Why Did Israeli Police Ambush and Shoot at Palestinian Kids?

The Border Police shot a Palestinian boy in the leg during a protest. The army says he was using a slingshot; his father thinks he was deliberately targeted.

Khaled Shtaiwi, 11, is seen lying on the ground after being shot by Israeli troops in Kafr Kadum.
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This photograph has become almost iconic online. A wounded boy is lying on the sooty road of Kafr Kadum. He is trying to protect his head with his hand and is crying out for help. The image recalls that of Mohammed al-Dura, the boy who was shot and killed in the Gaza Strip in September 2000, while his father tried to protect him – but this time the ending is better.

Video footage shot by Abdullah Shtaiwi, a volunteer for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, shows a boy pounding the asphalt repeatedly, screaming in pain or terror, trying to get up, crawling forward and collapsing again. It’s not easy to watch. Then a man is seen running toward him, picking him up and trying to extricate him from this hellish situation. But then he too collapses, shot by Israeli troops while trying to evacuate the boy. The live rounds were fired by Border Police officers who lay in ambush for the Friday demonstrators in Kafr Kadum, adjacent to the settlement of Kedumim in the West Bank.

The event took place three weeks ago. As on every other Friday (and Saturday) for the past five years, demonstrators set out from the center of the village at noon to protest the blockage since 2003 of the entry road to their village. The army closed off the road because it passes next to the relentlessly expanding settlement, which was built on village land. At first, only cars that didn’t belong to residents were prohibited from using the road, but a few months later all vehicular traffic was banned – and finally even pedestrians were not allowed to use it. The creeping occupation.

Instead, the villagers built a road that leads to the nearby village of Funduk. Until its completion, Kafr Kadum was effectively besieged, apart from improvised paths across rocky terrain. The villagers note that three residents died during the second intifada because they were unable to get to a hospital during the blockade. Protests did not begin until 2011 because the residents were told that their road would be reopened the moment traffic was allowed to resume moving on all the roads in the area. The other roads were reopened but not theirs, and so the demonstrations began.

Thus, on Friday, March 4, a few hundred villagers – together with a few Israeli and international activists – set out for the blocked road. About six months ago, the situation was aggravated when the Israeli authorities dumped huge quantities of earth across the road, creating a totally impassable mound. Two local schools situated on the other side of this cruel divide are accessible only by foot – a perfect symbol of the brutality of the occupation. Some of the remnants of the residents’ olive groves (those that haven’t yet been expropriated) are also on the other side of the mound. Access to them is allowed only for one week during the year, for harvesting.

During the past few months, the residents have managed to push back the earth barrier, but only a little. “They have bulldozers and we have tractors,” one resident says. On top of the mound are shreds of burnt tires, and the road below is also blacker then black, scorched from the demonstrations. Israeli snipers sometimes position themselves on rooftops here.

Kedumim looms at the far end of this nowhere road, a few hundred meters in the distance. A village resident suddenly emerges from behind the mound. He is Zahi Ali, whose house is on the other side of the earth barrier. His 9-year-old daughter was shot and wounded a month ago during a demonstration. She was in her house at the time.

Khaled Shtaiwi with his siblings.
Alex Levac

The video footage shot on March 4 shows the demonstrators, flags in hand, heading for the barrier. A Border Police force, wearing black and armed from head to toe, suddenly darts out from its place of ambush, amid the bushes on the other side of the stone fence of a house along the road. They start shooting. A boy is a few meters from them. In the footage, the boy, Khaled Shtaiwi, is seen lying on the ground and crying out for help. He’s 11.

This week, Khaled lay in the living room of his home after being operated on at Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. His history notebook is by his side and a television broadcasts cartoons opposite him. One of his reed-thin legs is in a cast. His smashed hipbone is visible in the x-ray his father shows us. It will be some time before he is able to walk again. His life was saved by a miracle.

His father, Murad Shtaiwi – one of the organizers of the local demonstrations and also their spokesperson – is a Fatah activist who is employed in the office of the local Palestinian governor. He himself has been shot twice over the years and also was sentenced to nine months in an Israeli prison for his part in the demonstrations. He was in the rear part of the demonstration three weeks ago. Khaled was up front with a few other children his age, advancing toward the earth barrier. Khaled’s face was partially masked.

The children were certain that there were no Border Police or Israel Defense Forces soldiers nearby. But then the troops suddenly appeared and started firing. The children ran for their lives. Khaled went down. Another village resident, Mashour Jumaa, 45, then rushed toward him. When Mashour, too, was shot in the leg and fell, he managed to get to his feet and, with assistance, get to the ambulance that waits regularly at the edge of every demonstration.

Murad, Khaled’s father, saw everything from afar. He felt as though his head was spinning. “I think I lost consciousness,” he tells us as we stand at the place where his son was shot. “Afterward, I asked myself how it was that I didn’t run at once to save my son. I saw and I didn’t see. I heard and didn’t hear. I heard my son shouting for help but felt unable to move. I was paralyzed. I blacked out.” But he quickly recovered, took Khaled from Jumaa and got him into the ambulance. Border Police troops tried to run after them, rifles drawn, but gave up as young people surrounded the ambulance and threw stones at them.

This village is fighting for its freedom; there is no other way to describe the struggle of its 4,000 residents against the blocking of its main road. Week after week, a popular struggle – hopeless perhaps, but grittily determined. One wonders what the settlers in the red-tiled buildings of Kedumim, home of the radical activist Daniella Weiss – and a settlement with no fence around it, so it can continue to expand – think about the villagers’ struggle.

Murad Shtaiwi says the road barrier has nothing to do with security; the villagers have never taken part in acts of terrorism, he notes.

The desktop of Murad’s laptop shows another cruel image: IDF dogs biting his nephew, Ahmed, 22, as soldiers stand around and Murad tries to rescue him. That was a few years ago. “My son was not shot by chance,” says Murad. “The sniper knew exactly what he was doing. His friends were ahead of him, yet they shot him. Khaled tried to get away, but they gave him no chance. He was shot from behind in the leg. I know the occupation is the occupation, but no one thinks a sniper shoots a boy simply because he is walking on the road. Why did they shoot him? What danger did he pose to them?”

Murad picks up a pebble from the road and holds it above his head. “Let’s say he was holding a stone. He’s a boy. He’s weak. What could he possibly do to them? What danger does he present to a dozen armed and armored policemen? What did the policeman achieve by shooting an 11-year-old boy? What did he want to achieve?”

The Border Police spokesperson stated in response: “The ‘boy’ as described in the article is actually a disrupter of [public] order, masked, who was at the forefront of the violent demonstration the whole time, armed with a slingshot (a means to hurl stones), and hurling stones at the security forces who were operating at the site. In response, the forces made use of a means to disperse demonstrations of the Ruger [rifle] type, [aiming] at the suspect’s lower body. Contrary to what is stated, no means of any kind were employed against the adult. The security forces will continue to act with resolve against every disrupter of order who tries to attack the forces and endanger their lives.”

Village residents say that since the demonstration, even more repressive measures have been used against them. Last Saturday, unprecedented quantities of tear gas were fired at them, they say.

Heavy curtains cover the windows of the room in which Khaled is lying. He’s a lean, smiling boy with dimples. Two years ago, when his father was arrested, the Shin Bet security service interrogator asked Murad what the solution was to all the demonstrations. “The solution is simple: open our road,” said Murad. The interrogator remarked that the demonstrations are the village’s “hobby,” to which Murad responded that no one likes to inhale tear gas or be wounded or killed. “We love life. We want to spend our weekends with our families and not to [have to] protect them.”

We ask Khaled whether he will return to the demonstrations. Yes, he says, as soon as he can stand on his feet. Aren’t you afraid? No. But his father immediately whispers to us, “The correct answer is ‘Yes.’ He is afraid. He’s been in a state of shock since then.”

Murad tries to explain to his son that there are different ways to wage the struggle. For example, he can become an engineer and rebuild houses that the occupation destroys. That’s a way to struggle, too.