Gideon Levy

After Palestinian Teen Is Killed by IDF, Troops Deface His Death Notice With Stars of David

Musab Tamimi, 16, was shot dead by Israeli troops during a clash in the West Bank. The army claims he was armed, but witnesses say otherwise

Here’s what soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces scrawled on a mourning notice for 16-year-old Musab Tamimi, who was killed by a sniper’s shot to the throat: “Son of a bitch, slut, dead.” For good measure, they drew a Star of David.

Two days after they killed the teen, IDF troops again invaded his village, Deir Nizam, north of Ramallah. In a late-night raid, they arrested four young residents and left behind as a souvenir the memorial notice they violated. Neatly folded, the notice is now in the possession of the bereaved father, Firas Tamimi. An expression of pain crosses his face when he shows it to us. He was the one who carried his bleeding son two weeks ago to the car and rushed him to a hospital, where the teen was pronounced dead.

Firas Tamimi holds up the defaced mourning notice.
Alex Levac

Musab was born in the house we are visiting. On the day of his birth, May 18, 2001, Lt. Yair Nebenzahl, from the settlement of Halamish, was killed by Palestinian gunfire on the road near Deir Nizam. As a result, the whole area was placed under closure, just as Dina Tamimi was about to give birth to her first child. The IDF fired tear gas into homes in the village and sealed it off. Soldiers prevented the Palestinian ambulance that was called to take Dina to the hospital from entering the village, and she was forced to give birth at home. It was a boy.

On January 3, Musab was killed a few meters from where he came into the world.

The family has had more than its share of suffering. Firas, 43, who retired after working for Palestinian intelligence, has a heart condition; four years ago, the family went to Jordan, for him to get medical treatment. But when they tried to return home, they were denied entry by Israel: Dina was registered as a resident of the Gaza Strip, and was therefore not permitted into the West Bank. In fact, she was born in Deir Nizam, but because her father, Farhud, was Yasser Arafat’s personal pilot during the period in the 1990s that the Palestinian leader was based in Gaza, she grew up in the Strip and was registered as a resident there.

It was not until last summer, after four years of forced exile in Jordan, that Israel allowed the family to return to their village. They arrived on August 21. Musab was delighted to be home. At school in Amman, he’d been head of the student council and a member of the choir. But he also remained active in Deir Nizam, participating in demonstrations against the occupation. His father shows us a video clip on his cellphone. Musab is reading a poem he wrote, a muscular youth in a red T-shirt, reading a love poem to the land of his birth.

On that fateful morning early this month, Firas went with Musab to the neighboring village, Abud, to buy bread at a popular bakery. It was the semester break at West Bank schools. On the way, his father pointed out the high school he’d attended and told Musab that during the first intifada, when he was a student there, the IDF had shut down the institution for half a year. The two then returned home for breakfast. At about 10 o’clock they heard the sounds of gunfire outside.

A colorful panorama – a valley of olive trees – unfolds from the yard of the Tamimi house. Photos of the dead son are pasted on the iron front door. The settlement of Halamish looms on the ridge across the way, and behind it the village of Nabi Saleh, some of whose residents are relatives of the Tamimi family and have been much in the news lately. Hearing the shooting, Musab went outside to see what was going on and perhaps to take part in throwing stones at the soldiers. His father urged him to be careful.

The IDF had been in the village two days earlier, and had detained Musab and photographed him. According to his father, one of the officers told his son, “We don’t want to arrest you today, but we’ll be back and will meet again. You’ll be sorry.” The words now echo in the room; Firas is convinced that the soldiers were out to kill his son.

Passions were running high in the streets on January 3, when Musab went outside after hearing the shooting. Below, next to the main road, the usual confrontations were taking place. Soldiers were in hot pursuit of stone throwers. They arrested 19-year-old Mustafa Saleh Tamimi, who is is also related to Musab’s family, and who is known to be mentally ill.

Firas, watching the events from his yard up the hill, quickly drove down to the main road, to try and get Mustafa released. The soldiers chased him away and took Mustafa with them. Firas recalls that he saw them beating the teen before bundling him into an army vehicle. He followed them in his car to the nearby base, still hoping to get him freed. From the road, he saw the officer who’d arrested Mustafa take him into the base and then return to the site of the clashes in Deir Nizam, where the situation became more fraught following the arrest of the mentally unsound young man. Another IDF officer promised Firas that Mustafa would be set free after he was checked – and he was.

Firas returned to the yard of his house. The confrontations continued below. Using gunfire and tear gas, the soldiers drove the stone throwers back into the village, where they were outflanked by another force that charged them from behind. An IDF drone hovered overhead, filming the events. Musab was there with his brother Osama, who’s a year younger, amid the olive trees at the edge of town.

At about 1 P.M., Firas heard the sound of heavy gunfire. Again he sped down to the scene of the clashes, about a minute’s drive. He had a bad feeling; two of his sons were there. At the bottom of the road he saw someone lying on the ground, blood streaming from his neck, with some youths standing around him. Only after Firas got out of the car did he realize that it was Musab. Immediately he carried him to his car and drove as fast as he could toward Ramallah.

Recalling the incident now, Firas speaks in a factual tone of voice; there are no tears. Two youths accompanied him, he says, all the while checking whether Musab was still alive. He too stretched his arm out behind every so often, while driving, to see if his son was breathing. But within a short time, he apparently was not.

On the way they called a Palestinian ambulance, which met them next to the Atara checkpoint. Musab was transferred to the ambulance, which in short order arrived at the new Istishari Hospital in Ramallah. Shortly afterward, Musab was officially pronounced dead. He’d been hit by a live round in a main artery of the neck.

The Israeli media reported that Musab was shot and killed because he’d been armed with a rifle. Osama, his brother, who had been by his side, denies that Musab was holding a rifle or anything else.

Says Firas: “If he had a rifle, why didn’t the army take it? Even if we talk and talk about what happened, the Israelis will not be convinced. They will continue to claim that Musab was holding a rifle.”

This week, before our visit to Deir Nizam, a villager was summoned for a talk with “Captain Malek” from the Shin Bet security service. Through him, Firas relates, the agent conveyed a message to Musab’s family not to talk to the media and to ensure quiet in the village.

In response to a request for comment, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told Haaretz this week: “Some two weeks ago, there was a violent disturbance in the village of Deir Nizam, in which dozens of Palestinians participated. IDF forces identified an armed Palestinian, and in response shot at him. The Palestinian was evacuated in a private vehicle for medical treatment. Immediately after the incident IDF forces searched the area of the village, with the purpose of locating the suspect. The incident is under investigation.

“Additionally, information was received recently about offensive graffiti being spray-painted in the village. A check did not turn up information about the identity of the graffiti writer, and from our investigation, soldiers were not involved.”

According to Osama, who was near Musab when he was shot, they were part of a small group of teens who ran for their lives from the soldiers. Osama hid behind an olive tree; Musab was among the rocks abutting the road leading to Deir Nazem. Osama says he saw the IDF sniper aim his weapon at his brother and shouted to Musab to move toward him, a safer spot. A few meters separated the two brothers. And a few dozen meters separated them from the sniper, who had taken cover behind the bare fig tree on the slope of the hill, next to the last house in the village.

Osama had just thrown himself on the ground when he heard a lone shot. His brother had stood up in order to scramble to a more protected place, and it was then that he was shot in the neck. Immediately afterward, Osama heard shouts in Arabic: Wounded, wounded! He got up and saw his brother lying on the ground by the roadside. He went over to him and asked him to recite a verse from the Koran, but when Musab tried to speak, blood gushed from his mouth. Then their father arrived and took him.

Musab’s funeral was held in the village the following day. Clashes broke out again along the road; again the soldiers fired tear-gas grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets. Mohammed Afif Awad, 20, suffered a serious injury when a bullet hit him in the head.