiers approached him but didn’t have anything that could be used to treat him, apart from one standard-issue army bandage, which ended up being left hanging on the fence. Samir’s friends watched these events from their hill.
We stood on the same hill and reenacted the incident, together with B’Tselem investigator Iyad Hadad, who took eyewitness testimony; Hadad conducted a detailed investigation in conjunction with local resident Abd al-Nasser, who arrived on the scene shortly after the fatal shooting, equipped with a video camera. Samir’s mother and brother also came to the site for the reenactment.
The IDF soldiers claimed that they called for a military ambulance, but Nasser says an hour passed before the ambulance turned up, even though the IDF has a training base close to the site.
The six IDF soldiers on the scene, who apparently had no experience with such incidents, left the mortally wounded youth, and retreated back beyond the fence. In the video footage, the soldiers are seen standing next to the barrier as villagers collect Samir and carry him back up the hill to a private car that had been summoned to the area. The boy’s mother sits on the ground and howls in grief.
The soldiers’ faces can be plainly seen. I looked at them; one has the rank of captain, and at least one fired at the youth and killed him even though he was unarmed and didn’t pose a threat to anyone. The soldiers who fired the shots fled the scene quickly, and another group of soldiers replaced them.
Israel Radio news broadcast the following report later that day: “IDF troops today thwarted an attempted infiltration into Israel perpetrated by a Palestinian, aged 17. According to Palestinian sources, the youth was killed.”
Attempted infiltration; a youth; a 17 year old; according to Palestinian sources. The report has the tone of propagandistic disinformation.
A Palestinian ambulance was waiting for the victim at the exit of the neighboring village, Na’alin. Samir was transported in it, but doctors at the Ramallah hospital could only pronounce him dead.
A small flock of sheep grazes in the area where Samir was shot. IDF smoke grenade canisters can be seen tossed around everywhere. “Mortal danger: military area. Anyone trying to cross or damage the fence risks his life,” declares a warning sign.
Samir was buried in village grounds in the late afternoon. During the funeral, IDF soldiers came to the village and hurled tear gas at the mourners. Yusef Lafi, a 17 year-old, was injured by a gas grenade.
Exactly a year ago, an IDF soldier lost his way and mistakenly entered Budrus, one of the communities that wages a nonviolent struggle against the separation barrier.
Village residents found the soldier, and returned him safe and sound to the army. Now village residents bitterly recalled that incident. Samir’s killing is the reward they received for this act of decency, they suggested.
Ahmed Awad, the grieving father, sat by a vine on the porch of the family’s simple home. A father of 15 who has a permit to work in Israel, he wore a work shirt emblazoned with the words “Adam and Eve: the Modi’in Ecological Farm” even during the period of mourning. A year ago, he gave a lecture at that farm to dozens of Israeli children and their parents about Palestinian agriculture.
Ahmed tries to recall his son’s personality, but chokes on his tears and retires to his room. When he returns, he says only that he promised Samir that if he finished high school, he’d finance his university studies something he didn’t manage to do for his other children. He saw Samir for the last time the night before the killing: His son was busy studying for the final exam. The next time he saw Samir was in the Ramallah morgue.
Mourners who congregate around the bereaved father talk about the feeling of confinement that young people of the village feel. The fence hems in their school, and the children are severed from the surrounding green spaces. Most of the village’s young people have been detained at one stage or another by the IDF, even though nobody in Budrus has ever fired a shot at any Israeli soldier, despite the fact that the army constantly raids the village, night and day.
“This little boy,” the father says, using the Hebrew slang word katanchik. “They killed him in cold blood. They didn’t blink; nothing bothered them.” Again, tears cover his face.
Death notices and the Palestinian flag cover the fresh grave, situated next to an olive tree. The small cemetery is located next to the school, meaning that it is also close to the fence. We walk down to the site again. Six IDF soldiers have once again crossed through the barrier. They now stand and wait for the youths to return and try to provoke them, with their armored vehicle on the other side of the fence.
One of Samir’s bereaved siblings heads screaming toward the valley and tries to hide himself from the soldiers, in the shadow of the cacti. Some of his friends taunt the soldiers from afar, calling them “cowards.” One of the soldiers instantly orders: “Aim straight” and, once again, they fire, this time gas grenades. They explode a very short distance from the children, emitting thick mushrooms of smoke. The spectacle continues for some time, before the soldiers decide to leave and quiet returns to this resplendently scenic but bitterly scarred site.