The IDF Troops Weren't at Risk, but They Shot a Palestinian Boy in the Head Anyway

Four teens were on the way back from the village playground, when they spotted the soldiers laying in ambush, and took cover. When Mohammed Shatawi stood up for a moment, he was shot. Now he’s in a vegetative state

Gideon Levy
Alex Levac
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Qusay Shatawi this week, near where his friend Mohammed was shot. Down here on the road they thought they were protected.
Qusay Shatawi this week, near where his friend Mohammed was shot. Down here on the road they thought they were protected. Credit: Alex Levac
Gideon Levy
Alex Levac

The family meeting area can be found next to the neuro-intensive care unit on the 12th floor of the modern tower at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, Jerusalem. It is a vast space with a high ceiling, stone-faced walls and picture windows overlooking a wooded Jerusalem landscape; bronze sculptures, the gift of donors from America, adorn the space. A metal plaque proclaims the hall as being dedicated to “children who lead the way to a kinder path.”

Sitting at the far end of the room – deserted on an afternoon this week – on a wooden bench donated by the Pittsburgh Jewish community, with a Muslim prayer rug at his feet, is a man in a gray sweat suit, his face crestfallen, his heart broken. Mohand Shatawi sits alone here. Not far away, behind the automatic doors leading to the ward, in one of the spacious and well-equipped rooms, physicians are fighting to save the life of his 14-year-old son, Mohammed. The youth’s head is bandaged, his chest rises and falls at the pace of the mechanical ventilator; he’s hooked up to numberless tubes and a sea of monitors report on his condition. Mohammed is a vegetable. He’s been like this ever since an Israel Defense Forces soldier fired a bullet into his head, last week.

Despair, pain, agony are etched on Mohand’s face, whose aloneness is heightened by the cavernous space around him. No one else from his village of Qaddum, west of Nablus, has a permit that will allow them to join him here in his time of anguish. He’s been here a week now, sleeping on the floor and praying for his son’s life. Actually, he hardly sleeps. He buys whatever meager food he can afford. Once every so often, he enters the ward to look at his son. It’s a brutal sight. For our part, we’ve never seen so many tubes and monitors hooked up to a boy.

Mohand, 48, is a taxi driver. Each day at 3 A.M., he leaves his house in Qaddum to drive local workers to the Eyal checkpoint, on their way to jobs in Israel. For the rest of the day, until the evening, he plies the Ramallah-Qalqilyah route. Day in and day out, he provides this way for his wife, their four sons and two daughters. Now Mohammed is hovering between life and death. In a split second last Thursday, after the lively boy who got back from school and went outside to play with his friends, according to their testimony, had a shot fired at his head, and became a patient lying in a vegetative state in the neuro-intensive care unit of Hadassah.

Qaddum is one of the last villages of struggle and resistance that haven’t yet backed down. The struggle here is over the main access road to the village, which has for years been completely blocked because of the settlement of Kedumim that was built at its edge. Every weekend, a group of villagers, together with an ever-dwindling number of Israeli and foreign activists, position themselves on the forbidden road, which is littered with stones, shell casings and scorched tires, after years of protest. The soldiers lie in wait for them between the olive trees, fire tear-gas canisters at them and chase them into the village. Occasionally they shoot. Sometimes with live ammunition. There are frequent injuries and fatalities.

Mohammed Shatawi, in the hospital this week. Hovering between life and death.
Mohammed Shatawi, in the hospital this week. Hovering between life and death.

We were in Qaddum last July, after soldiers shot Abd el-Rahman Shatawi in the head with live ammunition during the weekly demonstration there. A 10-year-old boy who looks even smaller than his age now, he was standing innocently at the entrance to the home of a friend in the village, when soldiers took aim from a distance and shot him in the head. From Qaddum we drove to Safra Children’s Hospital, at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, and entered room 9 of the children’s intensive care unit. The unit’s director, Prof. Gidi Paret, told us at the time that there was hope for the boy. His father, Yasser, didn’t leave his son’s bedside for weeks. Abd el-Rahman too is in a vegetative state today, in a rehabilitative hospital in Beit Jala, adjacent to Bethlehem, completely paralyzed and unable to speak. Every Thursday, his father comes to take him home in the car, placing him on the back seat, bringing him back on Sunday. A weekend at home.

Abd el-Rahman is from Mohammed’s family, they’re both from the same village, in the words of the iconic Hebrew song.

This week we went to Qaddum again, and from there to the IC ward, this time in Hadassah. The circumstances are horrifyingly similar: In each case a child was shot in the head, with appalling results. Last summer it was a live round, this winter it was a rubber-coated metal bullet that slammed into a boy’s head and wrought devastation. That’s what happens when no soldier is ever punished.

On the second floor of one of the first houses in the village, a group of men is sitting idly. They are relatives of the father and his wounded son, who are now far from here. After a short time, Qusay Shatawi, who’s 13 and was an eyewitness to the event, arrives. A year younger than Mohammed, in the eighth grade, he was with Mohammed last Thursday when the soldier shot him. The boy is still clearly traumatized: His legs move ceaselessly from side to side in agitation, his face is pale, he speaks in a whisper, he looks frightened as he tries to reconstruct what happened.

School ended around noon, and they went home. They’d arranged to go at about 2 o’clock to a building at the edge of the village that belongs to the local council and is used as a kind of community center, where the children play in the yard. The kids go there every Thursday afternoon. Muayad Shatawi, an older man, and our escort through the streets of the village, stops a few children and asks where they go on Thursdays. To the muntazah, they reply – to the playground. It was a sunny day, Qusay says, and they wanted to get a tan. After hanging around in the yard for a time they decided to go home. There were just four of them, aged 13 and 14. The area was quiet, Qusay recalls.

One has to question his account, however. The IDF Spokesperson says that some 40 youths showed up, and that they were burning tires. These were the days immediately following the publication of President Trump’s “deal of the century.”

As they made their way up toward the village, they noticed soldiers standing on the ridge of the hill that overlooks the road. This is not the battleground road, which is below, in the valley, but it, too, is covered with stones and rocks, also shell casings, including live rounds, attesting to the demonstrations that are held here as well. We walked on the road with Qusay. It was his first time here since Thursday.

Below in the valley is the building with the yard where they’d been, and here, above us, is where the soldiers were waiting. With a slope this steep, the soldiers on top of the hill and the children below them, there is no way the children could have posed any sort of threat to the troops. It’s impossible to throw stones upward, to such a steep height. So here, in the shade of the boulder by the roadside, next to the village’s water reservoir, says Qusay, the children thought they were sheltered.

It was after three o’clock. A few minutes later, Mohammed stood up to check whether the soldiers were still on the hilltop. The moment he raised his head, Qusay heard two shots. One missed, but the second struck Mohammed on the right side of the head. He fell to the ground, bleeding. The three other boys picked him up and ran with him toward the village down the road. In the meantime, village residents who heard the shots began arriving.

Muayad Shatiwi, who has grandchildren Mohammed’s age, was first on the scene. He relates that he saw the boys carrying their wounded friend, took him from them and placed him in his car, which was brought to the site. They tried to get him to a hospital in Nablus, but the road was blocked because of an accident. They had to turn around and go back, all the while with the boy lying on the back seat. Now their plan was to get to the hospital in Qalqilyah, to the east of the village. Next to the Karnei Shomron settlement they were stopped by a police car. They showed the police officers the bleeding boy, but they delayed them, Muayad says. By his reckoning, they lost about half an hour. In the meantime, a Palestinian ambulance they’d called arrived. Mohammed was transferred to the ambulance and taken to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus.

A road not far from where Mohammed Shatawi was shot.
A road not far from where Mohammed Shatawi was shot. Credit: Alex Levac

At the same time, Mohammed’s grandfather called the boy’s father, who was in Ramallah with his taxi, and told him his son had been lightly injured. Mohand hurried to the hospital in Nablus, where he learned that his son’s condition was serious to critical. At 9 P.M., it was decided to transfer him to Hadassah. Mohand was allowed to accompany his son in the ambulance.

In response to a request for comment, the IDF Spokesperson Unit’s made this statement to Haaretz: “Several days ago, a violent disturbance developed in which about 40 Palestinians took part in Kafr Qaddum, which is in the area of the Shomron territorial brigade. In the course of the disturbance, tires were burned and stones were thrown at IDF forces at the site. IDF fighters responded with crowd control means. A claim about a Palestinian who was wounded by a rubber bullet is known about.”

And in the family hall, dedicated to the children who will lead us to a kinder path, sits Mohand Shatawi, praying for his son’s life.

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