The picture on the mourning poster shows the beautiful, sad face of a boy, his head wrapped in a keffiyeh, his skin sallow, his eyes wide open. In the photograph, one of two images used for the posters, the boy is already dead. Only his open eyes give the impression of life. In the other poster, the eyes are already closed for all time.
Khalil Anati was 10 years and eight months old and came from the Al-Fawar refugee camp, south of Hebron in the West Bank, when he was killed. An Israeli soldier had opened the door of his armored jeep, picked up his rifle, aimed it at the upper body of the boy, who was running with his back to the soldier, and cut him down with one bullet, fired from a distance of a few dozen meters.
It was early morning on Sunday, August 10. The street was almost empty – the idleness, the unemployment and the heat in this squalid refugee camp leave people in their beds late – and the soldiers were apparently in no danger. According to testimony, there were only another three or four young children in the street; they were throwing stones at the jeep. There were no “riots” and no mass “disturbances.”
Khalil tried to advance another few meters after the bullet lodged in his lower back, before falling to the ground in the middle of the narrow alley, its width about that of a person, that ascends to his home. Someone heard him shout, in Arabic: “The bastards shot me.” By the time he arrived at the hospital in Hebron – he had been transported in a private vehicle since the camp does not have an ambulance – he was dead from loss of blood.
The soldier who shot him quickly shut the door of the jeep and hightailed it out of the camp, together with his buddies. Mission accomplished.
The bereaved father, Mohammed, asks now with dry eyes why the soldier who killed him did not at least offer his son first aid, or summon help. “If they are human beings, that is what they should have done. Why didn’t they do that?”
We sat this week in front of the Anatis’ ramshackle home, a few meters from the scene of the crime. No other refugee camp is comparable to Al-Fawar, in terms of wretchedness and forlornness. A putrid stench wafts from the bursting garbage bins, which no one empties, and from the sewage that flows unchecked through the alleys. An Israeli who has never been here cannot begin to imagine what it’s like. It’s also a tough place, which the army rarely enters.
But on that fateful Sunday two army jeeps, one of them flying a huge Israeli flag, drove in, escorting a vehicle of Mekorot, the national water company, which had apparently come to check the pipes connecting to the camp’s wells.
Khalil was shot to death at about 9:30 in the morning. His father, a scrap peddler, was still asleep. Only the boy’s uncle, Mahmoud Anati, peering out of his window which overlooks the narrow alley, saw what was going on and spotted the jeep. He rushed to his 80-year-old father, Ahmed Anati, Khalil’s grandfather, who was at that moment on the roof of a house that is being built as part of a special United Nations Refugee Agency project, for the camp’s old people.
Mahmoud told his father to come inside, for fear of the soldiers; from experience he knows that the troops are quick to fire teargas in order to disperse the children. He hustled his aged father into the house, but is today consumed with feelings of guilt for not having done the same for his nephew.
The street, Mahmoud recalls, was quiet. Then he suddenly heard a single shot ring out and his nephew shout. He rushed into the alley. A construction worker at the site of the home for the aged had already picked up the bleeding boy and was running with him toward the main street, in order to flag down a car to take him to the hospital.
At one point, Khalil fell from the worker’s hands. He and Mahmoud picked him up and put him the car of a Bedouin man who was visiting in the camp. They shouted to people to call an ambulance, but knew that would take precious time, so they sped in the private car to Al Ahli Hospital in Hebron.
As the car left the camp, Khalil stopped moving, and by the time they reached the hospital, he was no longer breathing. Mahmoud tried to staunch the bleeding with his hands. The boy’s last words to his uncle were, “Don’t be afraid.”
The uncle had hoped there would be soldiers at the pillbox – the guard tower at the edge of the camp – who could summon aid, but it was deserted. He remembered that a few days earlier, there had been a road accident nearby in which Israelis were involved, and the army had called in a helicopter to evacuate them.
As the uncle recalls the events of that day, the father sits by his side, silently. Mohammed goes to the cemetery every day now, to visit his son.
Musa Abu Hashhash, a veteran field worker for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, arrived at Al Ahli at about 10:30 A.M. the day the boy was killed, and saw his body in the hospital morgue. Abu Hashhash, who has already seen a great deal in his work, was especially shocked by this incident. He published an article about it on the website of the Palestinian news agency Ma’an under the headline, “The Coward,” referring to the soldier who killed the boy and fled.
Immediately after the event, the Israel Defense Forces’ Spokesperson’s Unit published a statement on its website, stating (in a rare instance) that the IDF “regrets” the boy’s death.
The spokesperson’s unit also provided the following response to an inquiry from Haaretz: “During routine activity by IDF forces, which were providing security for work being carried out by the water authority in the vicinity of Al-Fawar, violent disturbances erupted, during which the force opened fire. The IDF regrets the death of the Palestinian minor who was killed in said incident. In accordance with standard policy, the Military Police’s investigatory unit has launched an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the incident. At the conclusion of the inquiry, the findings will be passed on to the Military Advocate General’s office for examination and for decisions on any further action.”
During our visit, we saw a few children were playing in the local “community center” – a shabby, tattered room in the heart of the camp, with three old computers and a tabletop soccer game – its walls covered with pictures of their deceased friend, Khalil. Yakub Nasser entered the room in his electric wheelchair. Now 19, he too was shot here by soldiers, in 2009, when he was 14. Since then his legs have been paralyzed and he’s been confined to a wheelchair.
As for Khalil, he was supposed to have attended a local day camp during the final days of the summer vacation, and was also getting ready to enter the sixth grade. He had been accompanying his father as he sold used clothing and old television sets; he buys them from a dealer in nearby Halhoul and offers them for sale to the camp’s residents.
Two days before his death, neighbors had collected donations for residents of the Gaza Strip. Khalil stole a blanket from home and brought it to the local mosque as his contribution to his brethren in Strip.