Gideon Levy

Israel Throws Salt in the Wounds of a Palestinian Shot by IDF Troops

Two months after soldiers opened fire for no apparent reason at civilians near Bethlehem, killing a 23-year-old, the man wounded in the shooting has a long road to recovery ahead. Don’t even ask about compensation

Ala Raida, left, with his father Mohammed.
\ Alex Levac

Ala Raida is still a broken, shattered man – gaunt, weak, with a bag attached to his abdomen. His life was miraculously saved but a long, tortuous, road to recovery lies ahead. The Israel Defense Forces and the other mechanisms of the occupation are doing all they can to make it even harder. Now they’ve deprived his family of its livelihood: The permits allowing him and his brother to work in Israel have been revoked – standard procedure in the wake of every incident, no matter who’s to blame – and his car is still being held by the authorities.

Thus shall it be done to a person whom IDF soldiers shot for no apparent reason, wounding him seriously and still suffering from his injuries two months later. The young man who came to his aid was shot to death; he himself was shot in the presence of his wife and two young daughters, who were in the car with him. They too are still reeling from the terror of that evening.

The incident in question occurred two months ago, on March 20, and was the subject of a column here a few days later. IDF soldiers opened fire, probably from the heights of their armored pillbox, at a driver who got out of his car next to the intersection at the southern entrance to Bethlehem. It was evening, the territories were under closure because of the Purim holiday, and there was next to no traffic on the road. After Raida was shot in the stomach, another car arrived at the intersection. It was carrying four young Palestinian men who were on the way home from a wedding. They got out of the car to help, and intended to rush the wounded man to hospital. One of them remained behind, with the wounded man’s terrified wife and daughters. The soldiers opened fire at him, too. He attempted to take shelter behind a concrete cube (used by the army as a barrier) by the side of the road, but bullets slammed into his body and killed him.

Ahmed Manasra was 23 at the time of his death; we visited his bereaved family in the village of Wadi Fukin, southwest of Bethlehem, a few days after the incident. The IDF Spokesman’s Unit stated at the time: “The possibility is being examined that there was friction between Palestinians, which included stone-throwing.” That’s probably one of the weirdest and most scandalous explanations the spokesman has ever offered for soldiers who were not in any danger opening fire with live ammunition.

That was in March. In Nahalin, a village between Bethlehem and Beit Shemesh, Ala Raida’s home has become something of an infirmary, with hospital bed and a closet packed with medication and other items for treating the wounded man. His condition has improved – he can walk now – but ahead of him still lies a long road to recovery, with danger at every turn. When we paid a visit this week along with Kareem Issa Jubran, the field research director of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, Raida talked about the events of that evening, providing a clearer picture than what we’d had, and also about what has happened to him since.

Ala’s father, Mohammed, an impressive man with a thick black beard, and his brothers tend to him day and light. “My God, I don’t see, and can’t think of, any reason why they shot me,” he says, emotions welling up, in fine Hebrew. “I think about it over and over, but I can’t figure out why they fired.”

Ala is 39, is married to Maisa, 32, and is the father of Silin, 8, and Lynn, 5; a tiling contractor, he had a permit to work and stay over in Israel. His last job had been laying the tile in a ceramics store of 1,000 square meters in Be’er Sheva. “The last tile I lifted was 120 by 120 centimeters – today I’m not capable of lifting anything,” he says now.

Ala Raida.
\ Alex Levac

On March 20, with Israel closed to Palestinians for Purim, Raida took advantage of the time off to drive with his wife and daughters in the family VW Golf to Bethlehem for shopping and treats. Afterward he dropped off his wife and the girls at her parents’ home in the city and took his other two cars, a Citroen Jumpy and an Isuzu that he uses for work to the garage for maintenance and a wash. He then met with friends before returning to his in-laws’ place in the afternoon. They enjoyed a family dinner and were in exceptionally good spirits: They had planned a family holiday in Jericho the next day, with friends, and had rented a villa for the weekend. They left for home at about 8:30.

The streets were quiet. At the Doha junction, opposite the Deheisheh refugee camp, a silver-gray Volkswagen Caddy lurched onto the highway at high speed and grazed the side of the Golf. The Caddy sped off wildly without stopping. Raida gave pursuit, caught up to the vehicle and blocked it. But when he stepped out of the car, the van roared away. Raida got back into his car and the chase resumed. Raida could see that the VW had Palestinian license plates, but was unable to see the driver’s face in the dark.

“I didn’t understand why he wasn’t stopping,” he says now. “What was he running away from? We’ve scraped a thousand cars already. Khalas! Enough already! I have insurance, he has insurance. What happened? Was I going to cut his head off?”

The two vehicles arrived at a traffic light at the southern exit of Bethlehem. Raida again blocked the Caddy and got out of the Golf. His wife and two daughters stayed in the car. The Caddy drove onto a traffic island, turned left and disappeared into the dark, heading in the direction of the Jewish settlement of Efrat. Raida lifted his arms to the heavens and cursed. There was nothing more he could do.

As Raida reached out to open the car door he heard a gunshot and realized that he’d been hit. The bullet entered his right hip and exited from the left, ravaging his abdomen. He saw his guts spilling out and grabbed them with his hands. He didn’t see anyone on the road and he hadn’t heard any prior warning. With his remaining strength he made his way to the back of the car, while trying to take cover.

Another bullet was fired at him. It hit the road, and dozens of fragments struck his leg; some are still lodged there. His wife had left the car and was screaming for help. The car carrying the four young men from the village Wadi Fukin, who were coming back from a wedding, approached the intersection. Three of them bundled Raida into their car and rushed him to the nearest hospital, Al-Yamamah, in the village of Al-Khader. Raida was certain he was going to die. Before losing consciousness he mumbled, “My wife and daughters.” He remembers nothing after that.

Ahmed Manasra stayed with Raida’s wife and daughters in the car, to protect and calm them. He tried to start their car in order to get away from the intersection but it stalled. When he stepped outside the soldiers shot and killed him.

Raida underwent six-hour abdominal surgery. His wife’s father and his brother rushed to the intersection, and after exchanging words with the soldiers who had gathered there and were threatening them with their rifles, managed to leave with Maisa and the daughters, leaving the car behind with the soldiers. His father and brother, Adnan, then went to the hospital. Before arriving, Mohammed had heard that someone had been killed and was certain it was his son. Instead, the physicians told him that Ala was in very serious condition, but that they would everything in their power to help him. In the meantime they should pray. He himself says the family had already planned the memorial poster. After the operation the surgeons said, “We did what we could. The rest is up to God.”

Raida regained consciousness two days later, on Friday evening. What was damaged? “What wasn’t damaged?” he replies, smiling. “The stomach, the spleen, the large intestine, the small intestine, the pancreas, the gall bladder, and shrapnel in the liver.” He was released from the hospital after three days, but when he developed a stomach infection a few days later, he was rushed to Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, where he underwent additional surgery and was hospitalized for another two weeks. He says the physicians at Hadassah praised the surgery of their colleagues at Al-Yamamah. They had saved his life. Still, more surgery awaits him, in the coming months.

Military Police investigators tried to question him at Hadassah, but his condition wouldn’t permit it. A few days ago, Raida was summoned to the Etzion police facility for a lengthy interrogation. His wife was summoned to a separate interrogation – both as witnesses, not as accused. The IDF Spokesman’s Unit this week said only, “A Military Police investigation is underway in the wake of the event, at the conclusion of which its findings will be conveyed to the military prosecution. For obvious reasons, we cannot comment on the details beyond this.” The unit referred us back to the response it had given two months ago.

Naturally, no one has come to apologize to Ala Raida or to offer compensation for his ruined life, and no one ever will. He is barely able to eat or drink, and the colostomy bag, which he hopes to be able to get rid of in the near future, has to be emptied every hour. When he tried to get to Hadassah two weeks ago, for a follow-up examination ordered by his physicians, his request for an entry permit to Israel was refused. It turns out he’s “denied entry by the Shin Bet security service.”