The outer wall of his house is now covered by a colossal photo enlargement, two stories high. That is how he looked in his final moments: Israel Defense Forces soldiers grabbing him by the hands and feet, hauling him as if he were a sack of potatoes, his head bumping hard against the rocks. Standing around are about 10 soldiers, looking on impassively at the outcome of their comrades’ actions.
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The image covers the side of a house of mourning; the whole village can see it. At the bottom is a legend: “Do not say I was killed in my childhood. I will awaken those residing in the graves, and I will declare a revolution underground.”
It is not possible to remain unfeeling at a sight like this. Nor is it possible to be unmoved when watching the video footage that documents his killing: the shots fired at an otherwise unarmed stone-thrower who posed no danger to anyone, the 17-year-old lying helpless and motionless on the ground, the soldiers furiously charging at him, one them even stumbling and falling onto Qusai al-Amour’s body. Then you see two soldiers trying to pick him up, but he slips out of their grasp, at which point they start dragging him down the slope, with his head knocking about.
He is either dead or dying at this stage, having been shot six times, there between the olive trees. They also fire rubber bullets at Hiyam, the victim’s older sister, when she tries to approach; she is compelled to run for her life, screaming as she hops on one foot after being hit. The 40-year-old mother of seven tried in vain to save her brother from the soldiers, and was herself hospitalized. And in the background the Israeli blue-and-white flag gaily flew on one of the armored jeeps parked nearby, to the everlasting glory of the IDF and the State of Israel.
This is how, on January 16, troops killed Qusai al-Amour, a 12th-grader from Tuqu, a Palestinian village of 14,000 located east of Bethlehem. Qusai woke up late that morning, as it was the semester break. He was the youngest child of Fatima, a housewife, and of Hassan, a stonecutter; he has 12 brothers and sisters. Qusai was a science major who dreamed of going to Algeria to study, as several other young people from his village have done. He went to pray and then left for Bethlehem to attend a physics enrichment workshop. Afterward, Qusai went to visit Hiyam, who lives near the entrance to the village.
A fortified army guard tower was installed four months ago along the approach road to Tuqu; anyone entering or exiting the village is now observed by soldiers. In the two weeks leading up to Qusai’s killing, the army often raided the village, by night and by day, to conduct arrests, and apparently to provoke the young people and abuse residents. It isn’t clear why. Since the flare-up in tensions, the road has been strewn with rocks and charred remnants of tires. Traversing the road requires drivers to adopt a slalom technique.
Tuqu is a combative village; the youths started to demonstrate a few months ago at the access road whenever soldiers arrived on the scene, particularly on Fridays, but even in the middle of the week, albeit with a sparser turnout. On that fateful Monday, eyewitnesses say that between 10 and 20 masked teenagers were standing between the olive trees near the bend in the road, throwing stones at the relatively large forces that were arriving.
At the time, village council head Hatam Sabah was in his office in the council headquarters, which is the first building you see as you enter Tuqu, and looks out on the area where clashes often take place. He was looking down from his office window and noticed large detachments of IDF troops, including soldiers dressed up like Arabs and other special forces, who had arrived at the entrance to the village. He had a premonition that things were going to be bad, he told us on Monday, when we arrived. That this was not a typical sort of army deployment in Tuqu.
Sabah ordered all the council employees to go home, and remained in the building with his managing director, Taysir Abu Mafrah. The two men say they saw seven army vehicles, including more than one disguised as a civilian vehicle. Four entered Tuqu, and three remained just outside. They also saw four drones being held by the soldiers. It was now obvious to Sabah and Abu Mafrah that something out of the ordinary was about to happen.
As usual, local youths were throwing stones at the army vehicles, at the rate of about a single stone every few minutes, though none of them hit anyone, Sabah recalls. He asserts that the youths did not throw Molotov cocktails, aside from one bottle that was thrown at a jeep, and that was only after Qusai had been killed. The council head says he called out to the youths to stop throwing stones, because he felt there was something worrying about the whole situation. Some of them ran off. This went on for about 15 minutes.
Even at the big, rowdy Friday demonstrations, the soldiers do not use live ammunition here. But suddenly, at around 4 P.M. that day, several live rounds were fired, all of them apparently directed at the masked teen with the green ribbon around his forehead, Qusai al-Amour. The friend standing next to him fled. Qusai fell to the ground. The soldiers charged at the wounded youth. They then dragged him to the jeep, where they attempted to give him medical assistance. A Palestinian ambulance that drove up to evacuate him was shooed away by the soldiers.
According to the autopsy conducted by Palestinian physician, Qusai was hit by six bullets, four to the chest and two to the legs. He died of internal bleeding. What is not known for certain is whether he was still alive while he was being dragged along the ground. Eyewitnesses report that as he was being shot, Qusai was kneeling.
The teen was injured about a year ago from a rubber bullet that hit his leg, also near the village entrance. Five months later, soldiers came to his home in the middle of the night and arrested him. He was released 10 days later.
His little niece Tala, 3, is now walking around the yard of the house of mourning, wearing a shocking-pink coat and proudly holding a poster with her uncle’s picture. Qusai al-Amour’s bereaved mother is wearing a shirt with her son’s picture on it; his father has just come back from giving testimony to the Criminal Investigations Department of the IDF Military Police at the Etzion compound.
Why did Qusai go out to demonstrate time and time again? Council head Sabah explains that the local youths feel especially heavy pressure because of the occupation: Tuqu is surrounded by Jewish settlements and the army is particularly in evidence. “The soldiers come every night to make arrests,” he says.
Fatima, the mother, says that her son wanted to be an Al-Aqsa shahid (martyr for the cause). The grieving father, Hassan, adds: “He was doing what the other youngsters in the village were doing. He did not go out to attack the army – the army came to him.”
When his son was killed, Hassan was at work. A relative phoned him and initially told him a half-truth: that the army had taken Qusai.
After the soldiers evacuated the body, laying it on the asphalt at the foot of the watchtower, Fatima approached, accompanied by several family members. She did not know if he was alive or dead, and recalls that she begged the soldiers to take him to a hospital in Israel. A female soldier shoved her away. Eventually, the body was transported by an IDF ambulance to a nearby army base. At 5:30 P.M., an ambulance from Al-Hilal Hospital in Hebron came for the body, which was taken to Al-Husseini Hospital in Beit Jalla, outside Jerusalem, where Qusai’s parents saw it.
It took four days for Hassan al-Amour to find the strength to watch the video of his son’s death. He watched it once, and says he will never see it again. “I couldn’t believe it when I watched the video. There were Jews who were in shock from it, too,” he says. “What can I say – seeing my son being dragged like that? What did he do?”
Residents of Tuqu are convinced that the soldiers were there to punish them for their ongoing demonstrations and riots, to teach the rebellious village a lesson. Local council head Sabah and others are convinced that the soldiers came this time with the intention of killing. What’s more, Musa Abu Hashhash, the experienced field researcher of the B’Tselem human rights organization, attests that it is not at all common for a single individual to be shot by a number of live rounds from a Ruger gun. Usually, a single bullet is fired in the direction of the legs, in order to “neutralize the threat.” This time the soldiers fired six rounds, all at Qusai.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office released the following statement this week, in response to a request from Haaretz: “In the course of a violent public disorder involving the participation of about 200 Palestinians in the village of Tuqu, which included the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces, a Border Police fighter responded with gunfire at one of the rioters. Following verification of the injury, an IDF unit made its way to the casualty with the aim of providing him immediate medical treatment. As they were evacuating the casualty, stones were thrown at the soldiers in a manner that endangered him, so he was rapidly evacuated to a safe location where they began medical treatment, at the conclusion of which his death was declared. The Israel Police have initiated an investigation of the incident together with the Criminal Investigations Department of the IDF Military Police.”
On the night after the funeral, IDF soldiers conducted another raid on Tuqu. This time, they arrested three youths: Dahlala Habas al-Amour, Qusai’s cousin, Mohammed al-Badan and Thamer al-Badan. The three have not been released since their arrests. Some 40 Tuqu villagers are now in Israeli prisons.
This past Monday, exactly two weeks after the incident, we saw a shepherd with his flock at the same spot where Qusai fell. Upon seeing the Israeli car and the two Israelis who emerged from it, the shepherd fled, as did his sheep.