When the cannons roar in the Gaza Strip, the muses may be silent, but the Israel Defense Forces kill in frightful numbers, and in the West Bank as well. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, the IDF killed 27 people in the West Bank during the 11 days of war in Gaza. During that dark period, no one here took an interest in the goings-on there. May 14, for example, was the deadliest day there since 2002, claiming the lives of 12 Palestinians. During the same period, not one Israeli was killed in the West Bank, so the ratio is a harrowing, Gaza-style one: 27-0 in favor of Israel – or should we say, to its discredit.
One gets a feeling of Gaza when one visits the Al-Fawwar refugee camp, near Hebron, at the southern edge of the West Bank. Divided according to their 1948 villages of origin, down narrow alleys through which only one person can pass at a time, an appallingly crowded population of 12,000 souls is packed into one square kilometer here, among all the neglect, the poverty, the meagerness, the filth and a fine breeze that blows despite everything.
In the rickety Abu Washdi restaurant the cook, a graduate of Hebron University in political science, welcomes us with falafel balls and a minty beverage. It was on the roof above this restaurant that Hussein Titi was killed on the night of May 12. Twenty-eight years old and employed as a guard in a private Palestinian security company, Titi was assigned to the Qasrawi factory in Hebron, which manufactures snack foods. Photographs show a well-built young man wearing sunglasses. Hussein’s brother, Umar, was next to him when he was killed. The two were very similar in appearance.
We are sitting in the neighborhood diwan (community center), which is called al-Hara, named for the diwan in the Titi family’s hometown, the village Iraq al-Manshiyya, on whose ruins the Israeli city of Kiryat Gat now stands. The diwan serves as a venue for social gatherings and a place to mourn the dead.
Umar, 31, who works for the Palestinian National Security service, was the last person to see Hussein alive. On the evening before his death, Umar tells us, Hussein arrived home from work around 5 P.M. It was at the end of Ramadan, and he went to sleep. He got up at 8 P.M., in time for the Iftar meal, and ate with his parents, with whom he lived on the first floor of a building off the main street of the camp, before returning to bed. He awoke again at 3 A.M., to eat before the day-long fast began.
Gunshots were heard in the camp. Israeli troops had launched a raid that night from the hills to the southeast. They started shooting in the air while they were still a few hundred meters from the camp, startling the inhabitants out of their sleep. Eyewitnesses relate that the soldiers appeared to be very edgy and kept firing into the air. In a cellphone video that a passerby on the street shows us, the soldiers are seen striding through Al-Fawwar with rifles at the ready, their hands on the triggers, turning their heads and weapons every which way. They had come to snatch three residents of the camp, and arrived in a large force – a few hundred troops, according to the locals – which fanned out in three groups to raid the homes of the wanted individuals. At the same time, multi-story buildings were being bombed in the Gaza Strip.
Exactly a year earlier, on May 13, 2020, a force from the Duvdevan special-ops unit raided Al-Fawwar in search of Ayman Halikawi, a mentally ill youth of 18 who had written a provocative post on Facebook about the regional commander of the Shin Bet security service, “Captain Nidal.” The soldiers didn’t find Halikawi, but they saw Zeid Qaysiyah, a 17-year-old who dreamed of becoming a famous singer, peeking out from a distant rooftop. They shot him in the face, killing him, in the presence of his young cousins, who were with him on the roof to watch the events below. Halikawi, the target of the Duvdevan mission, reported to the Shin Bet the next day after one of its agents called his father.
A few dozen meters and a year minus one day separate the roof on which Qaysiyah was killed and the roof on which Titi was gunned down. In 2013, another young man was shot in the camp while standing on a roof: Mahmoud Titi, Hussein’s cousin, 26 at the time of his death.
One of the people the soldiers were looking for this time was Mohammed Abu Hashhash, 49, the secretary of the Fatah organization in the camp. Abu Hashhash and his many siblings live in the building opposite that of the Titi family. After Hussein got up and ate breakfast, on the first floor, he went up to his brother Umar’s apartment, on the fourth floor of the same building, to see what was going on in the street. From the window they saw soldiers taking Abu Hashhash, dazed from sleep, blindfolded, hands bound, to their vehicle. A masked Palestinian collaborator had led the soldiers to the house. Abu Hashhash was subsequently interrogated by the Shin Bet, following which he was placed in administrative detention – incarceration without trial – for half a year. Naturally, no one knows what he’s been accused of.
Seeing their neighbor being taken away, the two Titi brothers were certain the army had completed its mission, and would depart the camp. They decided to go up to the roof, where they could see the troops pulling out. That was the mistake of their lives. Within minutes Hussein would be dead.
The roof above Umar’s apartment is a small space that holds the building’s water tanks; it’s accessed by a narrow wooden ladder that leans on a wall painted light blue. The two climbed up the ladder. It was 3:40 A.M., and the camp was still shrouded in darkness. During their raid, soldiers had shot at the windows of a few neighboring houses. The Titis’ cousin, Yusuf Titi, went out to the balcony of his second-floor apartment in a nearby building, to see what was going on. Two shots were fired at him, but he was lucky: A neighbor shouted to him to watch out and he ducked. A hole in the balcony wall testifies to a bullet that missed him.
But Hussein had no such luck. He and Umar walked between the plastic containers to the edge of the small roof, which has no railing. Umar recalls that he was walking behind his brother, who bent over and peeked into the street. He didn’t know that on the roof opposite, above Abu Hashhash’s apartment, soldiers were still hiding to provide cover for the departing troops. Hussein peeked out for a second – and was hit. Without warning, the soldiers, who were apparently startled, shot him to death from the building opposite using a Ruger Precision rifle with a silencer.
Hussein was not endangering anyone, of course. No curfew had been declared in Al-Fawwar. The small bullet slammed into his right shoulder, but because he had leaned forward the projectile entered his lungs. He shouted to his brother, “They’ve paralyzed me,” before collapsing. Umar says he stopped breathing instantly.
Now it was necessary to lower Hussein’s body on the narrow, dangerous ladder and get him to a hospital. At first the soldiers prevented Red Crescent ambulance from entering the camp – according to one witness they fired into the air – so Hussein was taken in a neighbor’s car to a clinic in the nearby town of Dura, where he was pronounced dead. Four other camp residents were also wounded that night by soldiers’ gunfire; one remains hospitalized in Hebron in serious condition.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit made do with this blasé response to a query from Haaretz: “Because of the incident in question, a Military Police investigation was launched, at the end of which the findings will be conveyed for examination by the military advocate general’s office.”
We climbed up to the roof where Hussein was killed and looked down at the street, and then went up to the roof of the building opposite, from which the soldiers shot him. A few dozen meters separated the troops from their victim. Below, on the street, life in the camp resumed its piteous routine.
Iyyad Abu Hashhash, 41, and Ismail Abu Hashhash, 48, two brothers of Mohammed Abu Hashhash, who was arrested that same night, told us in fluent Hebrew that they had been detained a few years ago, beaten by IDF soldiers and tortured by their interrogators. Today the two run a makeshift gas station, where they sell a liter of gas for 4 shekels ($1.25; about 33 percent cheaper than in Israel). They try to eke out a living, but their faces are ravaged by suffering.