On the stylish balcony of their home overlooking the Hinnom Valley, on a street named for that valley in the village of Silwan adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem, bereaved parents mourn the death of their son. Waffa and Jamal Ashkar are lamenting the loss of Nour, who was shot to death last month by Border Police and private security guards at the Al-Zaim checkpoint, east of Jerusalem, after being caught driving without a license.
According to two eyewitnesses, he stepped out of his car, with arms raised, before being shot from a range of 100 meters. In any event, he was shot after he had stopped driving and made no effort to escape. A split second before the shooting, an order to the security men to hold their fire was heard, but it didn’t help the deceased. A number of rounds were fired, three or four of which struck Nour in the upper body, killing him instantly. The Border Police initially claimed that the man they shot had been attempting to carry out a car-ramming attack, but soon abandoned that account.
Waffa’s right arm is still in a sling, after breaking her arm when she collapsed in the first days of the mourning period. Jamal chain-smokes; his fingers, adorned with rings, are nicotine-stained. Signs of mourning are etched into him. From time to time he falls silent and sinks into thought; Waffa is wordless and pale.
Their home is perched on the slope of Silwan’s steep hill, the balcony chock-full of items that Jamal collects – old phones, tobacco pipes, watches – and a goldfish aquarium. Jamal liked to sit here with Nour, opposite the Jerusalem landscape and the desert view further on. Now he is grieving.
How old was Nour? “After what happened, I can’t even remember my own name,” Jamal replies. Nour was 33 at the time of his death, Jamal is 63, the driver of a street-cleaning machine who until recently worked in Tel Aviv and in the community of Mazkeret Batya, near Rehovot. About three months ago he was in a work accident, and since then he has been at home. Waffa is 58. Nour was the second-born of the couple’s nine children.
Nour worked as a mover and also transported people, even though he never had a driver’s license. According to his father, he failed the theoretical test at least 15 times. He was caught driving without a license three times and even served a year in prison for the offense, but nevertheless continued to drive, either the small Fiat whose wheel he was behind when he was killed, or the family van. Four days before his death on November 25, Nour, who lived in a room in his parents’ home, told his mother that he was going to find someone to marry.
“He didn’t have any luck in this life,” his father says. He’s wearing the watch his son bought him the day before he was shot.
- An American director almost died in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing. He now seeks the human side of his attackers
- The conservative U.S. group trying to transform Israel's justice system
Jamal didn’t see Nour the day he died, as the father left home early to run errands in Tel Aviv. It was a Wednesday. Jamal got home around midday and, as usual, called Nour to ask what he was doing. Nour didn’t answer – his father thought he must be driving. Just then, Nour’s brother Yihyeh, who is 25, saw a photograph posted on Facebook of a white Fiat surrounded by police officers at the Al-Zaim checkpoint. There are two Fiats like that in Silwan. Yihyeh immediately called Jamal. Filled with foreboding, father and son decided to drive to the checkpoint, taking with them Jamal’s youngest son, 14-year-old Thamar.
On the way Yihyeh continued to scroll through Facebook. To his horror, he saw a photo of his brother lying on the road, hands raised over his head, eyes shut, with police officers and security guards standing around him. “It’s my brother! It’s my brother!” he shouted in the car.
Jamal says he felt he was going out of his mind right then. He parked his car along the highway, across from the checkpoint, crossed the separation fence on foot and tried to approach.
The police officers blocked them. By then Nour was no longer lying on the road. Jamal shouted to the officers: “Is it my son nor not? I want to know what happened to him.” No one replied. Yihyeh was taken by the police to the “No. 4 rooms,” the interrogation area used by the Shin Bet security service in the Russian Compound police station in downtown Jerusalem. They asked Jamal to come with them, too; after he refused he was told to get there in his own car.
After stopping at home to get his asthma inhaler, Jamal proceeded to the detention and interrogation facility. He was still hoping that Nour had only been injured. No wounds or blood were visible in the Facebook image of him lying on the road next to his car.
At the Russian Compound, he was offered water, about which he says bitterly, “They kill your son and then show up for the funeral.” To an interrogator in civilian attire, he said, “Before you ask me anything, I want to know if my son is alive, to know what happened to him and to see him.” The interrogator took Jamal’s ID card, returned it after a while, did not question him and told him to go home.
No one bothered to inform him that his son was dead. “He didn’t tell me anything, even though the whole time he knew exactly,” Jamal tells us. “I told him: I am not leaving here until I know what happened to my son. You can arrest me if you want.” The Shin Bet agent replied, “What would we arrest you for? You didn’t throw stones.” Jamal went outside and waited for Yihyeh to emerge from his interrogation.
Now Anwar, 36, Jamal and Waffa’s eldest, arrived, screaming, flailing, utterly distraught: Nour was dead. Jamal too began to howl. A neighbor took him to Silwan. “All I could see was black when I got home. A lot of people, all in black, the whole world around me was black.” The next day the Shin Bet called and requested that Jamal come in for questioning. He refused and said he was in mourning. That was the last he heard from them.
What exactly happened on November 25 around 3 P.M. at the Al-Zaim checkpoint? According to accounts that Jamal heard later from eyewitnesses, Nour got back from driving passengers to Anata, in the West Bank. He arrived from the eastern side of the checkpoint at the entrance to Jerusalem and undoubtedly thought he would get through smoothly, as always, thanks to his yellow (Israeli) license plates. But the security guards told him to stop and show them his papers. He apparently took fright and went on driving for 150 to 200 meters, through the checkpoint. The police officers and guards shot at the car but missed. The car stopped.
Two eyewitnesses, M.G., 24, and O.R., 27, stated in testimony to a human rights activist in Silwan that they saw the Fiat driving slowly and did not have the impression that the driver was trying to flee from the checkpoint. They added that they saw the driver step out of the car and raise his hands, but then one of the security men, dressed in black, according to them, fired six shots at him from a range of about 100 meters. The driver collapsed to the ground.
A video clip released by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem shows police officers and security men running toward the Fiat, which was standing on the roadside. An order can be heard: “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot, Tzachi. Cease, cease.” The policemen are seen standing around the Fiat, whose driver was no longer among the living.
In a photograph taken immediately afterward, nine police officers are seen standing around the empty Fiat, their rifles pointed downward, toward the road. The person they are aiming at is hidden by the car, but it’s reasonable to assume that it was Nour, who was apparently lying on the ground. This image reinforces the testimony to the effect that he emerged from the car and was then killed. Further bolstering this scenario is the photograph of the young man lying on the ground, arms raised above his head.
The director of field research staff at B’Tselem, Kareem Issa Jubran, notes that in cases of car-ramming attacks and other incidents at checkpoints, the security forces quickly release the footage from the security cameras, which are installed at every checkpoint, in order to justify the shooting and the killing. But not this time.
A spokesperson for the Israel Police responded as follows to Haaretz’s query this week: “The suspect arrived by car at the Al-Zaim crossing point from the Judea-Samaria Region, in the direction of Jerusalem, showed identifying papers that were not his and thereby tried to pose as someone else. During the security check, he burst through the checkpoint and suddenly started to drive fast, along the way hitting a Border Police fighter and injuring him. Immediately when the forces and security guards saw a car hit a fighter and burst through the checkpoint in the direction of Jerusalem, they opened fire at the car and the suspect was neutralized.”
It wasn’t until late Sunday, four days after the incident, that Nour’s body was returned to his family. But the very fact that his body was handed over to them is proof that Nour was not a terrorist, in a country that doesn’t return the bodies of terrorists.
The police set a number of conditions for returning the body: The funeral must take place within three hours of the family receiving it; no more than 30 people could attend, 20 in the cemetery and 10 outside it; no flags could be hoisted, no memorial posters brandished at the grave site or afterward, and no cellphones were allowed.
The police also determined the route along which Nour’s body would be borne. Posted along the road from national police headquarters in East Jerusalem, where the body was handed over to the family just before midnight, to Makassed Hospital and from there to the cemetery near the Golden Gate, just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. On hand were dozens of armed police officers – and also, apparently to be on the safe side, the crowd-control “Skunk” vehicle, which emits a noxious odor. Armed police officers were also posted next to the grave, vigilantly ensuring the implementation of the restrictions.
Jamal, who wanted the funeral to be conducted quietly, urged those present to obey the instructions. By order of the police, the family also had to put away the only poster bearing Nour’s likeness, as it called him a “shahid,” a martyr. The small crowd at the funeral was forbidden as well to chant “Allahu akbar,” “God is great.” Such phrases might be inflammatory.
The family was allowed to gather in a mourning tent outside their home, but only on the condition that it contain no pictures commemorating Nour.