Injury, Then Insult, at the Hands of the Israeli Army

IDF soldiers fired four rounds at Ahmed Hassouna, leaving the young man from Beitunia paralyzed. Then it turned out they were looking for someone else.

Alex Levac

The last of the guests left at 2 A.M., and Ahmed Hassouna was going downstairs to close the gates to the house. Before that, he had driven some of the guests home to the nearby Al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah.

Members of the family had gathered to celebrate the birthday of Ahmed’s nephew. His sister, Nagham, was now following him down the stairs carrying a bag of garbage. She was asking Ahmed to open the wicket in the back of the house, so she could throw the refuse into the garbage bin on the street, before he locked up for the night.

Nagham is going down the stairs, Ahmed is waiting out on the street, next to the garbage bin. It’s 2 A.M. on Wednesday, November 12, in the town of Beitunia, on the outskirts of Ramallah.

The burst of gunfire was sudden and short. Hassouna says now that he didn’t notice the Israel Defense Forces soldiers hiding behind the bin on the street. He adds that he heard no warning, either.

Apparently, four rounds were fired at him – from a distance of three to four meters. Three bullets struck Hassouna, two in his legs. The third slammed into his hip, penetrated his spine and wreaked havoc. Since that night, he’s been hospitalized, with both legs paralyzed. He may never walk again.

Hassouna, 20, had been working in the family’s auto-parts business. His father has a standing entry permit to Israel, as a merchant; the family does not involve itself in politics or the Palestinian struggle. They are 1948 refugees from Lod, who moved to the relatively affluent town of Beitunia a few years ago, after decades in the Al-Amari camp.

Their comparatively tranquil life was shattered on that night, two weeks ago. After undergoing several operations, Hassouna is now recovering in the surgical ward of Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, Jerusalem. A long, tough road awaits him. His mother, sister and aunt are with him day and night, sharing a bed next to him. His father visits occasionally, but his brothers are not allowed to visit. The Palestinian Authority is covering the medical costs.

Debilitated condition

People visiting Hassouna have to put on a robe and rubber surgical gloves – he’s suffering from an infection and is in isolation. He is unable to get out of bed. His debilitated condition is evident in his feeble speech. He breathes with the aid of oxygen pumped into his nose by a tube.

As he was shot in the street, other soldiers broke through the front gate of the house and made their way to the upper floors, where Hassouna’s brother and uncle live with their families. Hassouna recalls now that he didn’t hear the soldiers enter the house while he was outside, in the back.

He collapsed to the ground when he was shot, but did not immediately lose consciousness. Four soldiers, he thinks, rushed toward him from behind the garbage bin. He remembers that they aimed red laser beams at him, asked what his name was and told him to hand over his ID card and cellular phone.

His sister heard the shots from the stairs and was petrified; his parents and his brother rushed down, overwrought. At first they were prevented from approaching the wounded Ahmed. His relatives say he lay on the ground for about 40 minutes before an IDF paramedic arrived to treat his wounds. A Palestinian ambulance, summoned by the family, was initially not permitted to approach him, either. At some point, Hassouna remembers, he passed out.

His father, Azzam, tried to speak to the soldiers in Hebrew. By this time, the family says, there were a few dozen soldiers in the house. Hassouna’s mother, Sabah, says her husband heard the soldiers say they had the wrong address. They were looking for someone named Samar – but there was no one by that name in their house.

Not long afterward, other soldiers arrived with a Palestinian who was bound and had been arrested elsewhere in town – apparently, the Samar in question. Mistakes will happen.

Hassouna’s mother says that after shooting her son, the soldiers dismantled the security cameras that had previously been installed at the entrance to their house and took them with them when they left. She is convinced the IDF wants to hide the evidence of the mistaken shooting of her son.

At some point, the soldiers involved, apparently realizing their mistake, allowed the Palestinian ambulance – still waiting in the street – to take Hassouna to the Ramallah Government Hospital. No attempt was made to arrest him.

Hassouna underwent surgery there to stanch his internal bleeding. Two days later, he was transferred to Hadassah, after the family pressured the PA to pay for his treatment there. He’s been there ever since, tended to by the women of the family. At first, they say, some people in the ward were fearful of the presence of a wounded Palestinian from the territories. However, their fears were allayed when they saw that he was not put under guard by Israeli security forces.

“There is a serious gunshot wound to the spine,” Dr. Josh Schroeder, who carried out the surgery on Hassouna at Hadassah, told me this week. “He was stabilized in a complex operation, conducted by two of the hospital’s senior physicians. He will need rehabilitation and physiotherapy for about a year.”

At the moment, it’s not clear whether the damage is reversible and if Hassouna will be able to stand on his feet again.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told Haaretz: “During operational activity to arrest a terror activist in Beitunia, carried out by a special unit, a suspect was spotted fleeing from the building in which the target for arrest was located. The force carried out ‘suspect arrest procedure,’ after which fire was aimed at the lower torso of the suspect, wounding him moderately. The suspect was given immediate medical treatment by a paramedic, and afterward it was decided to evacuate him via the Red Crescent. A few days later, when an update was received that his medical condition had deteriorated, his transfer to Israel for continued medical treatment was authorized.”

To date, no one from the IDF has contacted the family – not to explain, not to investigate, much less to apologize. A relative, Maha Hassouna, the secretary of the Hadash party faction in the Knesset and a resident of Lod, says she is appalled that no one is taking responsibility for the mistaken shooting. She is helping the family in its efforts to have the rehabilitation process take place in Israel, and to have the state underwrite the expenses. That much, at least, is coming to Hassouna, the family believes.

In the meantime, he’s bedridden, pale, traumatized and weak. Even a faint smile is beyond him.