The Israel Defense Forces troops who raided Deheisheh refugee camp, outside Bethlehem, before dawn on August 9 – apparently to arrest 22-year-old Raad Salhi – probably knew nothing about the circumstances of his family. It’s unlikely they knew about the tragic situation in his home or were aware that they were compounding it.
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The soldiers, who seem to have been from an undercover, Duvdevan special-ops unit, fired seven rounds into the young man who had awoken from his fleeting night’s sleep and tried, unarmed, to escape the troops’ clutches. They snatched him, kicking, from the arms of his brother, who was trying to get Raad out of harm’s way, and shook him violently, dragging him over the course of a half-hour through the camp’s alleyways, while he bled from his mouth and body, critically injured. He was taken to Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, where he’s now under arrest in the intensive-care unit, apparently in a coma.
The Israel Defense Forces wanted Raad dead or alive, though it’s hardly clear why – such routine nighttime raids in the West Bank can have a variety of motives – and thus the troops seized him from his brother, despite his serious condition. No one has bothered to update the family about Raad’s situation, nor is the IDF allowing his mother, 52-year-old Zeinab Salhi, to visit him. Last week, she arrived at Hadassah accompanied by D., a Jerusalem-born Jew, her partner and the father of two of her children, with whom she’s been living for a decade in Deheisheh. At the hospital, the soldier-warders prevented her from entering her son’s room; the nurses threatened to summon the police if she didn’t leave.
Zeinab has only partial, fragmentary information, provided by the Palestinian Prisoners Club – namely, that Raad was struck by seven bullets that wreaked havoc on his internal organs.
The disasters, neglect and adversity that have befallen this home are mirrored in its appearance. It’s one of the most squalid houses in Deheisheh, which is perhaps the most squalid of West Bank refugee camps. The building is in the heart of the camp, at the end of a narrow alley; its walls are moldy, it has no running water and the yard is crammed with junk and garbage. Sickly looking kittens skittering about add a pathetic note to the wretched scene, when we visited earlier this week. Zeinab lives here with three of her five sons from her first marriage, and with Tamara and Yosef, the daughter and son fathered by D. The two children have no legal status, no rights and no documentation, and they do not attend school.
Her first husband died 10 years ago. She had worked from a young age to help support her family as a maid in Jerusalem – in the neighborhoods of Talpiot, Romema and Kiryat Hayovel – where she learned Hebrew and grew fond of her Jewish employers. They left her keys and money, sometimes gave her clothes for her children, too, and she cleaned their homes. But her attitude has changed since the soldiers shot her son, she says now. Her whole world has been turned upside down since that fateful night earlier this month.
A few years ago Zeinab fell ill and underwent heart surgery twice in Israel, after which she was compelled to stop working. A few months ago, D. was diagnosed with cancer and he too forced to stop his work, renovating houses. He’s undergoing treatment at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
It was into this situation that IDF soldiers entered on August 9.
That night, as on every night, Zeinab didn’t go to bed until the last of her children returned home. She’s a worrier. Sitting drowsily in the living-room armchair, she waited for Raad. He finally came in after 3 A.M., worn out and bone tired. She offered to make him something to eat or drink, but he declined and went to sleep in his clothes on the sofa dumped on the small balcony that abuts the living room. “Alright, precious, ya ruhi [my spirit]. Go to sleep,” she told him as he drifted off. Raad’s brother Bassem, 26, who works in Ramallah and had come for a visit, was sleeping in Raad’s bed. Zeinab made herself a cup of coffee and sat with her other son, 24-year-old Mohammed, whom she calls Hamudi, who was still awake.
Before dawn, at about 4 A.M., Mohammed got a routine cellphone message: “IDF in the camp.” WhatsApp groups in Deheisheh send alerts about every night raid.
Mohammed woke Bassem and then hurried to the balcony to rouse Raad. Raad sprang from the sofa and jumped barefoot over the balcony’s low, blue wall. Only a narrow path, the width of a person, separates their home from that of the neighbors. Zeinab, sitting in the living room which overlooks the yard, was frightened. D. stayed in his room, as he always does when the IDF enters the camp. He says that he heard bursts of gunfire next to the house and Zeinab screaming. From the other side of the wall, Raad’s was heard to shout, “I am dying, I will be a shahid” – a holy martyr. He collapsed in the narrow lane below the blue wall, bleeding. According to the family, he was not armed and did not pose a threat to the soldiers. He only tried to run for his life.
It’s not hard to imagine the terror. Dozens of soldiers were swarming around. Zeinab didn’t dare go outside. But Bassem rushed out into the street and by a roundabout route through labyrinthine alleys reached his brother via the shell of a building under construction next door. Picking Raad up, Bassem ran with him toward the main street and had gone about a hundred meters before the soldiers caught up with him – the dogs they had with them apparently smelled the blood. Stones rained down on the soldiers from every direction.
Mohammed, who was still in the house, threw dishes and utensils at the troops. His mother say he had gone crazy when he found out that his brother was lying in the lane, bleeding.
In the meantime, the soldiers had shot a neighbor, Abed al-Aziz Arafat, 24, in the leg and took him with them. Spotting Bassem carrying Raad, they started to shoot in his direction. They ordered him to place Raad on the ground. Bassem tried to get away but two soldiers kicked him to force him to release his brother. Raad lay on the ground, Bassem was allowed to go. He then watched the events unfolding from the roof of his house, fearful for his brother’s fate. After a time he saw an IDF paramedic check his brother’s pulse, then watched as soldiers placed him on a stretcher and put him into a jeep, which sped off. Bassem went back inside after his brother was taken away. D. saw that his shirt was stained with blood, and that he was distraught.
Two days before the incident, Zeinab says, Raad told her that Shin Bet security service agent “Nidal” had called him and threatened to shoot him in his mother’s presence – it wasn’t clear why. But he immediately calmed her down, concerned for her health. “Don’t get upset if they come to arrest me,” he told her. “Sit quietly and don’t fret.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit gave Haaretz the following statement this week: “On August 9, 2017, Raad Salhi was arrested at Deheisheh refugee camp on suspicion of involvement in the terror organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, of popular terror activities, and for disturbing the peace.
“When the IDF force arrived at his house, a chase ensued, during which the force employed the procedure for arresting a suspect, which included shooting, which wounded him. The force rendered the suspect life-saving medical care, following which he was evacuated to Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Karem. It should be noted that Mohammed Salhi came to the scene where his brother had been wounded and began dragging him, in order to remove him from there.
“On the morning of August 10, the Palestinian liaison office of the Bethlehem military sector was given an update on Raad Salhi’s condition and on his removal to the hospital. To the best of our knowledge, his mother visited with him at the hospital close to the time of his injury. She was in possession of an entry permit to Israel that had been cancelled for reasons of security. On August 22, she was given a new entry permit, which will be in force for a week, for the purpose of visiting her son.
“Mohammed Salhi was arrested on August 16, 2017, in the wake of intelligence that revealed that he had been involved in planning violent action against Israeli targets. Several days later, an order was issued for administrative detention for a period of four months, a step that was taken as a final measure in the absence of alternatives that could prevent the significant danger that his actions pose. It should be noted that the order was given under the stringent supervision of both the military court and the Supreme Court.”
A week after shooting Raad and taking him with them – the soldiers returned. Again at 4 A.M. and again in large numbers. This time they came to arrest Mohammed; this time they entered the house through the front door, after smashing it. They searched the house and took him. There was no shooting this time. Zeinab did not sleep a wink that night, either. Hearing the noise outside before the troops burst in, she was deathly afraid. Since those two horrific nights she hasn’t cried even once, she says, but is frightened and confused.
She relates that one of the officers who came to arrest Mohammed told her that they were sorry for having shot Raad – that it was a mistake. “Seven bullets by mistake?” Zeinab says bitterly. She showed us a photograph of her son in the hospital: Her partner, D., managed to stick his head into Raad’s hospital room for a second before being chased off humiliatingly last week. He saw Raad lying there, unconscious, hooked up to tubes. Now Zeinab asks him if he thinks her son is alive and what his condition is. The two converse in Hebrew.