Israel is still holding the body of Hamdan al-Arda, a 59-year-old businessman killed a week ago in the West Bank by Israeli troops who suspected him of committing a vehicle-ramming attack.
Palestinians in touch with Israeli authorities say the army knows that Al-Arda did not intend to run over soldiers in the Al-Bireh industrial zone near Ramallah on December 13. The family and Palestinians officials say they were twice promised that the body would be returned this week, but that has yet to happen.
Eyewitnesses tell Haaretz that Al-Arda, owner of a nearby aluminum painting factory was startled when a large group of armed troops appeared as he approached a store in his SUV. One person who was standing nearby and who knew Al-Arda says he was probably on his way to the store, which imports aluminum from China.
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Soldiers were in the shop at the time, confiscating security cameras and questioning people. When Al-Arda approached in his car, the soldiers who were either outside the shop or suddenly exited the shop shouted at him, “Stop!,” and aimed their rifles at him. Instead of braking, Al-Arda pressed on the gas. The witness concluded that he was startled and therefore pressed down on the wrong pedal.
He says he saw one soldier tossed aside by the impact of the car and another soldier who fell from the impact. The witness says four of the soldiers started shooting simultaneously at the driver. He says the car door was locked and the soldiers used an iron bar and a rifle butt to break the driver’s window and open the door from the inside, and that they kept on striking with the bar or the rifle butt or both after the door was opened.
Another eyewitness, who saw the car approaching from Andalus Street,believes that Al-Arda meant to turn left at the curve in the road and to drive to his aluminum painting factory on an adjacent street. He noticed that Al-Arda was driving slowly. But when he saw the group of soldiers to his right, he kept driving straight into the yard of the store.
The second witness describes bursts of gunfire coming from several guns at once. He also saw a soldier strike the left window with an iron bar and believes he kept on striking with the bar, inside the car, even after the soldiers opened the door from the inside. Meanwhile, dozens more soldiers arrived. They did not allow the medical team from the Red Crescent ambulance to approach Al-Arda and took his body and placed it an armored military vehicle.
Before the soldiers confiscated the car and towed it away, a few people managed to film the dead Al-Arda, his bloody head slumped toward the passenger seat with blood pooling on the seat. They also collected some pieces of his skull and teeth that were in the car. Local residents and employees also took pictures of the car in which dozens of bullet marks can be seen on the windows and body of the car.
Al-Arda, originally from Arabeh village in the Jenin district, owned an aluminum painting factory in the Al-Bireh industrial zone northeast of Ramallah. He and his family have lived in Ramallah since 1955, but they also own buildings and farmland in Arabeh, and that is where the family plans to bury him, says his nephew Nizar.
He says that the entire extended family – which includes a Ramallah judge – and he himself, who works in a garage, have not been going to work as they are just waiting for the body, to be able to bury it and set up a mourners’ tent. They also don’t know if the body will be returned through a checkpoint in the Ramallah area or the Jalameh checkpoint near Jenin, so some of the relatives are waiting in Arabeh and some have remained in Ramallah. The delay of the burial is causing them more suffering. “Not only did they kill him, now they’re holding him as an administrative detainee,” says the nephew.
Last Thursday, after an armed Palestinian attacked soldiers and settlers near the Givat Assaf outpost east of Ramallah, a large number of forces were deployed in the Ramallah area as well as in the Al-Bireh industrial zone. But no curfew was imposed and people were not asked to leave the area, one resident says. “The situation was unclear – People were continuing to live and work as usual, but with all the soldiers in our streets wary of everyone and endangering everyone.”
The soldiers came to the aluminum shop around 3:30 P.M. Nizar says his uncle worked at his factory in the morning, had gone home for the afternoon break and returned to the industrial zone around 4:20.
The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service did not search the family home or interrogate the family members after the dead driver was identified, in contrast to other cases in which the army suspected a Palestinian was trying to carry out a vehicle-ramming attack.
This is a strong indication that the IDF does not believe that this driver intended to harm soldiers. The Palestinian civil liaison committee is in contact with the Israeli liaison committee about returning the body but the spokesperson for the Coordinator for Government Activities (in charge of the liaison committees) told Haaretz to contact the IDF spokesperson for a response.
Attorney Mohammed Abu Sneineh of the Al Quds Human Rights Center contacted the attorney general for Judea and Samaria on Sunday to request that the body be returned, but has not received any answer.
The IDF spokesperson says: “On December 13, 2018, during an operational action in Al-Bireh, an IDF force spotted a vehicle coming toward it. The vehicle struck a soldier and lightly injured him. The force responded with gunfire. The driver of the vehicle was killed. The circumstances of the incident are being investigated. Regarding the return of the body, no decision has been made yet.”
The IDF spokesperson did not respond to a question as to whether the intensive gunfire at the vehicle was in accordance with instructions.