What goes through the mind of a father who sees a video of his son lying wounded on the road, and then being shot to death in cold blood by a soldier, at close range?
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What goes through the mind of a mother when she sees the superior officers and comrades-in-arms of the soldier who carries out the execution – with a bunch of settlers – standing around and going about their business as though nothing happened, while blood streams from her son’s head onto the road?
What goes through the mind of his siblings as they see their brother’s body left untended in the street?
The Al-Sharif family from Hebron saw it all. The father, Yusri, watched the video, taken by a volunteer from B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, two or three times; he no longer remembers how many. The mother, Rajaa, saw it once. It’s not hard to imagine the impact the images had on them.
This week, Israel arrested and is questioning the executioner-soldier involved in last Thursday’s incident; many Israelis turned him into their hero. His family, too, came in for plenty of sympathy and compassion. But no one really bothered to mention that the victim, too, had a family.
The young man who was shot, Abed Fattah al-Sharif, lived with his parents on the second floor of an apartment building in the Hebron suburb of Jabal Abu Rumann. Twenty-one at the time of his death, he was the firstborn child of Rajaa and Yusri, who have two other sons and two daughters. A solitary memorial poster, bearing Abed Fattah’s photograph, is draped over the front of the building. There are no flags – not of Hamas, not of Islamic Jihad and not of Fattah. The parents say that theirs is an apolitical home, adding that their late son was also not political.
A pot-holed dirt road, muddied by this week’s rains, ascends to the hilltop building. The interior decoration of the family’s apartment is dense and florid, featuring velvet-covered sofas, curtains and chandeliers. Yusri al-Sharif wears a blue designer jacket, a light-blue shirt and a black sweater. Abed Fattah, the bearded, dignified grandfather, who bears the same name as his dead grandson, is attired in an elegant brown robe with gilded fringes and wears a large white skullcap. The atmosphere is extremely suspicious when we arrive, though the suspiciousness abates gradually in the course of our visit.
The family is concerned that what they say will not be conveyed accurately. They are also very fearful that the occupation authorities will want to take revenge on them for the things they are saying. At 2:30 A.M. on Sunday, 19-year-old Khaled was arrested. Soldiers raided the family’s home and pulled Khaled out of bed. He was terrified, the family says. His father hugged him and tried to lift his spirits before he was taken away. Since then they have heard nothing from him. The human rights organization Hamoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual informed them that Khaled had been interrogated in the Etzion detention facility in the West Bank and then transferred to Ashkelon Prison.
The Israelis aren’t releasing Abed Fattah’s body. In contrast, the body of his friend Ramzi al-Qasrawi, who was shot with him in the same incident on March 16, was returned to his family, which has already given him a funeral.
Yusri al-Sharif, 43, is a construction worker in Hebron. His late son was a carpenter. Two months ago he had opened his own carpentry shop, not far from his home. The young man was very enthusiastic about the new business, his father says now. “For him it was like he’d just become engaged.” Ramzi, a childhood friend, worked with him in the shop.
On the day of his death, Abed Fattah left home at 7 A.M., as usual. There was nothing exceptional about his behavior, his father notes. His son told him he was going to Azariya, adjacent to Jerusalem, to take measurements for a bedroom set – the shop’s specialty – that clients had ordered.
Abed Fattah walked to Ramzi’s house, a kilometer and a half away, and the two proceeded to the Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron, a Jewish enclave, a few minutes away. According to Yusri, they intended to pass through the nearby Gilbert checkpoint and go to Bab al-Zawiya, where they could get a taxi to Azariya.
Did they plan in advance to attack the soldiers at the checkpoint? What happened there that led to the stabbing of an Israel Defense Forces soldier? The family refuses to believe that Abed Fattah stabbed the soldier, because he kept his distance from politics and because he had a good life. “I don’t believe he had a knife,” his father says. “He had a new job and he was happy. He had a carpentry shop and he saw his future there.”
Around 8:30 A.M. that day, at work, Yusri heard about the incident in which two Palestinians who stabbed a soldier at Tel Rumeida had been killed. From an Internet report he learned that one of them was from the Al-Sharif family, but never imagined that it was his own Abed Fattah. Maybe it’s a cousin, he thought. He did not identify his son even when he saw a blurry photo of a young man lying on the road after being shot. But a few minutes later he saw a clearer photo. He completely broke down, he says.
Yusri did not dare approach the place where his son’s body lay. He was afraid of the soldiers and the settlers in Tel Rumeida, and he knew that in any event he would not be allowed to get near the body. So he went back home, where people were already gathering to pay their condolences.
This week, Yusri still thought that his son had died while in the embrace of Ramzi’s arms. A B’Tselem field researcher, Manal al-Jab’ri, set him straight. She added that the organization’s volunteer who had filmed the execution, Emad Abu Shamsiya, a father of five from Tel Rumeida, has been subjected to threats since he made public the incriminating footage.
“Abed Fattah was always smiling and helping everyone,” his father says. “He didn’t like politics. It was from home to work and from work to home.” In the only photo in the living room, taken in a local studio on a recent holiday, Abed Fattah wears a red shirt and a black-and-white tie, and is holding a jacket behind his back. Gold stars glitter in the background. No montage with a Kalashnikov here.
The family heard about the public furor that erupted in Israel in the wake of the B’Tselem video. But they probably aren’t aware of its scale or its essence: sweeping popular support for the murder of their son.
“I am upset and angry,” the father says. “They should have cared for him and not killed him. There were officers there, and an ambulance. They should have taken him to the hospital and not shot him in the head after he’d been wounded. Afterward they could have arrested him, if necessary. But to kill him in his condition? I don’t believe how they could have done it. I don’t believe how they killed him.
“All Palestinians,” he continues, “know [the far-right settler-activist] Baruch Marzel and Ofer Ohana [from the Save Judea and Samaria organization], who were there. They want death for the Arabs. We saw Marzel shaking hands with the murderer. It’s not only the soldier who should be punished. Everyone who was standing there should be punished: the settlers, the officers, everyone who was there and encouraged the soldier or didn’t lift a finger. Everyone who was involved.”
The soldier claims he was concerned that your son was booby-trapped.
“They killed him in cold blood. The soldier wasn’t afraid of anything. He murdered him. Everyone who saw the video saw that the soldier was not afraid and that he killed him in cold blood. All the people around backed the soldier who killed my son. It was a crime. It’s a criminal army, an army that commits crimes.”
The soldier has become a hero in Israel.
“Anyone who sees him as a hero is a racist and an Arab-hater.”
Yusri then asked whether the occupation authorities would persecute him for what he is saying. “I have three more children at home,” he said in a subdued tone.