Why Did a Palestinian Who Didn't Care About the Occupation Commit Suicide by Israeli Army?

Unrequited love? A family dispute? It wasn't politics that drove Mohammed try to attack Israeli troops, thus sealing his fate

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Ibrahim Jabrin with memorial posters of his son, Mohammed.
Ibrahim Jabrin with memorial posters of his son, Mohammed. Credit: Emil Salman

Mohammed Jabrin was the least politically minded young man in the Palestinian village of Tuqu, adjacent to the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, east of Bethlehem. Cars were his only interest. Now his image can be found between those of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas on a large poster commemorating his memory that hangs on his family’s living room wall. All Jabrin ever wanted was to own a BMW, but in the end what he got was death as a shahid (holy martyr), with Arafat saluting him and Abbas gazing at him on the memorial placard.

Members of his family sound credible when they say they were astounded that Jabrin, the youngest of the children, had driven wildly toward soldiers standing at the village junction, and then got out of the car and tried to stab them. Mohammed? The least political guy in Tuqu? Even the local Shin Bet security agent, “Captain Imad,” who knows everyone in town, was taken aback. The fact is that the security forces did not demolish the family’s home, the Israel Defense Forces did not conduct a serious search of the house, and the body was returned to the family the day after his death.

But we also apparently have to believe another relative, who related that on the night before the attempted attack, a serious quarrel erupted between Mohammed and his father, Ibrahim. Ibrahim denies it now, but the other family member said that Mohammed could not bear the insult of the argument with his father. He left the house angrily, spent the night at his sister’s place and the next morning took his Mazda 3 – the subject of the disagreement with Ibrahim, who didn’t want Mohammed driving a car that he had apparently paid for but had been stolen by someone else and had no registration papers – and sped toward the soldiers. He then threatened them with a knife. His fate was sealed, of course. He apparently wanted to die.

The road into Tuqu is littered with stones and tire-scorched earth, remnants of the riots that broke out in the village after the killing – first of Jabrin, nearly a month ago, and then, 10 days later, of his friend Mohammed Tnouh.

Ibrahim Jabrin, 70, is impressive-looking in a white robe and snow-white keffiyeh. Two of the bereaved brothers, Walid, the eldest, and Salah, are also in the living room, now adorned with photos of the deceased, amid colorful plastic flowers and crimson-colored velvet sofas. The word “occupation” wasn’t mentioned even once in the two hours we spent in their home. I don’t remember being in the home of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces in which nothing was said about the occupation.

Mohammed Jabrin was 22, the proprietor of an electrical goods and automobile accessories store located some 200 meters from the family home. Was he married? The question elicits an enigmatic smile from the father and the brothers. There was talk that he would soon be engaged. To whom? Mohammed didn’t mention her name. All 10 of his older siblings are married. On one occasion, when his parents pressed him to take a wife, he replied, “I will marry a car.” Whenever disturbances broke out in the village, he would close his store and closet himself in the house. He was never arrested and never got into trouble. So what got into him?

“He’s the littlest child who got the biggest attention,” Walid said. “He was the most pampered of all of us. Mother loved him more than the rest. He got everything. Mother, who died eight months ago, talked only about him and was worried because he hadn’t yet married. But we still don’t understand what happened.”

Unrequited love? A family dispute. No way. The brothers and the father deny it.

Ibrahim Jabrin.Credit: Emil Salman

They never would have imagined anything like this happening to their brother, and since he was killed they have been searching for explanations, but in vain. Ibrahim says he was smart – his excellent report cards are on the wall. One thing the family does agree on: The motive for his actions was definitely not political.

The green door of the room of the spoiled youngest child is closed; it is opened for us. Two iron beds, vintage decorative floor tiles, a few family photos carelessly pasted on the wall, a closet. A dense silence fills the room. There’s an Israeli-made deodorant in the closet. One wall is decorated with once-shiny stars and hearts, whose luster has long since faded. Mohammed’s high-school graduation certificate is on the bureau. There’s not even a hint of anything political. Mom’s old sewing machine is also here, orphaned and mute, covered with a blanket.

Ibrahim Jabrin says that he saw his son around 10 A.M. on the day of his death, before he himself went to the mosque. The date was July 10. It’s possible that Mohammed returned home after spending the night at his sister’s place. No one knows where he went after that. Half an hour before his death he drove to the local gas station to fill up. At midday he took his car and hurtled toward the IDF watchtower that looms over the entrance to Tuqu. A number of soldiers were standing on the other side of the road, and Jabrin drove at them. They quickly took cover behind the security fence, one of them falling backward as he did so. Jabrin then got out of the car and apparently brandished a knife.

Two rounds fired from the tower felled him. He was then shot several more times by the soldiers on the road. All the bullets struck his upper body. The death certificate issued by the Palestinian Health Ministry states that he died from loss of blood after being wounded in the heart, liver and lungs by the Israeli soldiers.

In response to a request for comment, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told Haaretz: “On July 10, 2017, a terrorist from the village of Arab Tekoa [Tuqu] perpetrated a combined car-ramming and stabbing attack at the entrance to the village. He identified a soldier crossing the road to the guard post and sped up in order to run him over. With his vehicle he hit the soldier, who was lightly injured. Afterward the terrorist got out of his vehicle and moved toward the soldiers, who called on him to stop a number of times. The terrorist waved a knife at the soldiers and in response the force opened fire and killed him.”

Walid, the firstborn, who is employed in the local village council, was in Bethlehem at the time. He heard that there had been a car accident at the entrance to the village involving a Mazda 3, and he rushed back to Tuqu. The soldiers tried to keep him away from the site, and the Shin Bet representative told him to go to the nearby Etzion facility. There, Captain Imad asked Walid how such a thing could have happened in such a good family. Walid still thought the man was talking about an accident, but the agent told him it had been a ramming attack. He then showed him two photos of his dead brother on the computer, which is how Walid identified the body.

Imad also showed Walid a photo of his family’s house, maybe in order to show off intelligence information. He promised that the Jabrins would receive the body within a day, and so it was. Another Shin Bet man told the family, all of whom have permits to work in Israel, that, “In the near future you’ll have to rest a little.” Secret-service humor. After every attempted attack by an individual, Israel revokes the work permits of all his or her relatives for years, to avert any possible acts of revenge.

Jabrin’s brother-in-law Nesim also happened onto the scene of the incident. His 15-year-old son often traveled with Mohammed, so he was appalled to see the Mazda at the junction, surrounded by soldiers and Shin Bet men. The latter afterward showed Nesim a video clip of the attack. The next day at 2 P.M. the council head received a call from the Israeli authorities to coordinate the return of the body. The funeral was held at the Tuqu cemetery that same day.

Jabrin’s grave remained the freshest in the cemetery for only 10 days. On July 20, his friend Mohammed Tnouh walked toward the road that leads to Bethlehem and tried to attack and stab a soldier. He was shot to death instantly by the soldier’s comrades. About half a year earlier, Tnouh’s toddler daughter had died after an illness, and two months before his death he and his wife separated. Was he attempting to copy the easy death of his friend? Did he envy Jabrin? Questions that will never be answered.

And last Friday, a shepherd, Abdullah Taqatqa, from Marah Malah, just a few minutes’ drive from Tuqu, ran at soldiers who were standing on Highway 60, not far from the Etzion Bloc junction, and tried to attack them, apparently with a knife. The soldiers shot him seven times from a distance, killing him.

The word this week in his village is that Taqatqa was a sickly young man who suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease. He was also very religious, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque events were still generating intense feelings. His body has not yet been returned to the family, which this week sat in the flag-draped yard of the local school, mourning his death without a grave.

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