“I lost something great. I lost the first experience of joy I had after leaving the prison of occupation,” said Rafat Badran, at the funeral Thursday of his 15-year-old son. Mahmoud Rafat Badran was killed by Israeli soldiers early Tuesday morning on Route 443, returning from a night out at a water park in the West Bank village of Beit Sira.
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Rafat’s younger son, Milad, 11, asked his father, “What could be good now, without Mahmoud?” His wife, Amal, has been taking tranquilizers since the death of her eldest son.
“I hope I can continue to control myself and my spirits,” Rafat Badran told Haaretz after the funeral. “I will not cease to search for and challenge by legal means the criminals who murdered my son, and expose the scandalous way in which they murdered him.” However, he also repeated what he said before and during the funeral as he stood over his son’s grave: “If this is the last crime, which prevents the murder of other children, I’ll feel relief.”
“The army says the soldiers erred,” said Badran, “but this isn’t about stealing money, which you can later regret. They took the life of a child. A child who dreamed of being a doctor, but also of playing soccer for Real Madrid. A truly special boy, who was showered with so much love that I was beginning to fear something bad would happen. When I was on a mission in Saudi Arabia for four years [as deputy Palestinian ambassador – AH], Mahmoud asked me to arrange a job at the embassy in Spain so he could be closer to Real Madrid. He lived in the same room with his brother Milad – a fan of Barcelona.”
Israel returned Mahmoud’s body on Wednesday and it was kept overnight at a hospital in Ramallah. On Thursday afternoon, the body was taken to the family home in Beit Ur al-Tahta, southwest of Ramallah. There was a mass prayer meeting in front of the village school. Hundreds of mourners gathered there, from his village and neighboring ones, as well as Fatah representatives, Rafat Badran’s colleagues at the foreign office and former prisoners – friends from the father’s time in prison.
A small group of women stood in the shade outside the school where the prayers were being held, but they didn’t join the funeral procession.
Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh was among those delivering a graveside eulogy. “We wish to promise Mahmoud that we’ll fight this bloody occupation with all our might,” he said, adding, “His death must make clear that the main division isn’t between different Palestinian factions, but between the entire Palestinian people on one side and this criminal occupation on the other.”
The last person to speak at the grave was Badran. In a surprisingly steady voice, only trembling once, he talked not only of the joy he had lost and the hope that his son’s death would prevent future crimes. He also talked politics: “The world should be ashamed at the scandalous selection of Israel to head the UN’s legal committee. It’s a scandal that this is given to a country that violates international law.”
He added: “We’ll continue working for peace – an honorable peace that will respect our rights, our martyrs, our prisoners.”
Rafat Badran was released from prison in 1999, part of the Oslo Accords prisoner release agreement. He’d received a life sentence 18 years earlier for membership and activity in a military cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. “That was the time of our struggle for liberation,” he told Haaretz. “In prison, like other prisoners who paid a heavy price, I became convinced that peace was the only way we could achieve our rights. Then I joined Fatah.
“I’m still convinced that this is the way, and continue to hope that Israeli society recovers its sanity. That it recognize us as human beings, and that not only Israeli kids have a right to swim in the sea – Palestinians do, too. If it doesn’t recover, it will become a fascist society and its fate will be bitter, like that of other fascist societies.”
As described in a B’Tselem investigation, soldiers fired numerous shots at the car Mahmoud Badran was in, together with five of his cousins – all under 16 years of age – and a 21-year-old driver. In the car behind them was the father of two of the children in the first car, along with his wife and other children. They were on their way back from an outing to a water park in Beit Sira.
“I was at home with a friend,” recalled Rafat Badran. “Suddenly there was a phone call from the father in the other car, who said only, ‘There has been a disaster involving our children.’”
The head of the village council, Abdul-Karim Qassem, said he and some other men in the village were playing soccer at the time with the well-known singer Mohammed Assaf, who is a friend of a businessman who invests in their village.
“We heard there was a disaster,” said Qassem. “I hurried to the site. Soldiers pointing guns surrounded the wounded, not letting family members and others approach. I approached the [commanding] officer and introduced myself in Hebrew, telling him he mustn’t inflame the situation.”
According to testimony gathered by B’Tselem researcher Iyad Haddad, one of the commanders accused the wounded boys of throwing stones. They showed him their bathing trunks and towels, and thought he understood that they weren’t involved in stone throwing.
Hadi Badran, 15, who was moderately injured in his hand and chest, told B’Tselem that he didn’t notice any suspicious activity on the road before the shooting began.
“I sat in the middle seat. We approached the underpass under Route 443. Suddenly there was shooting. I looked at where it came from and saw a white car. There were two civilians there who were shooting at us. There was a lot of shooting. The bullets hit the car and shattered the windows. We were hit and started screaming. I lowered my head. Right after that, the driver crashed into a wall supporting the underpass.”
Daoud Badran, 13, told B’Tselem: “The bullets entered through the car’s roof from the driver’s side. There were screams and a lot of commotion. I was scared and placed my hands over my head, and lowered my head between my knees. The driver must have been hit, since the car swerved and hit the wall. I first felt I was hit in the hand. When the car stopped, I got out and ran. I stood under the bridge and then felt another hit in my leg. Majd (16) came out with me, but he ran in another direction. Then all the others got out except Mahmoud. Amir (16) was hit in the stomach and fell. Hadi was hit in the hands, and the driver, Ahed (21), was hit in the head and chest. Mahmoud didn’t come out and when Majd went to examine him, he saw that he was dead. The only ones not hurt were Majd and Majd (13).