Israeli Cops Thought the Palestinian Shepherd Stole a Car. So They Shot Him in the Head

In the dead of night, Border Police stopped a car carrying three young Palestinians and without a word shot one of them in the head, point blank. Now he may lose his eyesight

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Abd al-Rahman Jabarah before the violent encounter.
Abd al-Rahman Jabarah before the violent encounter.Credit: Courtesy of the family
Gideon Levy
Alex Levac
Gideon Levy
Alex Levac

Abd al-Rahman Jabarah lies on his side, cringing, feeble, his face a picture of torment, his eyelids seemingly glued shut. Tubes protrude from his nose and his body, a scar adorns his forehead. His suffering is manifest. It’s hard to talk to him. He asks not to be photographed. He woke up just a few days ago, after being comatose for a month.

Jabarah, 22, is a patient in the neurosurgical ward of Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan. At present, he is blind in both eyes – next week he will undergo additional surgery in an attempt to save one of them.

Jabarah, a shepherd, was shot in cold blood and without a word being uttered, from a distance of a meter, while riding in a car that had picked him up in the middle of the night in his village, Salim, east of Nablus. Those who tried to take him out, officers of the Border Police’s special anti-terror unit (Yamam, according to its Hebrew acronym), supposedly the glory of the force, mistook him for his brother, A’amar – who’s suspected of no less than car theft. Still, nothing can explain or justify a criminal attempt to liquidate an unarmed young Palestinian who was not endangering anyone, who was traveling in a car with two other young men, whom he barely knew, in the dark of night.

The incident occurred between 2 and 3 A.M. on August 5. Jabbara had woken up in the middle of the night in order to take his herd of about 50 sheep out to pasture. His father is the principal of a school in Nablus. His brother Anas, 25, who hasn’t left his bedside now for a month and a half, works, with a permit, in a restaurant at Tel Yosef Junction in the Jezreel Valley. Jabbara had only taken the herd a small distance from home when he suddenly noticed a large number of soldiers moving about in Salim, his village. He was gripped by fear: No one wants to be on the street when the forces invade.

Fortunately, a Palestinian car happened by. The occupants were two young men, cousins, Abdallah and Izz al-Din Ash’ar, from Nablus, whose families have a vacation home with a swimming pool in the village of Al-Aqrabaniya, near Salim. Frightened, Jabbara flagged them down with a flashlight and asked if he could get into the car, for fear of the troops in the village. He sat in the center of the back seat. The car turned slowly around to get away and avoid getting mixed up in any trouble.

This week the driver, Abdallah Ash’ar, told Salma a-Deb’i, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem: “I had driven only a few meters, when a white Toyota Jeep suddenly appeared opposite me and stopped. Three soldiers in uniform, but not regular army uniforms, got out. One stood to the right near the front of our car; a second approached the window on my side. I don’t remember where the third one was standing. The soldier who was near the front immediately fired one bullet. I felt something hot pass next to my head and a sharp pain in my neck and head. I thought the bullet hit me.”

His cousin, Izz al-Din, gave similar testimony: “The soldier stood opposite the car on the right side and aimed his weapon at us. I immediately raised my hands, because I thought he was going to shoot me. I heard a shot, just one; the noise it made was tremendous. I felt dizzy. The front window of the car on my side shattered. I froze and couldn’t utter a word.”

Anas Jabarah, left, brother of Abd al-Rahman, shot by Border Police, with Amid Hamadan, whose sister Tala was due to marry the wounded man this month.
Anas Jabarah, left, brother of Abd al-Rahman, shot by Border Police, with Amid Hamadan, whose sister Tala was due to marry the wounded man this month. Credit: Alex Levac

Abdallah continues: “The soldier who was standing next to me banged his rifle on the front left window. I opened it quickly and then he aimed the rifle at me and said in Hebrew, ‘Put your hands up!’ I did so, and my cousin, Izz al-Din, also did. The two soldiers opened the doors of the car and then someone got out of the white Jeep and came over to us. He asked in Arabic, ‘Who is the person who was hit?’ I said, ‘I don’t know him.’ He said to me, ‘Someone you don’t know is sitting in your car?’ I replied, ‘I only know him by sight. He lives around here. I’ve seen him near my house, but I don’t know his name.’ He said to me, ‘Ask him his name.’

“I looked back to ask the guy what his name was and I saw that his face was covered with blood. It looked as if he had been hit in the eye. He looked to be in very serious condition. He answered that his name was Abd al-Rahman Jabarah.”

About 10 minutes passed, and large number of soldiers arrived at the scene. By now, Jabbara was gasping and throwing up in the back. Abdullah wanted to turn around and help him, but one of the officers shouted to him not to move. The troops removed Jabbara, bleeding, from the car and took him away.

“I was so scared that I didn’t even really notice how they evacuated him,” Abdullah related to the field researcher.

The officers demanded the two cousins’ ID cards, and then pulled them out of their vehicle by force and handcuffed them. Jabbara was taken by ambulance to the Jalameh checkpoint north of Jenin, where a military helicopter was summoned to evacuate him to Sheba Medical Center. By then the forces had apparently realized that they had shot an innocent person..

The Shaar cousins were taken for interrogation at the distant Al-Hamra checkpoint. One of the interrogators lashed out at Abdullah, “You could have died because of someone you have no connection with, because you transported a criminal. That’s a felony with a two-year prison sentence, but I’ll be kind to you and let you and your cousin go. You have been reborn, because everyone in the car could have died, and the soldier who was shooting is a pro.”

The elite unit of the Border Police was looking for A’amar Jabbara, 33, who, as noted, is wanted in Israel for car theft. The force’s spokesman’s unit referred us to the initial statement it had issued in the initial wake of the incident: “In the course of operational activity by the security forces in the Jordan Valley region against car thieves, shots were fired at a Palestinian man after he fled the forces together with others. The case has been transferred to the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police officers, to examine the circumstances of the shooting.”

Abd al-Rahman Jabarah before the violent encounter.
Abd al-Rahman Jabarah before the violent encounter.Credit: Courtesy of the family

To “be on the safe side,” Yamam officers almost killed the younger brother of a man who’s wanted for car theft, probably leaving him disabled for life.

The full extent of the injury suffered by Abd a-Rahman isn’t yet clear. This week he was able, with help, to sit briefly in an armchair for the first time. He was supposed to be married this month, and his fiancée, Tala Hamadan, is also by his side in the hospital , together with her brother, Amid. They rented a hotel room that’s costing them 200 shekels ($58) a day, plus food, an expense they can ill afford.

This week Abd al-Rahman for the first time recounted to his brother Anas what he remembers from that night. He said that when he set out with the sheep he suddenly heard dogs barking, the first indication that something was going on in the alleyways of Salim, which scared him. He couldn’t return home, because the forces were already positioned between him and his house, and so he got into the passing car. The bullet the officer shot penetrated his forehead and exited below the eye, wreaking havoc.

As for A’amar, the brother who’s wanted for stealing cars, the family hasn’t heard from him since and has no idea where he is, Anas says. He adds that A’amar works in Nablus, doing home renovations, and he denies that his brother is wanted: Just the day before the incident, he said, his ID was examined at a checkpoint on the way to Nablus and he was allowed to go through. “Why didn’t they phone him,” if they needed to question him, he asks, by the bedside of his wounded brother. “What’s the problem?”

It’s hard to find a resemblance between the photographs from before the incident of the good-looking young man, one taken against the background of his village, another of him cradling a cat, and the blind person struggling in agony on a bed in a neurosurgical hospital ward.

The men’s mother, Hala, 59, has so far been afraid to visit the hospital, after collapsing when she saw photographs of her injured son. She says she’s afraid she won’t be able to cope.

“Abd a-Rahman is my fifth son [out of a total of six sons and two daughters] and the handsomest,” she told a-Deb’i, from B’Tselem, earlier this week. “I can’t sleep properly anymore, I’m not able to do anything. Since the incident I haven’t placed a pot on the stove. Whenever I imagine my son with his eyes covered, I break down. I saw pictures of him that my husband sent me on the phone, and I collapsed. I cried and cried until I couldn’t breathe anymore.

“I can’t understand why they did this to my son,” she said. “What crime did he commit? Why did they behave with such violence?”

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