Jamal, a cute little 6-year-old, wears a piece of metal with a photo of his dead father glued to it, on a cord around his neck. Last month, his father was killed by Israeli soldiers, for no apparent reason. Jamal wears his hair like Justin Bieber. His brother, Mohammed, who is 5, glues three kisses on the cheeks of the guests, without having the slightest idea who they are or where they’re from. He, too, sports a Justin Bieber haircut.
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The two brothers are dressed in identical sweatsuits, black with phosphorescent-green stripes: They, and their 2-year-old sister, Lyal, are the new orphans of the West Bank village of Sinjil.
Their father, Nashat Asfour, worked in an Israeli poultry slaughterhouse in Jerusalem’s Atarot industrial zone, on the road to Ramallah. Equipped with a work permit for Israel, he left the house every day at 5 A.M., enduring the ordeal of passing through the Qalandiyah checkpoint, returning home at the end of a long day. Other than his wife and three children, and volleyball practice – Sinjil was once the West Bank volleyball champion – Asfour didn’t have much in life. He spent most of his time in the abattoir, or traveling to and from it.
On the afternoon of December 18, a Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asfour attended the wedding celebration of a friend in the village’s banquet hall. It’s in the newer section of Sinjil, not far from his father’s house, where we are now; Asfour lived in the older, poorer area. He was on his way back home, after bringing a gift to the newlyweds and having something to eat. He and his cousin, Thamar Asfour, were walking along the street that traverses Sinjil’s hill – the definitive element in the local topography. It was 4:20 P.M.
Two hours earlier, an Israel Defense Forces unit of eight infantry soldiers had crossed through the village from south to north, using one of Sinjil’s two entrances. On the way, young villagers threw stones at them. According to testimonies, the soldiers responded with live fire and stun grenades, barely making use of tear gas. One young man, Ahmed Alwan, 26, was wounded in the leg during this show of force by the soldiers, in the heart of the village; he was taken in a private car to the hospital in Ramallah.
By then the soldiers had almost completed their patrol, and were positioned not far from the road leading out of Sinjil, on a sandstone expanse next to the skeleton of a warehouse. Most of the stone throwers had dispersed; there were fewer than 10 young people still on the street, according to the testimonies.
Asfour was walking along a street on the upper part of the hill. The soldiers were down below, at the foot of the hill, about 150 to 200 meters away as the crow flies. A few of the locals were still slinging stones at them – most of which, though not all, fell short.
According to witnesses’ accounts, Asfour did not take part in the stone throwing, which in any case posed no danger to the troops. As he passed by above them, near a stone wall (on which a smashed toilet now lies, like some sort of art installation), a soldier fired a single round up at him. The bullet smashed into his stomach and exited from his back. Asfour told his cousin he’d been hit – Thamar thought he was joking at first – and collapsed. Thamar pulled up his cousin’s shirt but saw no signs of blood, only a small hole in his stomach; only after turning him over did he see blood streaming from Asfour’s back.
A Red Crescent ambulance that had been waiting nearby rushed Asfour to the Ramallah Government Hospital. He was not breathing and had no pulse when he arrived, but resuscitation efforts restored his pulse. In the operating room he was administered 10 transfusions – but to no avail.
Dr. Khaled Hasib later wrote in his report: “[Nashat Asfour] arrived in ER after being shot, according to his family, by an Israeli soldier using live ammunition, with an entry wound and an exit wound. Heavy bleeding and damage to major blood vessels. Transferred to operating room and died at 8:30 P.M.”
The IDF Spokesperson stated, in response to a query from Haaretz: “On December 18, there was a violent disturbance of the peace near the village of Sinjil, during which an army force in the area fired shots, as per the ‘suspect detention procedure.’ A Palestinian report of a fatality was received during the day, but the medical report has not yet been received. The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated, after which the military prosecution will decide how to proceed.”
We stood where the soldiers had been and walked to the spot where Asfour was killed. The settlement of Shiloh can be seen on the hill opposite, Ma’aleh Levona is located on the other side, and in the valley below is the Palestinian town of Turmus Ayya, split by Highway 60.
“He was an ordinary person,” Nashat’s bereaved father, Jamal, tells us now. “Everyone in the village liked him.” Someone had called Jamal shortly after the shooting to inform him that his son had been wounded. Thinking it was just something minor – an injury from a rubber-coated bullet, for example – he wasn’t worried. But a few minutes later his father saw on Facebook that Nashat was seriously injured. He called the ambulance driver, who told him it was a grave wound, and immediately rushed to the hospital. After a few hours, Jamal was advised to go home and rest, but when he reached his house he heard women crying inside. He understood. Final confirmation of his son’s death came from the local television station.
“Why did the soldiers enter the village? To attack people? To harass them? Humiliate them?” Jamal Asfour asks. “Their job is to guard the settlers, who pass by on the road below – but why enter the village? And why in such a criminal way, too, firing live ammunition?”
He lights a kerosene heater. There are two bullet holes in the second-floor window of his home, the handiwork of soldiers just a few weeks earlier. “Imagine if someone had been standing next to the window just then,” he says. “Maybe a woman? Or a child? That’s how they open fire, without any humanity.”
Jamal Asfour continues: “Nashat was the father of children, an older person, a devoted employee at work. Would he throw stones? Would someone who works in Israel with a permit, who was never in any kind of trouble, throw stones at soldiers after being at a wedding?”
The day after the shooting, he relates, officers from the District Liaison and Coordination Office arrived to investigate his son’s death. At first they thought he’d been shot on Highway 60, the father says. Then they suggested that he’d been hit by a stray bullet from the bursts fired during the wedding celebration. But Jamal Asfour says there no longer is shooting local weddings, and in any case there is no direct line of sight between the banquet hall and the place where his son was killed.
Nashat’s brother, Abdul Razak Asfour, has a photo of Nashat in his cellular phone showing him dressed in a suit at another wedding – that of their brother, Hikmat, last summer.
“The village has lost him,” the father says mournfully. “They won’t find another like him.”
Well ahead of the traditional memorial ceremony that marks the 40th day after Nashat’s death, in a few weeks, his father wrote a letter to his deceased son, which he carries with him: “These 40 days without you have gone by like 1,000 years, every day, every minute. How could you have left us, Jamal, without any warning.”