The Duma Flames Died Down, but the Death Toll Keeps Rising

Hours after the Dawabsheh child was burned to death, an overwrought Laith Khaladi went with friends to a checkpoint, where they threw firebombs that did no damage. The soldiers retaliated, killing Laith.

Alex Levac

He too was killed by the Israel Defense Forces. Laith Khaldi was a 15-year-old high-school student in Bir Zeit, adjacent to Ramallah. His father is the head of the student administration at Birzeit University.

The teen was overwrought at the news from the village of Duma last Friday, when the Dawabsheh family home was torched and little Ali was killed. Armed with two improvised firebombs and a bottle of paint, he and some friends approached the IDF’s Atara checkpoint, near Bir Zeit. One firebomb set off a small fire in a nearby field of thistles; the bottle of paint left a stain on the concrete wall of the guard tower.

From the height of their fortified position in the tower, the soldiers shot Laith in his upper body with live ammunition, killing him. From the height of their reinforced post, they were in no mortal danger.

In the offices of the Popular Committee of the Jalazun refugee camp, near Ramallah, the bereaved father, Fadel Khaladi, is receiving the condolences of friends with long, silent embraces. They are mostly men in their late forties who spent years together in Israeli prisons and are now losing their children, one by one. Eighteen months ago, Mohammed, the son of Mahmoud Mubarak, head of the local Popular Committee, was killed by IDF soldiers – his photograph is on the wall here. He was 20. Sitting by the elder Mubarak’s side now is his comrade from prison and from their student days in Beirut, Fadel Khaladi. Together they are lamenting, with dry eyes, the death of Laith Khaladi.

“He was still just a boy,” his father says in a broken voice. “He loved life so much.”

The Khaladi family left the Jalazun camp 15 years ago and moved to the nearby village of Jifna, but Jalazun has remained the center of their lives, and now of their mourning.

Young Laith was beside himself when he heard about the atrocity in Duma. He prowled the house in great agitation, watched the unbearable images on television and shut himself in his room. His father tried to calm him down and to explain that this is life and this is the reality he has to adjust to. The father then suggested that the two of them go to the mosque for the Friday prayers; perhaps that would help restore the boy’s composure.

When they got home, the father now recalls, no one knew where Yazen, the eldest son, was. Laith tensed up. The radio broadcast reports of violent incidents outside the settlement of Beit El, nearby. Laith’s concern about his brother ended only sometime later when Yazen was located in their uncle’s house in Jalazun.

Two of Laith’s friends came over and they busied themselves with PlayStation, although they could not stop thinking about what had happened that morning in Duma. Someone said that they ought to do something. They called friends in nearby Bir Zeit and arranged to meet.

According to the testimonies collected by field researcher Iyad Hadad, of the B’Tselem human rights organization, the friends from Bir Zeit, also aged 15-16, brought two improvised firebombs and a bottle of paint with them.

Laith told his father they were going to play pool in Bir Zeit. Sometime later, Fadel, worried, called his son to find out where he was. Laith said they were playing pool.

There were now six teens in the group, three from Jifna and three from Bir Zeit. They proceeded on foot from the center of the town to its northern edge, where the Atara checkpoint is. The checkpoint isn’t always manned, but on that day it was.

A young man named Mohammed Bizar emerged from the last building in the village, an apartment house whose walls are covered with decorations. From his window, he’d seen them walking toward the checkpoint, holding bottles, and he was filled with foreboding. Bizar approached the group and warned them not to do anything: He was getting engaged that day and the party was about to start. He didn’t want disturbances next to his house. The six youths promised that they wouldn’t do anything to spoil the celebration.

A few hundred meters separate the last building in Bir Zeit and the checkpoint – a military compound that includes a concrete tower and large concrete blocks. When we visited the site early this week, it was empty.

An eyewitness told Hadad of B’Tselem that the boys walked as far as the blocks, which are a few dozen meters away from the guard tower. Laith was first. The eyewitness reported that he heard the soldiers shouting in Hebrew at the youngsters: “Come on, you sons of bitches, come closer.”

Laith threw the bottle of paint at the wall of the tower, and immediately afterward one of the others in the group threw a firebomb at the wall. The second firebomb was thrown into the adjacent field of thistles – after the soldiers started shooting at the group, using live ammunition. They fired a few rounds, but only one bullet hit someone – Laith.

Bizar, who was waiting for his party to start, heard the shooting and hurried back out into the street. He’s a certified nurse who works at in the St. Louis French Hospital opposite the Old City of Jerusalem. He saw the teens carrying their wounded friend, while trying to escape the soldiers’ shooting, got into his car and drove toward them, crossing a field next to the road. Bizar related afterward that the soldiers fired at him, too. He shouted at them that he was a doctor and wanted to give the wounded boy medical assistance.

Bizar bundled Laith into the car and they sped toward the center of town, where a Red Crescent ambulance was already awaiting them. Laith’s condition deteriorated rapidly. He lost a large amount of blood. The bullet entered his back and exited from his stomach. White foam seeped out of his mouth.

At the hospital in Ramallah, he was rushed to the operating room in an effort to stop the profuse bleeding. The operation lasted six hours.

The family – who hastened to the hospital as soon as they heard what happened – were told that if Laith survived the night he would be transferred to Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem for further treatment. No one was allowed to see him during all the hours he spent in the operating room. Even his mother, Samar, formerly a nurse in the Ramallah hospital, was not allowed to see her dying son.

The surgery ended at midnight; Laith had received 60 units of blood. About an hour later, he died. He was buried in the cemetery of the Jalazun camp, which has now lost five young people to soldiers’ gunfire in the past two years.

Laith’s dream, his father says, was to return to the family’s ancestral village of Innaba, near Ramle. “He was one-hundred percent a Palestinian,” Fadel Khaladi explains, adding that Laith was a good student and wanted to study law at the university where he works. Laith was also very active on Facebook, where he often commented about the situation of his people.

“It was murder,” the boy’s father says now, his face grim. “He did not endanger the soldiers’ lives and they shot him in the back. It’s not human. The soldier who shot him doesn’t know what it means to be the father of a son – and he doesn’t know what it is to lose a son.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told Haaretz: “The Military Police’s investigations unit is now examining the circumstances of the incident. At the conclusion, the materials will be passed on to the military advocate general’s office.”