Just minutes after Israel Defense Forces soldiers shot and injured two members of the Abu Maria family in Beit Ummar last Thursday, the soldiers killed their 53-year-old father, a carpenter by trade. He was the 16th Palestinian killed by the IDF this year during raids on homes in the West Bank. Immediate reports from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit to the media claimed that the soldiers’ mission was to arrest one of his sons, and that the soldiers opened fire after family members attacked them, even choking a soldier, after boulders were thrown at them. The IDF didn’t report any injuries among the soldiers.
One report indicated that a member of the family was arrested for questioning by the Shin Bet security service, but that was false. The soldiers left the house in Beit Ummar less than an hour after entering it, without making any arrests.
The bereaved family members, all too accustomed to army raids on their houses and arrests, reject the version of accounts put forward by the IDF. They say that the soldiers in question displayed a lack of experience from the outset, as well as confusion, baseless fear and misunderstanding of their surroundings, and were also unwilling to talk. Family members say that these soldiers acted differently than any others over the last 25 years, a period during which at least 10 relatives were arrested for varying amounts of time (primarily on suspicion of involvement with Islamic Jihad, or throwing stones).
In contrast with recent history, they say, a commanding officer, who gives orders to the soldiers and the family itself, apparently did not accompany the soldiers.
“When we asked to speak with the commanding officer,” recalls Ahmed Abu Maria, no one identified themselves as an officer. Ahmed also recounts that in contrast with common practice, none of the soldiers stated that they were there to make arrests, nor did they ask for the family’s identification or cellular phones, and did not read the target suspect’s identity from any forms.
Last Thursday at 3 A.M., members of the Abu Maria family awoke to sounds in their front yard, and then loud knocks on the door. Ahmed lives on the ground floor, and has a separate entrance with an iron door. The parents, Falah and Feika and six of their children – one of them, Haidar, married with two children of his own – live in two floors in an adjacent building, also with a separate entrance. They opened both doors simultaneously and saw about 12 soldiers who had reached the house on foot. In the meantime, other family members went to wake up the rest of the household – to prevent a situation in which children are awoken to the sight of soldiers bearing rifles. This is a custom that Palestinian families, the Abu Maria family included, have adopted over the last five decades.
Ahmed, a father of three, told Haaretz on Sunday that he saw the soldiers pushing his brother Mohammed and their father into the narrow staircase hallway, in which someone had turned on the light. Eight or 10 soldiers entered the stairwell, helmets on their heads, their backs slightly bent and their rifles held at eye level, pointing forward. Ahmed followed them, and asked to speak with an officer, why they came and who they were looking for. The soldiers seemed to him scared and confused, and refused to answer.
Falah, the father, and his son Mohammed were pushed up the stairs by the soldiers. The soldiers did not have their faces covered, and carried live ammunition as well as stun grenades and tear gas. “We were almost naked,” said Ahmed. “Meaning short pants and flip flops, four or five people who just woke up, against about 10 soldiers.”
Mohammed stopped at the seventh stair, rested his right hand on the railing, and gestured “wait a moment” with his left hand. Behind him stood his father, and two or three of his brothers. They even said their names to the soldiers. Mohammed was standing at least a meter away from the soldiers, who stood facing one another on the second stair, rifles pointed. Mohammed tried to explain that there were women in the house who had to dress themselves.
The brother Haidar asked who they were looking for in Hebrew, and told the soldiers to wait a moment. Haidar and Ahmed both say that no one ever attempted to choke any soldiers.
Suddenly shots were heard. Ahmed was sure it was a stun grenade. Mohammed stayed standing for a moment, then collapsed onto the stairs. According to Ahmed, the soldiers shot his brother twice and hit him in the groin. Blood started to flow, and the father and brothers shouted that he must be taken to a hospital.
While Mohammed was on the floor bleeding, the soldiers ran about the hallway, talking anxiously on their radios. During the chaos, one soldier, who stood next to Mohammed, waved his weapon and hit Ahmed in the nose, causing a large gash that was later stitched up in the hospital.
Fearing for his son’s life, the father went out on the porch and began to shout for neighbors to call an ambulance. The soldiers in the meantime began to exit the hallway, along with Ahmed, who used his phone to call paramedics. Outside, Ahmed was hit with the butt of a rifle yet again – either mistakenly or otherwise – below his eye.
Ahmed’s wife, Sara, went into the hallway at the same time, though she says the soldiers tried to bar her entry, and even hit her with a rifle butt as well. She saw the “pool of blood” in the stairwell, and ran up to see the father waving his arms in despair on the porch, calling for help. She says that his movement caused a flowerpot to fall from the porch down below. Ahmed said he threw the flowerpot. But a cousin, who wasn’t an eyewitness but spoke to his family members, told Haaretz that apparently the 53-year-old man threw “whatever he could grab” at the soldiers – flowerpot, boxes, paper, anything so that they would get out of the way quickly and he could get his son to a hospital. There were no “boulders” or anything else on the porch that he could throw at the soldiers. According to the family member, it was a piece of tile that the father threw at the soldiers.
Ahmed, while still holding a telephone, saw red dots on his father’s torso, and then heard shots. Falah Abu Maria crouched down; Sara saw his chin hit the stone railing. His wife thought at first that he ducked to avoid the shots. But immediately a pool of blood appeared around him. The soldiers continued to shoot, then departed on foot through a nearby field between houses, while throwing tear gas grenades.
IDF sources told Haaretz that “the decision not to arrest the suspect in question stemmed from operational considerations, and it was made before the shots were fired that killed Falah Abu Maria, who participated in throwing boulders in cinder blocks at the soldiers while they were leaving the village.”
Family members assume that 24-year-old Mohammed, who on Monday was still hospitalized, was the suspect in question. He worked with his father as a carpenter, and got engaged a month ago.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in response that “IDF soldiers conducted an arrest operation in Beit Ummar against popular terrorism activists that had thrown stones and firebombs at vehicles on Route 60, in which the suspect from the Abu Maria family was involved. When the soldiers arrived at the suspect’s home, they encountered violent opposition from the family that included attacks and strangling a soldier. The IDF will continue to work to prevent terrorism, and will not tolerate attempts to harm soldiers.”
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