'Reasonable Suspicion' Leads to Death of Palestinian Who Went to Buy Cookies

Three friends driving through A-Ram at night came under fire from Border Policemen, who killed one of them and wounded another. The policemen felt threatened, the authorities claim.

Falah Salaymeh (center), father of slain Anwar, flanked by Fares Risheq (left) and Mohammed Nassar, who were in the car with the deceased.
Amira Hass

Out of the darkness and from behind a parked civilian car, shots are fired at a moving car that contains three friends. The driver, 22, is killed. The 19-year-old sitting next to him is wounded in the head. The second passenger, 20, is sitting in the back and isn’t hit, but suffers severe shock.

State officials Chief Inspector Yosef Amuial and Sgt. Maj. David Cohen later stated in court that the two suspects and their deceased friend had attempted to commit murder using their car as a weapon. Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge David Shaul Gabai Richter was almost convinced. “There was reasonable suspicion to believe that the movement of the vehicle was not random but deliberate,” he said. However, that suspicion was not “of a strong nature.”

He therefore ordered that the two men be remanded until the following afternoon, not for six days as requested by the state, in order to enable the police to conduct further confidential inquiries. These revealed nothing and the two young men – Fares Risheq and Mohammed Nassar – were released the following day.

The man who died on July 13, Anwar Salaymeh, had got married some three months ago. At 2 A.M. that night, his pregnant wife asked him to pop out and get some cookies. He left his home in the A-Ram neighborhood, north of Jerusalem, got into his car and saw two friends outside their house. He suggested that they accompany him in search of an open bakery. The three men have blue (Israeli) identity cards and the Chevrolet they were in sported Israeli license plates.

Salaymeh worked at an events hall in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem and used to return from work late at night. “He really helped with supporting the family – this is why he left high school and went to work,” his father, Falah, told Haaretz.

Falah works for a cleaning company in Motza and lives in the Shoafat refugee camp. A few hours after his son was killed, he told Haaretz correspondent Jack Khoury that he was certain his son had not gone out to commit a car-ramming attack.

The family’s only consolation was the fact that their son was buried six days later, though this was only due to the vigorous intervention of attorney Abdalla Zayed. The release of Salaymeh’s body is a clear sign that the police acknowledge there was not an attempted attack.

Shooting to kill?

In conversation with Haaretz this week, Risheq and Nassar still looked and sounded stunned. The three friends went to the Ajlouni bakery in A-Ram, they say, but it was closed. They decided to try the bakery at the Abu Shalbak gas station, on the town’s main drag. The street was deserted. Streetlights illuminated the center of the road and the concrete barrier separating opposing lanes. “We didn’t know anything,” recalls Nassar. Indeed, what they didn’t know was that at that precise moment, a combined Israeli army, police and Border Police force was raiding three workshops, conducting a search for manufactured arms. Border Policemen were scattered along the road.

One of the residents living on the street was awake with his wife, because of their baby. They noticed the commotion outside. He told B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Haddad that he saw patrolling policemen. The three young men in the car never encountered them. Salaymeh was going at 50 or 60 kilometers (31 or 37 miles) an hour, as young people do on an empty road at night.

“All of a sudden, we were being fired upon,” says Nassar. “I bent down, and told my friends to do the same.” Risheq says the shooting came from the side: “In that moment I couldn’t think of anything, only that we were going to be blown up.”

In a statement released by defense officials in response to Haaretz’s questions, it was stated that the Border Policemen felt that their lives were in danger, so they responded by shooting. Salaymeh’s car was impounded, but testimonies indicate that no bullets hit the tires. Therefore, says attorney Zayed, there was no attempt to stop the car without killing its occupants. At the request of the police, a postmortem was conducted on Salaymeh’s body. Although the official report was not given to the family or their attorney, Zayed has learned that all the bullets hit Salaymeh from the rear.

Security camera footage from one of the stores on the street was given to Zayed and B’Tselem. Half an hour before the incident, uniformed men are seen walking down the road, passing by a car parked diagonally, with its bumper sticking out, that is blocking half a lane. At 02:56:38, some motion is seen behind the car. The angle of the camera doesn’t allow a view of the people there. At 02:56:41, the lights of an approaching car illuminate a billboard situated in the center of the road, advertising Abu Wadi’s flat tire repair shop. They also briefly illuminate the bumper of the parked car.

The witness who spoke to Haddad said he heard shouts calling for the car to stop, but he saw the car accelerating. At the hearing to extend the remand of Risheq and Nassar, the state didn’t claim that the policemen had called on the car to stop, only that they flashed their lights as a signal. The security-camera footage doesn’t show the car speeding up or deviating from its course. According to Zayed, any claim that they were trying to run someone over is baseless. Salaymeh had the presence of mind to hit the brake when the car was fired upon, otherwise it could have crashed or overturned.

Anwar Salaymeh. Killed by Israeli border police three months after he got married.
Amira Hass

Nassar says that when the car stopped, “I started shouting. The car moved a bit, so I applied the hand brake. I saw a lot of blood. I got out and yelled at the army ‘Why did you open fire?’” The witness who spoke with Haddad said he heard Nassar shouting in Hebrew and Arabic, “Why did you shoot? Why did you do that?” and also cursing. Risheq also vaguely remembers his friend shouting and cursing, even though he was dazed from his injury.

Nassar thinks there were seven or eight soldiers there when he emerged from the car, “and then there were many more.” According to the minutes of the hearing for extending Nassar and Risheq’s remand, there were five policemen at the scene and three of them fired at the vehicle.

Nassar continues: “Fares got out of the car covered in blood. He lay on the ground and I remained standing, not knowing what to do. The soldiers examined Fares and asked me how I was. I said I was OK and went to the other side to look at Anwar. His head was leaning on the seat with blood coming out of his mouth. He made some rattling sounds and that was it. Then they took Fares [to an ambulance]. I took his cell phone – I was in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops, I had nothing on me. I called and reached Fares’ brother. I started telling him and he hung up the phone; he didn’t want to hear what I was telling him.”

Nassar saw the officers take Anwar out of the car, lay him on the ground and start cutting his clothes. “I told [Anwar], ‘Wake up, wake up!’ The officer checked his underarm, moving Anwar’s hand with his foot. I pushed the policeman, since it’s forbidden, forbidden to touch a dead body like that. They started beating me and then they handcuffed me.” The eyewitness who spoke with Haddad also saw the officers beating Nassar.

Risheq was given initial treatment at the scene and then taken to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, where his head wound was stitched. Both of his hands were cuffed to the bed. The police allowed his brother and nephews to visit him there.

Meanwhile, Falah Salaymeh and his brother had heard about the shooting. They didn’t know who had been killed. They went to the Binyamin police station to find out, but the police said they didn’t know.

Separate interrogations

While Risheq was in hospital, Nassar was taken to a Border Police camp by jeep. He says he was beaten again along the way. He was seated on the ground for several hours, handcuffed and blindfolded. He was then transferred to a closed space, “with tiles and air-conditioning” (the Binyamin police station). He fell asleep on the floor, still in handcuffs. When he awoke, he managed to move his blindfold slightly, seeing four other handcuffed young men with blindfolds, also asleep, as well as a few dozing armed soldiers or policemen. At midday, Risheq was also brought there, also in handcuffs. Nassar tried to move closer to him, but the policemen yelled at him. He saw some clotted blood on his wounded friend’s face.

They were interrogated separately and investigators tried to claim they were trying to commit an attack by running the Border Policemen over. The interrogators produced a small pocket knife found in their possession. Nassar says he told the investigator: “I don’t understand you. You’ve killed my friend and wounded another, and now you want to jail me for life?”

From there, on the evening of July 13, the two were taken to the remand extension hearing before Judge Richter. State officials Amuial and Cohen answered questions put by Palestinian attorneys Mahmoud Mohammed and Namir Idilbi. They maintained the investigators’ version: The Border Police officers indicated with their lights, but the car accelerated “and tried to run them over, which is why they opened fire,” as reported in the minutes. They also said the parked vehicle was a military one, but the camera footage clearly shows that it was a civilian one.

After their remand was extended, Risheq and Nassar were taken – exhausted and shocked, not having eaten since the morning, barely having drank – to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. They were placed in separate rooms, with other detainees.

“I stared at the ceiling and didn’t sleep all night,” says Nassar. On the morning of July 14, they were taken back to Binyamin police station, where they were left alone in a room until the afternoon. Zayed believes the aim was to check if they were “coordinating stories.” But they just had a normal conversation, since they didn’t have any versions to coordinate – except for the fact that they’d lost a friend for absolutely no reason.

Zayed has filed several complaints this week: one to the police investigation unit in the Justice Ministry; the other to the Judea and Samaria police, stating that officers failed to act according to the rules of engagement. He requested an investigation into the officers and warned against obstructing an investigation, the loss or destruction of evidence, and any coordination of stories by the officers that opened fire.