Between dirt paths, dilapidated houses and goat herds, Khalil al-Okbi sat, surrounded by family and neighbors, in the small yard of his home near the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev desert.
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The look of shock on their faces was still fresh one day after Okbi’s son, 21-year-old Muhannad al-Okbi, was killed while carrying out a terrorist attack at Be’er Sheva’s central bus station.
Those gathered at the home didn’t hide their anger toward the media contingent that rushed to Hura after the attack. “We don’t trust your media,” said one of the youths. “You’ll surely portray us a terrorists, but we’re not that. We are just people who want to live in dignity and hope, but not despair,” he added, before walking away.
Khalil, Muhannad’s father, acquiesced to the media’s requests and addressed the cameras. In his short message, he condemned the attack, but said that his family still does not know exactly what happened, and is enraged that his son was “executed on the scene.” According to Khalil, nothing was left but to “request mercy for his soul.”
“I never believed such a thing could happen,” Khalil told Haaretz, adding “nor did I see any evidence that something like this could happen.” He said that Muhannad had finished high school and wished to leave Israel. Last February, he traveled to Canada and very much wanted to settle there, learn the language, earn a living and perhaps go to school. Less than 48 hours later, however, he was returned to Israel because he did not have the proper visa. He returned frustrated that his dream wouldn’t come true.
Over the last few months, Muhannad did metal work for a contractor, a relative, and would work long hours. On the day of the attack, he left for work at the usual hour. “I was in the hospital to eat with my sister, then I came home with my other son,” recalled Khalil, adding, “Muhannad wasn’t home, and I thought he had come home from work, showered and left, apparently gone by bus to Be’er Sheva’s central bus station.”
When reports of the attack surfaced, Khalil began looking for his son, and contacted a family member in Be’er Sheva who searched for him in the hospital. Hours passed, fears intensified, and by 3 A.M., a large contingent of Shin Bet security service and Israel Police personnel had arrived in the village.
“They turned the house upside down, took a laptop and a desktop computer, all of the cellular phones in the house, and arrested his younger brother,” recalled Khalil. “No one told me anything about what happened, and I didn’t know anything, I don’t know why he needed to be shot to death, why they didn’t arrest him. Maybe he could have clarified his actions. The fact that they shot and killed him leaves question marks.”
Muhannad's family is religious, yet claims to have no political associations or connections to any organizations. “I’m religious and my children are religious, but that doesn’t mean we are associated with anyone; they are trying to falsely link us with the Islamist Movement, because we are related to one of the movement’s leaders, but we’re not associated with anyone,” said Khalil. “The fact that I’m religious doesn’t place me in any kind of political framework.”
In the attack on Sunday, Muhannad al-Okbi shot and killed an Israeli soldier, 19-year-old Omri Levy. Eleven others were wounded in the attack inside the city’s central bus station before Okbi was shot and killed by security forces. An Eritrean asylum seeker, Habtom Zarhum, 29, also died in the attack after he was mistaken for the attacker, shot by a security guard and beaten by passersby.