The first Palestinian to die in the third intifada – which has not yet erupted and is unlikely to do so – was a house painter from the village of Bal’a, east of Tulkarm. Hudhayfah Ali Suleiman was an 18-year-old youth who joined a nighttime demonstration at the cynically named Nitzanei Shalom – “Buds of Peace” – checkpoint. There are no buds, much less peace. Only angry young Palestinians and Israel Defense Forces snipers who shoot and kill them.
On Sunday evening, Ali Suleiman saw a Facebook post about a group of young people from the villages in the vicinity who were organizing to go to the checkpoint, and he decided to join the demonstration. He went in his brother’s car to the event, together with a friend – but did not return.
He reached the area of the checkpoint around 10 P.M. There were about 150 young people there, seething with rage. As the demonstration got underway, stones and possibly also firebombs were thrown at the army’s fortified watchtower and at the checkpoint. Hudhayfah was shot by an IDF sniper, apparently from the tower, at a range of a few dozen meters. One live round struck him in the stomach and killed him.
Maybe he will indeed be remembered as the first Palestinian to die in the third intifada, which has not yet erupted. In any case, that is how he will be remembered in the village: by the image of hundreds, perhaps thousands of men, who knelt in the yard of the boy’s school in a requiem prayer for the ascent of his soul, on the way to burial in a grave that was already dug.
As the men knelt and bent over, as though bowing down to the land in the presence of the dead, the body of the youth, which lay on a stretcher on a bench in the yard, was raised high and borne above the crowd. It was a sight that did not brook indifference – the body of a Palestinian youth, wrapped in the national flag, his sallow face visible from within the flag-shroud, his eyes shut and his face drained of life, opposite this mass of people prostrating themselves one last time in his honor and in his memory.
No one cried, not a tear was shed – not even by his father and his brothers. Young people stood on the tin roof of the lean-to at the end of the schoolyard, bearing the flags of all the Palestinian organizations, waving the banners high: the yellow of Fatah, the green of Hamas, the black of Islamic Jihad and even the orange of the movement of Mustafa Barghouti. There was no bellicosity; more than the usual religious and political slogans, the most extreme words uttered by the village imam in his eulogy took the form of a call to the Palestinian Authority to stop its security coordination with Israel. The young people promised revenge.
The village of Bal’a – whose last shahid (martyr for the cause) was interred in 2004, when Badia Umar, a local resident, was shot and killed by soldiers in Tulkarm – buried Abu Suleiman with relative restraint. Some who attended the funeral said that the ball is now in Israel’s court. If Israel resorts to harsher punitive measures, the situation will lurch out of control, with the danger of a third, outright uprising looming. If Israel holds back, this wave of violence, too, will be forgotten.
Bal’a, located in a hilly region, is an affluent, neat and relatively tranquil village. It’s the chicken coop of the West Bank; most of its income comes from raising chickens and turkeys, from chicks that are bought in Israel. It is a locale that wants quiet, because quiet is good for agriculture. Telescopic mirrors are positioned at intersections in the village to make driving safer, a rare sight in Palestine. Even on a somewhat hazy day, as this past Monday was, the entire coastal plain of Israel is visible from the village, as far as the sea at Netanya. Ali Suleiman was buried on the Jews’ Simhat Torah holiday.
When we arrived in the village, a few hours after the young man was killed and shortly before his funeral, young people were already milling around the mosque. There are actually several mosques here, some of them magnificent new structures.
Before dawn, Abed Al-Karim a-Saadi, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, had arrived at the Dr. Thabet Thabet Hospital in Tulkarm – named for a physician assassinated by Israel in the second intifada – to view the body. His report states that he saw one entry wound in the lower right abdomen and the bullet’s exit wound in the lower back. According to the hospital’s medical report, which is signed by Dr. Amjed Sawalha, when Ali Suleiman arrived at the hospital, he was suffering from massive internal bleeding, and he died on the operating table. He had been brought in shortly before midnight and died not long afterward.
The demonstrators gathered nearby, at an agricultural school on the eastern edge of Tulkarm. Emotions are running high in the West Bank these days, and residents of the Tulkarm area, too, wanted to add their voices. Army sources said the next day that more than 100 Palestinians “identified with Hamas” threw stones, firecrackers and firebombs and rolled burning tires at the Israeli forces at the checkpoint, who in response shot at three rioters.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told Haaretz the next day that the circumstances of the event will be investigated. Apart from Abu Suleiman, one of the other two Palestinians wounded there was shot in the lower part of his body, the other in the upper part. Most of the participants in the tempestuous demonstration were from nearby villages – including Atil, Deit Gasson and Anabta, but not Tulkarm itself. As usual, the IDF’s means of demonstration dispersal consisted of live, lethal fire.
In the meantime, the body arrived at the mosque, borne by a number of men. A siren wailed from a black Peugeot car, its windows dark, its occupants waving green Hamas flags. The Peugeot was followed by a smaller Fiat, carrying Fatah’s yellow flags. The last vehicle in the convoy was a small pickup truck on the back of which dozens of young people were packed, waving flags of all the organizations in a rare, momentary show of national unity.
After the death of Abu Suleiman, whose family is said in the village to be “in the middle” – religious, but not identified with any organization – representatives of Hamas and Fatah arrived at the hospital, each seeking to appropriate the dead youth as their own martyr. In light of the sensitivity of the situation, they agreed to “divide” the public memory of the dead youngster equally. As a result, flags of all the organizations were hoisted. Until recently, Hamas flags raised in the West Bank were quickly removed by PA security personnel. No longer.
Within hours, the streets and cars of the village were covered with commemorative posters for the teenager. Ali Suleiman is seen in them as a good-looking youth in a purple shirt. As his body passed by, I noticed a scratch on his face, and nascent stubble. Before the funeral procession set out, the youth’s friends walked by the stretcher, and bent down and kissed his forehead and cheek as a gesture of parting.
The procession advanced slowly, from the courtyard of the mosque to the schoolyard, and from there to the nearby cemetery. Women and children watched from windows, roofs and doorways. The sweating faces of the pallbearers expressed pent-up anger and grief. If a new uprising does break out, some of them might also end up being borne on a stretcher by their friends. But that possibility was probably not on their minds during the funeral procession, at the end of which it was learned that a 13-year-old boy, Abed al-Rahman Abdallah, had been shot to death by IDF soldiers in the Aida refugee camp, near Bethlehem. The second victim of the third intifada, which could yet erupt.