Al-Quds Sweets is sealed shut. Pasted on the store’s iron door is a small memorial poster for its proprietor, Ahad Kokas, who opened the establishment less than a month ago, on December 24. Only 10 days passed from the modest launch celebration for the baklava and knafeh place on the main street of Beit Ummar, a town north of Hebron, before its 25-year-old owner was killed – shot in the head by a settler in the presence of soldiers. It was a shocking end to 10 days of happiness, to the fulfilment of a dream.
The bereaved father, Abdel Rahman – a chief superintendent in the Palestinian police who serves as commander of the western sector of the Ramallah District, and has a Ph.D. in human resource management and security from Tunis University – says he is contemplating retirement from the police in order to devote himself to tending the small shop his son opened, as an act of commemoration and to keep Ahad’s dream alive.
Ahad spent four years as an apprentice at Aker Sweets, a well-known shop in Ramallah, before he opened his own store in Beit Ummar. Now Al-Quds Sweets is shuttered. Israeli authorities are not even returning Ahad’s body to the family for burial.
Kokas’ killing by a settler last Tuesday, January 5, next to the Etzion Bloc Junction, south of Jerusalem, was barely reported in the media in Israel. After all, it was no big deal.
The Israel Defense Forces Spokespersons Unit stated: “A security coordinator who was close to the junction noticed a suspect approaching.” It was apparently enough for a settler to “notice a suspect” for him and the soldier next to him to summarily execute the man. The statement adds: “The security coordinator and an IDF fighter who was at the site carried out the suspect-arrest procedure, including shooting in the air, during which the suspect threw a knife at the security coordinator of the [Etzion Bloc] Council, who responded with fire and neutralized the terrorist.”
Neutralized, terrorist, it’s all hunky-dory. What happened? It’s hard to know. The spokesperson’s unit, which is usually quick to release footage from security cameras when the picture is clear and victorious, didn’t do so this time. Nor is there a photograph of the body with a knife next to it. All we have is a picture of a knife with a square blade and a red handle, which attests to nothing.
What aroused suspicion and sealed the young man’s fate? Again, it’s hard to know. What’s clear is that the throwing of the knife didn’t endanger anyone. Why didn’t the soldiers arrest the man who threw it? Why was he shot in the head and not the legs? Why did the settler open fire, and not the soldier? Questions of this sort are no longer raised in the IDF. And maybe the settler who killed Kokas will even get a medal, as befits a hero like him.
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Opposite the store a marble plaque dangles on the fence of the local mosque. It bears the names of all those killed in the town from 1948 until 2015, when space on the plaque ran out: 75 names. The Kokas family lives in the westernmost house in Beit Ummar, which commands a view of ancient agricultural terraces and, on the horizon, Israel’s coastal plain.
Abdel Rahman, 49, is wearing a scarf on which are emblazoned two images of his son and the Palestinian flag. The bereaved grandfather, Mahmoud, who’s 80, sits next to him and is silent. A photo of Yasser Arafat shaking the hand of Chief Superintendent Kokas in his blue uniform stands on a small table in a corner of the room.
Kokas tells us that his son had no interest in politics, and suggests that we check that out on his Facebook page. Ahad had been engaged, but broke up with his fiancée about 10 months ago. He invested around 60,000 shekels (about $18,000) in his new store, on whose upper floor he prepared his confections. Business was good during the 10 days the store was in operation. In the last WhatsApp exchanges with his father, Ahad related that the daily turnover was 300 to 400 shekels. His brother Mohammed, who’s 20, helped out in the store.
On January 5, Ahad’s last day, his father was in his headquarters outside Ramallah; as usual, on weekdays, he had slept over in his office. Late in the morning he called Ahad but got no reply. He tried again five minutes later, with the same result. He sent him a WhatsApp message and Ahad apologized – his phone had been on mute. His father sent him photos of sweets he’d seen in a shop in Ramallah. He also showed them to us. The time on the WhatsApp message is 10:55 A.M. It would be their last exchange.
At around 12:30 P.M. Ahad told his brother Mohammed that he was going out to buy ingredients for knafeh. He took a shared taxi toward the Etzion Bloc Junction and got off next to the Etzion District Coordination and Liaison Office, not far from a Rami Levy supermarket.
At 2:40 P.M., Chief Superintendent Kokas got a phone call from an Israeli number. The person on the line introduced himself as “Captain Khaled,” the regional commander of the Shin Bet security service in Beit Ummar. “Your son perpetrated a terrorist attack and you must get to the Etzion facility in 10 minutes,” the “captain” ordered. Abdel Rahman didn’t believe him, he tells us now. “Are you kidding me?” he asked and hung up. The man called back. This time he gave Abdel Rahman his son’s ID number, to prove that he was serious. The father used the landline in his office to call Ahad’s phone, and to his astonishment Captain Khaled answered. Now it was clear something grave had happened.
In the meantime, an announcement also came in via his police WhatsApp group about a terrorist incident in the Etzion Bloc. Abdel Rahman asked the Shin Bet man for information about his son’s condition, but the latter refused adamantly. “How long will it take you to get to Etzion?” he asked “About three hours,” the father replied. The Shin Bet officer also summoned his brothers and his father to Etzion. Abdel Rahman got into his car but felt he was incapable of driving. He asked one of his men to accompany him and drive.
On the way he called his son Mohammed, who was in the store and knew only that Ahad had left at 12:30 and said he was going to buy ingredients. “What happened, Dad?” Mohammed asked. His father replied that nothing had happened. But before he had even passed the settlement of Halamish, he saw his son’s photo on a Palestinian news site, alongside a report that he had been killed. He couldn’t bring himself to call his wife, Amal, he says.
Abdel Rahman’s two brothers and his father were waiting next to Etzion; they embraced and wept. He was taken for interrogation in a mobile home. Inside were Captain Khaled and seven soldiers. “Before I answer your questions, I want to see my son and to know why you killed him,” Abdel Rahman said. “It’s standard practice for the father to identify his son’s body.” The Shin Bet man told him the body had already been identified by means of the ID card. “Maybe there was a mistake? Maybe it’s forged,” the father responded, trying to ward off the grim news. “I have to know if it’s my son,” he cried out. “What you’re going to do is answer us about why he perpetrated a terrorist attack,” was the reply.
“My son was not involved in any attack. Give me proof that he was involved. There are plenty of security cameras in this area. You even film the ants. So show me what happened.” The captain said they had proof – the knife – to which the father shot back, “Are you an intelligence officer? Are you Captain Khaled? I wouldn’t take you as a junior officer in my unit. How dare you claim that this knife is proof that my son carried out an attack? And if he did try to perpetrate an attack, you had the opportunity to shoot him in the legs. To arrest him.”
“I didn’t kill him,” said “Khaled.”
The distraught Abdel Rahman raised his voice and a soldier aimed his rifle at him. “You can shoot me,” he told the soldier. “You want to kill me? You have already killed my son. It’s no big deal for you. I’ll be happy to join him.” When things calmed down, the Shin Bet man offered him water, but he said he would not drink water from the hands of those who killed his son.
“We’re surprised,” the so-called captain said. “We checked him out, and we checked you out. Neither of you had any problems. Why did he do it?” The father replied, “If you had made do with shooting at the legs we could have asked him and found out. We train our police officers in karate and teach them how to arrest someone who makes a stabbing attempt without killing him. You are bloodthirsty, you love to kill, that’s why you killed Ahad.”
“Captain Khaled” released the father but Israel refuses to release his son’s body, as is its habit. In his last photograph, taken perhaps by a bystander, Ahad is seen lying on the road, his face shattered, a long stream of blood staining the ground.