Gideon Levy

Israeli Troops Shoot Palestinian Teen in the Back Amid Firebomb Plot

Soldiers in ambush shot Murad Abu Razi while he was fleeing. He died on the spot.

The Al-Arroub refugee camp.
Alex Levac

Last Friday night, 17-year-old Murad Abu Razi went to a party celebrating the release of a resident of his refugee camp from Israeli prison, after 13 years. The party in honor of Ismail Farjoun, who had been let out that very day, was held in the clubhouse run by the popular committee at the Al-Arroub camp, which lies on the main road between Bethlehem and Hebron. It’s a crowded, hardscrabble place where happy events are few and far between. Perhaps that’s why so many people showed up to welcome the liberated prisoner home with sweets and cries of joy.

Murad left the party in the early evening, accompanied by both his father, Yusuf, who has been hard of hearing since birth, and an uncle, Hassan, a retired teacher. Murad bade them farewell without saying where he was going. Not long afterward he was shot in the back and killed by an Israel Defense Forces soldier who had been lying in ambush.

From the clubhouse, Murad had walked toward the camp’s western edge, which is delineated by a fence, toward Highway 60. There’s a permanent IDF post there – a fortified watchtower, concrete cubes that serve as roadblocks, and an almost constant presence of soldiers. Murad was joined by four more youths his age. They carried plastic bags that held improvised Molotov cocktails of their making.

On the way the teens encountered Murad’s cousin, who prefers to remain anonymous. He is 28 and lives in a small one-room apartment situated a few dozen meters from the camp’s fence. Fearing that Murad would get into trouble, he tried to persuade him – in vain – to go home. In the meantime, two members of the group left. Now they were three, approaching the fence.

They took the firebombs out of the bags and placed them on the concrete cubes. Their plan was to throw them over the high fence that had been built years ago by the Israeli authorities in order to prevent stones and incendiary devices from being thrown at vehicles on the busy road. Parked on the other side of the fence at the time was an IDF jeep. In the dark of evening the youths didn’t notice the soldiers who were lying in ambush inside the camp.

Suddenly, from a nearby abandoned tin shack with torn, perforated walls, soldiers sprang out. Spotting them, the three teens started to run toward the camp. The soldiers shot at them from behind as they fled. Murad was hit by a single bullet in the back. One of his friends, Seif Rushdi, was also hit, in one of his legs; he lost a great deal of blood, and is now in intensive care in Hebron’s Al-Ahli Hospital and could not be visited this week. The third teenager, who was wounded lightly, did not want to identify himself, for obvious reasons.

Murad collapsed, lying in a pool of his blood. He died almost immediately.

A trail of bloodstains, still visible this week on the road, marks their path of flight. This is the camp’s main road, traversing it from west to east without any sort of sidewalk. On both sides and in adjacent alleys, it’s lined with houses and shops, all appallingly crowded together.

As we walked, from the site of Murad’s death to the building where the celebration was held for the released prisoner – which has now become a house of mourning – we were engulfed by hundreds of children, who were just getting out of school. In light of the fact that six of Al-Arroub’s residents have been killed in the past two years, it was impossible to avoid wondering how many of the children who were streaming past would share a similar fate.

We had begun our visit at the end of the road, on the outskirts of the camp near the fence and the concrete cubes, where two soldiers were eating a meal from disposable aluminum trays. Maybe they’re the ones who shot Murad. Soldiers are posted at every entrance to the camp and in the watchtower that looms above it. To evade them, we left our vehicle at the car wash near one of the entrances and quickly stole into the camp on foot.

Murad’s cousin invited us for coffee in his tiny room, which resembled a beach hut, though in his case it’s accessed through a junkyard. An old television was tuned to an Egyptian movie channel, a pack of painkillers lay on the table along with the remnants of a snack. There was also an unmade steel bed and a wall painting of the Lebanese singer Fairuz as a young woman and next to it a quote from one of her best-known songs: “You are my prison, you are my freedom.” The cousin’s car is draped with posters commemorating the dead youth. He was the last person to see Murad alive.

Murad was shot at 8:40 P.M. on Friday, apparently from a distance of about 15-20 meters. He was obviously not endangering the soldiers as he fled. He managed to lunge forward after being shot, before he collapsed. He fell at the foot of the wall decorated with the image of Che Guevara, such as exists in almost every refugee camp, near a local medical laboratory. On the road we found a red casing with the inscription, “Stun grenade. Delay 3.5 seconds.”

Murad had run along the left side of the road, with Seif on the right side; paths of bloody drops are splattered on both sides of the road. The two must both have lost a great deal of blood. The cousin, hearing a woman shouting, said that he went outside and saw Murad lying in a pool of blood. The driver of a private car took the youth to Sa’ir Junction, where he was transferred to a Palestinian ambulance that rushed him to the hospital in Hebron.

A scratchy loudspeaker at the Popular Front clubhouse is blaring out Palestinian war songs from the period of the Lebanon War and the Israeli siege of Beirut. This is where the mourners were accepting condolences from camp residents, who arrived in a steady stream. Here, too, is where Murad attended his last celebration. When we got there, on Monday, a delegation from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah was just arriving. Murad’s father, who, in addition to being hard of hearing, has a speech impediment as well, shook the sympathizers’ hands mutely. He’s in a very bad way, his brother, Hassan, tells us. Murad was the youngest of his nine children.

The hall is adorned with photographs of Murad, yellow Fatah flags and images of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat. There’s also a photo of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. As is the custom, young people – wearing shirts with the deceased’s photo emblazoned on them – offer dates and bitter coffee to those who come to pay condolences. The arrival of the PA delegation is announced. Faces are grim.

Murad’s uncle, Hassan Abu Razi, takes us up to the second floor, where it’s quieter. He tells us that his nephew was already wanted by the Israeli authorities as a boy, for frequently throwing stones. Murad dropped out of school in the 10th grade and at the age of 13 or 14, was already hiding out and sleeping in various places in the camp. One time he was hit by an IDF jeep but wasn’t injured. Soldiers frequently came to his house looking for him. He had spent four months in jail.

Hassan tells us about the grinding poverty of his brother’s family, which mostly lives off charity. It was in this clubhouse where he saw his nephew for the last time. Murad behaved normally that evening, his uncle recalls, and said nothing about his plans. Hassan himself was in Hebron when his wife called him later with the dreadful news. He hurried to the hospital, first to the wrong one and then to Al-Ahli, where Murad had already been pronounced dead, at 9:15 P.M. The Palestinian media initially said that two people had been killed; the mistake was later corrected.

The hospital wanted to perform an autopsy but Hassan objected. Murad was already dead, he says, so what good would that do? He was shown the body: a hole in the back and a hole in the chest. From the medical report: “The wounded individual arrived at the ER in a Red Crescent ambulance after being shot by the occupation army. He was unconscious and had no pulse. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. After an examination we found that he had been shot with one bullet that entered his back and exited via the chest, on the left side.”

The IDF Spokesman’s Unit told Haaretz this week: “A Military Police investigation was opened in the wake of the event, and upon its conclusion, the findings will be conveyed to the office of the military advocate general for examination.”