The Face of Collateral Damage: Palestinian Student Killed by Israeli Forces

Samah Abdallah, 18, from a little-known Palestinian village in the West Bank, was shot dead, either on purpose or by accident – but most assuredly without legitimate reason.

A poster showing a photo of Samah Abdallah hung on a metal gate.
Alex Levac

After Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed Samah Abdallah, the Israeli media did not even bother to mention that the 18-year-old was shot in the head while she was riding, along with other family members, in her father’s car.

Samah Abdallah was a beautician and cosmetology student from a little-known Palestinian village, who was shot to death either on purpose or by accident – but most assuredly without any legitimate reason. Five or six bullets were fired at the car, fired by a soldier from a fortified watchtower nearby; one hit her directly in the head. Samah sustained mortal injuries, and died a few weeks later in an Israeli hospital.

It all began on November 23, with a concerned and anxious father: Abed Abdallah, 42, worked in construction in Israel until recently. He did not want his daughter to use public transportation to get home from the Nablus school where she was studying with her younger sister Hanin, 17. Samah had been thinking of enrolling in university next year, in order to get a teaching degree.

It has been an extremely tense few months on the roads of the West Bank, for Palestinian residents too, and Abed decided to pick up his two daughters that day, lest they run into trouble on the way home. He does this every so often, primarily when tensions run high.

The family lives in one of the tiniest of villages – a hilly, remote place called Amoriya, with breathtaking scenery, southeast of Salfit and the settlement of Ariel.

That morning, Samah and Hanin set out at 7:30 for school in a shared taxi. At noon, Abed left Amoriya together with his wife, Hala, and their son Ahmed, 15, to pick them up. The drive went without mishap, and took less than half an hour. The daughters got into the back seat, with Samah in the middle; their parents were in front.

After passing the Hawara checkpoint, which was not manned at the time by IDF soldiers, they approached a bus stop. Abed noticed a teenage boy and a few soldiers there; he says now that he was certain the boy was a Jew. Worried that stones would be thrown at the car, Abed continued to drive and had gone a few meters when he heard gunfire.

No one had ordered him to stop. In the rearview mirror, Abed saw the boy fall to the ground, bleeding profusely. He says he did not see a knife or any other weapon in the boy’s hands. Subsequently, it developed that the youth, Alaa al-Hashash, 16, from the nearby Balata refugee camp, had been shot dead by one of the soldiers at the bus stop. The death of Hashash was reported by the Israeli media in a single sentence, “Another attempted terrorist attack was thwarted today near the Hawara checkpoint.” That same day, there were two other such attempts at other sites, so perhaps the killing of the teenager was of no special interest.

Soon after Abed saw the youth collapse, a hail of bullets hit his car. Abed shouted to his wife and children to get down, but the rear seat was crowded and Samah was unable to crouch low enough. The bullets came from the rear, fired by soldiers standing near the bus stop, but also from the front – from an army watchtower. The lethal bullet was fired by a soldier in the tower, penetrating the windshield and hitting Samah in the middle of her forehead before exiting through the back of her neck. Her face was covered in blood.

“Father – there’s blood!” yelled Ahmed. Abed thought it was his son who had been hit. Getting out of the car, he discovered that his daughter had been shot. The terrified family pulled Samah out and lay her on the road. Abed says now that he was certain she was already dead. A Palestinian ambulance quickly arrived, and evacuated her to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus.

The Abdallah family's car.
Alex Levac

“Why did you do that?” Ahmed says he screamed at the soldiers who began to approach. “The soldier told me: You had a knife. I told him: There’s no knife. He said: There is. I said: There isn’t. I said: Where’s the officer? He said: There is no officer.”

Abed says that a few minutes later, the same soldier admitted about the shots fired at Samah that, “It was a mistake.”

Samah was rushed to Rafidia. When her parents arrived, they were informed that she was in critical condition. A few hours later, it was decided to transfer her to an Israeli hospital. After initial admission to to Schneider Children’s Medical Center, she was transferred to the neurosurgery department at nearby Beilinson Hospital.

In her report, Dr. Gili Kadmon, a specialist in pediatric intensive care, wrote: “Patient was shot yesterday in the Nablus area, at a range of 10-20 meters. Entry hole in the frontal lobe and exit hole in the occipitoparietal lobe. Extensive cranial injury. Upon admission, patient was unconscious and artificially ventilated; opens her eyes at moments of pain and coughs in response to suction …”

Samah’s mother accompanied her to the hospital in Israel and didn’t leave her for a moment. Abed joined them the following day, once he received an entry permit. Samah was hospitalized for over three weeks, during which she underwent two operations. Last Wednesday, she passed away, her parents at her bedside. She never reopened her eyes.

Asked for comment by Haaretz, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit released the following statement: “During the incident, in which a terrorist was running while brandishing a knife toward civilians standing at a bus stop, IDF forces opened fire to neutralize the threat and protect the civilians. From the shooting, injuries were apparently incurred by passengers in the car behind the terrorist. The IDF regrets any injury to uninvolved bystanders and acts to avoid this as much as possible. The incident has been investigated and the results are being examined by the military prosecutor’s office.”

Note the evasive wording: “From the shooting, injuries were apparently incurred by passengers in the car behind the terrorist.” As if the dying Samah had not been transferred to Israel for medical care with the army’s approval, as if there was any doubt she was killed by IDF soldiers.

Abed says that the soldiers didn’t only kill Samah: “They killed our entire family. The soldiers didn’t have to shoot. Why did they shoot? They also could have shot Alaa al-Hashash in his legs, without killing him. Salah happened to be there, without having done anything. Nothing justifies this shooting. She died for no reason.”

ANo government or army official thought to telephone the family following Samah’s death. Now Abed is preparing to submit a claim for compensation from Israel. For that purpose, he approached attorney Ghaslan Mahajna from Umm al-Fahm.

Posted on the outskirts of her village are photos of Samah, who was buried in the little cemetery across from the family’s home. Mourners are served the customary dates and bitter coffee.

Parked outside is the rundown Opal Ascona. Pictures of Abed's daughter are taped to the windows, and a single memorial poster has been placed in the middle of the backseat, the exact place where Samah Abdallah was sitting before being shot to death.