Ahmed Khatatbeh Didn't Hear the Gunfire That Killed Him

Why did soldiers fire at a deaf man who arrived at a West Bank checkpoint late at night, and prevent his evacuation by ambulance for an hour?

Alex Levac

Ahmed Khatatbeh died in silence. He lived his whole life in silence, and his death was no exception. He did not hear the soldiers’ shouts at the checkpoint – if they did actually shout – nor the sound of the rifle fire that killed him immediately afterward.

The Israel Defense Forces soldiers initially fired at least three rounds, and apparently went on shooting him after he was wounded. But he heard nothing. Khatatbeh was born deaf, like his father and two of his brothers. He died in exemplary silence from his wounds, a week after being shot, on September 18. His death, too, passed in utter silence here: No one took an interest in the killing of one more Palestinian in the territories. You'd need a microscope to find any mention in the Israeli media of the killing of the deaf mute from the town of Beit Furiq, near Nablus. After all, who cares?

The bereaved father also seems indifferent to his son’s killing. Izzat Khatatbeh lies on his bed staring at the ceiling and chain-smoking. His gaze is blank, his eyes expressionless; much of the time they are shut. The deaf father lost touch with reality some years ago, apparently due to a stroke, and now he just lies in his room, smoking and staring. His body is gaunt, his arms and legs like matchsticks; he barely eats. A relative picks up his hand to check his condition, and the hand immediately falls back onto the bed.

His children have hung two posters commemorating his dead son on the wall above him, but he almost certainly doesn’t grasp their implication.

After Ahmed died in the hospital, his body was brought to the house, on the way to the cemetery. The family says Izzat showed no reaction to the sight of his son’s body. His gaze remained dead, vacant, indifferent. The family did not take the father to the hospital during the week in which his son lay dying there, or to the funeral. It is Ahmed’s mother, Afifa, sitting with the other mourning women, who casts a sad gaze, as do the dead son’s siblings, lean and gaunt like their brother, two of them – Nabil, 35, and Moussa, 27 – deaf like him.

Ahmed Khatatbeh, who was 25 at the time of his death, dropped out of school in the third grade. His deafness made it impossible for him to continue going to a regular school, and his desperately poor parents – the deaf father never worked – lacked the resources to transfer him to a school for handicapped children like him, in Nablus or elsewhere.

Ahmed worked in construction in Nablus over the past few years. He was saving money to get married, as his older brothers had done. He was the last of six children still living at home.

On September 18, as on any other day, Ahmed went to work in Nablus. After returning home in the afternoon, he got ready to attend an evening wedding in Beit Furiq. This town of 15,000 suffered badly from a siege imposed on it in both intifadas: It lies close to the road that leads to the settlements of Itamar and Elon Moreh.

Ahmed’s brothers and friends, who were also at the wedding, say he was in good spirits. He stayed until about 10 P.M., and then went with a friend to Nablus to buy clothes for Eid al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice), the Muslim holiday that would take place the following week.

Stores in Nablus were open almost day and night, ahead of the holiday. Khatatbeh arrived in Nablus in his car around 10:30, along with his friend and a relative, Mohammed Khatatbeh. At about midnight, after doing their shopping, they set out for home. The route would take them to the eastern exit from Nablus, through the Beit Furiq checkpoint, which separates the city from their town. The checkpoint, which gained notoriety in the second intifada because of incidents when soldiers refused to allow pregnant women and sick and wounded people on the way to the hospital in Nablus to pass through – some of them died as a result – is not always manned these days. But on that night, IDF soldiers were there.

No testimony exists as yet about the events at the checkpoint. The sole Palestinian eyewitness who survived, Mohammed Khatatbeh, has been held in an Israeli prison since then. The family is convinced that the soldiers called out to Ahmed to stop driving, but he didn’t hear them and kept going. And then they shot him.

According to the family, at least 15 rounds were fired. The car itself was taken by the army and has not been returned to them. Relatives say that they saw a photograph of the car on an Internet news site and that it was riddled with bullet holes. Ahmed was struck by three bullets, one in the shoulder and two in the lower back, all from behind.

The official medical report of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, compiled by Dr. Raad Odeh, who treated Khatatbeh at Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, details the damage done to his body, mainly in the area of the abdomen. Doctors told the family that if he had arrived at the hospital sooner it might have been possible to save him. According to the family, he lay for almost an hour at the scene of the incident, bleeding, because the soldiers refused to allow a Palestinian ambulance to approach and evacuate him.

Family members were also prevented from going to the hospital immediately, to be at the critically wounded man’s bedside. The IDF refused to allow any of them to leave Beit Furiq all that night – neither the anxious mother nor the siblings. They huddled together at home, fed by rumors. It wasn’t until 6 A.M. that the soldiers left and they were able to get to the hospital.

Ahmed received numerous blood transfusions, but his body was not able to sustain the heavy bleeding he had suffered. He did not regain consciousness during the week in which he was hospitalized. He died at 5 P.M. on September 24, the first day of Eid al-Adha. His whole family, other than his father, was at the bedside. They are certain that the soldiers shot Ahmed with intent to kill. They are also convinced that he was shot again at close range when he lay wounded in the car “to confirm the kill,” as they put it. Ahmed had never been arrested and had never been involved in violence in his life.

After the funeral, last Friday, young Palestinians marched to the area of the checkpoint where their deaf friend was killed, set tires ablaze and set up stone barriers, the remains of which are still visible at the entrance to Beit Furiq. It was during that demonstration that Israeli soldiers were filmed destroying the cameras of Agence France-Presse reporters – but that’s a different story.

Ahmed Khatatbeh was the sixth inhabitant of Beit Furiq to be shot to death by IDF soldiers at checkpoints since the end of the second intifada.

In response to an inquiry from Haaretz, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated this week: “In the event referred to, the terrorist was shot because he constituted a clear and present danger to the life of civilian passersby. The terrorist received a medical response [sic] by IDF forces, who stabilized his condition until the moment of the evacuation. A Military Police investigation has been opened.”