His 17th birthday was on Sunday. Ahmed Falana was born on April 4, 2004, and is the fourth child of his parents. He spent his birthday in Megiddo Prison in northern Israel, probably not even remembering his big day. His parents, Aida and Abed al-Razek Falana, could not wish him a happy birthday. They don’t even know his condition. Even when he was hospitalized in Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, after being struck by bullets fired by Israel Defense Forces troops, his parents weren’t able to be by his side. And even when Falana woke up from surgery, after one testicle was removed, his parents could not be by his side. They could neither be with him or speak to him on the phone. Abed al-Razek tells us he will do anything just to hear his son’s voice even for a few minutes. Just to know how he’s doing and to give him support. But the Israeli authorities refuse to allow that.
Although he is partially paralyzed on his left side, Abed al-Razek, 54, works as a gardener in the community of Lapid, near Modi’in. He’s worked in Israel for 30 years, building its homes and tending its gardens. His son Ahmed was never arrested before, was never in trouble with the Israeli army. “He’s 17,” his father says, “but he has the sense of a 2-year-old. He doesn’t know where he’s going and what he’s doing. He’ll say, ‘Dad, I’m on the way home,’ but he won’t show up.”
Apparently Ahmed approached the separation barrier on that Friday, February 26, and was shot by soldiers – and it’s still not entirely clear why.
Ahmed is a student in the 10th grade in Safa, a village of about 4,000 residents west of Ramallah, not far from the Green Line behind the Maccabim checkpoint on Highway 443 to Jerusalem. Most of the cars in the village are mashtubot – chop-shop junkers without license plates – whose owners barely ever drive them outside the village for fear they’ll be caught. Ahmed was shot in Safa’s fields, next to the children’s playground.
On that black Friday, Ahmed set out with his friend S., who’s a year older than him, in the direction of the village’s fields, which are sliced up by the separation barrier built by Israel. This is a recreational area for local residents, most of whom work in Israel, on their day of rest, and it’s here that Israeli soldiers lie in wait for them, sometimes chasing them from their own property, sometimes also shooting them.
Ahmed and his friend headed for the fields, a distance of around three kilometers (1.8 miles), at about 11 o’clock. There, about 100 meters from the separation barrier, is the old stone house of his great-grandfather, built in the 1950s and now an abandoned ruin. Ahmed liked to go there on Fridays. The land around it belongs to the family. In this season everything is a vivid green. Across the fence is Kfar Ruth, a moshav, in what was once the no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan.
What exactly happened in that field that day? The family says they still don’t know. What is clear is that soldiers shot Ahmed a few times in his lower body and that S. wasn’t hurt.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated this week: “The minor has been charged with throwing an explosive device at the security fence on Friday, February 26, 2021, in the sector of the Ephraim Territorial Brigade, when civilians were at the site. The suspect has been remanded in custody until the conclusion of the legal proceedings in his case. During the incident, IDF fighters who were in the area implemented the suspect arrest procedure, which included firing at the suspect.”
At about 1:30 P.M., Ahmed’s mother made lunch and asked her husband to call the children to come home to eat. Ahmed told his father on the phone that he was on his way back. Abed al-Razek began to eat alone but about 10 minutes later he got a call from someone at the Shin Bet security service: “Are you Ahmed’s father? Soldiers shot Ahmed. Come to the Maccabim checkpoint to pick him up.”
Abed al-Razek says he dropped the phone to the floor in terror. He was certain that Ahmed had been killed. He called the number from which the Shin Bet agent had phoned: “Did you kill Ahmed? Is Ahmed dead? Don’t be afraid to tell me.” The agent replied: “Ahmed is alive now. He is on the way to Hadassah Ein Karem. Ahmed is 50 percent alive and 50 percent dead.”
Abed al-Razek says he almost went out of his mind. He didn’t know what to do. He called the Shin Bet again: “Tell me where Ahmed is. I have to see him with my eyes. Ahmed is in your hands, let me see him.” The Shin Bet man: “Ahmed is alive, but none of you will see him.”
This week Abed al-Razek told us: “My mind was gone. I didn’t know what I was doing. For a week I’ve been in my room with the door shut, praying and speaking to God to help him. Who will help, besides God?”
From the patient records of Department of General Surgery B, Hadassah: “Brought to shock room with wounds in legs and scrotum. Lost a large amount of blood; blood pressure low.”
Ahmed was hospitalized for three days under guard in Hadassah. His father tried to visit him, but was rebuffed. On March 1, the teenager was transferred to Megiddo Prison. A few days later he was taken to Haemek Hospital in Afula for surgery to address a leg fracture caused by the shooting. This time a social worker from the hospital called his family, updated them and sent documents of consent to the operation for them to sign. The family signed; the next day they were again briefed about Ahmed’s condition. But to this day only the lawyer hired by them has been allowed to visit him on their behalf.
“For 40 days I haven’t seen Ahmed,” his father tells us this week. “I am speaking to all kinds of people in Israel, so that someone will help me. Just so they’ll let me look at Ahmed.”
The lawyer urged Abed al-Razek to wait patiently for permission to see his son. In the meantime, he is also fearful that the Shin Bet will revoke his permit to work in Israel and the family will be left without a provider. On Sunday, Ahmed’s birthday, his father prayed for only one thing: to be able to speak to his son, to wish him a happy birthday. But it was not to be.
Abed al-Razek got in touch with the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, which began looking into the case. On March 1, Naji Abbas, PHR’s case manager for prisoners, sent an urgent letter to Dr. Liav Goldstein, chief medical officer of the Israel Prison Service. In it, he explained that Ahmed, a minor, had undergone surgery in Hadassah without his parents being informed or contacted in any way.
A lawyer from the NGO visited the teenager in prison. Ahmed arrived at the meeting accompanied by another prisoner, who helped him get around; he complained of severe pain in his right leg. He was unable to tell the lawyer what kind of operation he had undergone or what treatment he would be getting. Nor did he know that he had the right to request a wheelchair.
“It is inconceivable for a minor of 17 to be held, wounded and without being granted the conditions that are appropriate for his condition, [without] getting an explanation in his own language about the treatment he will be receiving,” Abbas wrote in his letter to Goldstein.
Physicians for Human Rights requested that Ahmed be provided with a wheelchair and given an explanation about his medical condition, and also that the authorities consider allowing him to speak with his family soon. The prison service didn’t bother to reply.
Then the NGO, in conjunction with Hamoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, a human rights organization, also contacted the director general of Israel’s Health Ministry, the attorney general and the head of IDF Central Command, asking that they write a document outlining a procedure for updating families of prisoners and detainees who are taken to hospital about their medical condition. The PHR letter cites a series of cases of prisoners who were hospitalized and whose condition deteriorated, without anyone taking the trouble to update their families. Attorney Haim Levy from the Health Ministry’s legal department replied: “From a perusal of your letter it does not follow that the conduct of hospitals regarding the updating of prisoners’ families justifies the Ministry of Health writing a procedure or a circular.”
A spokesperson for the prisons service issued the following statement to Haaretz this week: “Since his intake into the prisons service, the detainee in question was allowed two phone calls with his family, in accordance with protocol. In addition, representatives of the Red Cross receive ongoing reports about his condition and also visited him. As of now, his family cannot visit him because they are coming from a coronavirus lockdown region. At the same time, it’s important to emphasize that he is receiving the necessary medical treatment and is under constant medical supervision.”
In contradiction to the prison service’s response, family members deny that Ahmed had spoken with them since his imprisonment. This week, however, several hours after Haaretz was in touch with the prison service’s spokesperson’s office, Ahmed was granted permission to call home.
Naji Abbas, from Physicians for Human Rights, said this week that Ahmed’s story is yet another grim example of the impact of the occupation on Palestinian minors.
“His story raises a serious ethical problem encountered by hospital physicians who treat prisoners and detainees, including minors, when they are unable to update the family about the patient’s condition, even though this is mandatory under the Patient’s Rights Law and as is standard procedure with patients who do not come from the prison system,” Abbas says.
We drove to the site this week where Ahmed was shot. It was late afternoon and hundreds of workers were on their way home in the chop-shop cars they had left at the Maccabim checkpoint when entering Israel that morning for work. Apart from Ahmed’s father, still working in Israel, no one else in the family was willing to join us, for fear of the soldiers. Ahmed’s uncle Abed, his father’s brother, who has also been working for years in Israel and was wearing a T-shirt from an Israel construction firm, Bonei Hatikhon, told us that the army chases them off their land deliberately, so they will stop working it and thus make it easier for Israel to confiscate untended land and claim that no one owns it.
“We are not fraiers,” he said, using the Hebrew slang word meaning “suckers.” “We understand everything. You are strong and you can intimidate, kill, destroy. You are strong. But for how long? Tell me for how long?”
A group of soldiers was just passing by on the Israeli side of the security fence. On the slope of the hill we saw a fig tree, under which Ahmed was shot – the same youth now suffering in pain in Megiddo Prison, who wasn’t permitted to speak to his mother or his father for 40 days.