It was last Friday, and Omar Younis was dying at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. His older brother, Abdel Karim Younis, was begging for permission to see Omar one last time. Their mother was incapable of making the trip; their father died two years ago. Abdel Karim had applied earlier to the Civil Administration’s District Coordination and Liaison Office for a permit to enter Israel to make the hospital visit but had not received a reply.
It was the eve of a festival, the last day of the Passover holiday. The Israeli organization Physicians for Human Rights filed an urgent petition on behalf of Younis with the Jerusalem administrative affairs court against the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service, seeking permission for the older brother to visit his dying sibling.
Younis was unconscious and on a respirator in intensive care in the surgical department at Beilinson after being shot several days earlier by Border Police. The latter reported that the young man had tried to stab one of their troops the weekend before, at the beginning of Passover. Now, as the holiday drew to a close, Younis died. His family was at home in the West Bank village of Saniriya. The village and the hospital are less than an hour’s drive apart, but separated by mountains of darkness and cold-heartedness.
At the hearing on the petition, the state had made an unbelievable suggestion. It proposed that Abdel Karim’s permit to visit his dying brother be conditioned on the Younis family funding the costs of security needed to monitor the older sibling while in Israel. But, on the eve of a holiday, most of the authorized security firms weren’t answering. One firm agreed to provide security for the visit for an up-front payment of 4,900 shekels ($1,360), VAT included.
Dr. Yael Feferman of Beilinson’s surgical department wrote: “[Younis] was critically wounded and suffering from a number of gunshot wounds to the chest, abdomen and pelvis. He has undergone four operations and is suffering from serious multisystem injuries” – and, she added, he could die at any moment.
Meanwhile, Younis’ family was having trouble raising the necessary funds.
Judge Haya Zandberg, who heard the petition in Jerusalem, ruled as follows: “Under these circumstances when, as I see it, there is no evidence of any flaw in the state’s position; when the state’s position is seemingly proportional and balanced between the conflicting interests; when, as noted, it has not been proven to me with evidence that it was in fact impossible to meet the conditions that the state has presented; and when in any event no alternatives have been presented at today’s hearing that could be examined in the course of the hearing – I have seen no grounds to intervene in the state’s position and to order the requested temporary solution.”
There was no flaw in the state’s position, which is seemingly proportional and balanced. The interests are conflicting. That’s what the judge said. Forty-eight hours later, Younis died without any of his family having been permitted to see him or to take their leave of him.
But things didn’t end there. Since then, the state has refused to return Younis’ body to his family, who are currently in mourning at home, with no funeral or grave, without having said farewell to their loved one.
Next week, Omar Younis, a first-year electrical engineering student at Hisham Hijjawi College of Technology in Nablus, would have been 20 years old. From the balcony of his family’s home, where we arrived accompanied by investigator ‘Abd al-Karim Sa’adi from the B’Tselem human rights organization, one can see the settlements of Elkana, Sha’arei Tikva and Etz Efraim. Further away, one can spot Kafr Qasem, with Tel Aviv on the horizon.
Saniriya is a relatively tranquil village, most of whose young men work in Israel. The Younis family has four surviving sons and two daughters. Their father died at age 53 of lung disease, and their mother doesn’t leave her room. The older sons have permits to work in West Bank settlements and in Israel. The eldest, Abdel Karim, 26, works in the settlement of Barkan. He last saw his brother Omar on Friday, April 19, the day the Jews gathered for their seder.
On Fridays, Younis had worked laying floors in the nearby village of Sarta; he attended classes in Nablus the rest of the week. Before going to bed on April 19, he told his siblings that the following day he planned to go to the city to look for a new apartment before the start of the second semester at school. They would never see him again.
The next day, Younis left home at about 7 A.M., apparently on the way to Nablus. At 8:11 A.M., he wrote on Facebook: “This is the struggle: winning or being killed in battle.”
At the Tapuah junction in the northern West Bank, he was shot several times in the upper part of his body by Border Police. The force issued a statement explaining that he had aroused suspicion when he approached their post. The police added that several of officers pursued Younis and that a police cruiser blocked his path. According to this version of events, Omar Younis pulled a knife and tried to open the vehicle’s door in order to stab a policeman. Nothing further is known. It was Shabbat and a holiday and traffic at the junction was light.
Younis’ parting Facebook post prompted 272 comments and 708 “likes.” What was going through his head and what exactly did he do? Apparently we will never know. At around 11 A.M. that day, Abdel Karim got a phone call from an uncle, informing him that Omar had been shot at the Tapuah junction. Abdel Karim rushed to the site, but as he was on his way, received a message from the Palestinian District Coordination and Liaison office that Omar had been killed and that his body had been taken to Israel.
Abdel Karim returned home to his village, where a large crowd had already gathered. A short time later, a Shin Bet agent called and instructed him to come immediately to the Eliahu border crossing, near Qalqilyah, for questioning. The interrogator asked for details about Omar, about his life and activities. The agent told Abdel Karim that his brother had been arrested and was wounded in the abdomen. The brother asked why they had shot him if he hadn’t harmed anyone. “We are investigating that,” came the reply, according to the older brother.
The agent asked if Omar had ties to an organization, who his friends were and if there had been problems at home. Abdel Karim responded that Omar had never been involved in any organization and that no one in the family had ever been arrested. Later Abdel Karim told the Shin Bet that the family wanted to visit Omar. The agent referred him to the coordination and liaison office.
For the next four days, the family tried in vain to obtain approval for a visit to Beilinson and were also unsuccessful in obtaining any information on their loved one’s condition. There is no proper, organized system for reporting to Palestinian families under such circumstances, and they generally remain in the dark. Hospital staff don’t respond to them, on the grounds that they don’t know for certain who is calling.
When Physicians for Human Rights filed a court petition to help the Younis family, the state responded that it would allow a visit by “Petitioner 2,” Abdel Karim Younis, if he were accompanied by a security firm “pursuant to Section 10(c) of the firearms law,” and, as noted, if funded by Petitioner 2.
That Thursday, April 25, on the eve of the festival, Anat Litwin, who heads the prisoner project at Physicians for Human Rights, was in touch with about 10 security firms: Araks Protection, Vulcan Power, Consulting and Security, Shay Protection Services, A. Barak Protection and Security, A. Geffen Business Development and Security Consulting, Kfir Security and Location, G1, S.B.D. and Alef Mem 24.
Most of the companies didn’t answer. One expert explained to Litwin that such arrangements also required advance approval from the police, which decide the number of guards necessary based on “the nature of the incident” – And police approval is not immediate. The security detail accompanying Abdel Karim – who could perhaps blow himself up at the hospital, some thought – would require armed guards.
Ultimately, Alef Mem 24 agreed to do the work. Payment had to be made up front. The detail would include a driver, a car and an armed guard from the West Bank border checkpoint to the hospital and back. The family felt helpless. They lacked the means to pay such a sum in advance and the Palestinian Authority refused as a matter of principle to fund security that Israelis were demanding for themselves.
On April 22, Rachel Afek, a left-wing activist, wrote me an email asking for help in which she stated: “This is written out of despair. Yesterday the Ta’ayush [coexistence organization] asked me to go to Beilinson to check on the condition of the guy who, according to the news, was subdued by Israeli army forces. I found that he was in the recovery room following surgery. The doctor said he would be out right away to talk to me. Several minutes later, he came out and said ‘they will speak with you,’ and he turned me over to the hospital’s security officers. A polite security man explained that the young man was under arrest and could not be visited. ‘Only the family can receive details about him, if they come to the hospital. They should go to the District Coordination and Liaison authority tomorrow to obtain permission. They have to give them permission to enter the hospital.’”
The email continued: “I informed the Palestinian who was the go-between with the family. And then he said he had been in touch with the District Coordination and Liaison office and had gotten a negative response regarding the visit, apparently because he [Omar] was under arrest. I provided Dalia Bassa [the humanitarian affairs coordinator at the Israeli Civil Administration] with documentation from the mother and one of the brothers, and she said she would deal with it in the morning. Up to now, she has not answered my simple question as to why they weren’t allowing them to enter.”
Afek concluded her email by writing: “It could be that you are asking: ‘What do you want from me?’ I am thinking about a situation in which it may be the man’s last hours. Maybe he won’t survive. This is the last chance for the mother to see him. I thought maybe via the newspaper they would read [about] the pain and maybe about yet another unnecessary murder. It could be that the finger was light on the trigger again. Maybe they are hiding the shame.”
At the Younis family home in Saniriya, Abdel Karim called the demand that they pay security costs to visit a brother who is near death “crude behavior.” He is convinced that the police shot at Omar for nothing.
Last Saturday, at 5:30 P.M., a man who identified himself as a doctor from Beilinson Hospital called and told Abdel Karim in Arabic that he was sorry to inform the family that Omar had died. He provided the phone number of a department that could provide additional details, but that office referred them to security officials.
Later the family received another report at home that Omar had not died. But at 7:30 P.M., the Palestinian coordination and liaison officials informed them that Omar had indeed passed away. Abdel Karim said all the family wants now is to receive Omar’s body so that he can be buried.
* * *
Again this week, another Palestinian was hospitalized and, as with Omar Younis, his family has not only been barred from visiting him, but has been unable to get any information about their son’s condition. According to an investigator with Physicians for Human Rights, Naji Abbas, the young man, Mer’i Hussein Kabha, from the Jenin area, is hospitalized at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, in Hadera.
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