The large stone that struck the front windshield of the military jeep shattered the glass. The early-morning traffic last Friday morning at A-Ram, outside Jerusalem, was grindingly slow, bumper to bumper.
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The brigade commander in the jeep was seething, apparently, and decided to punish the stone-thrower immediately. In this situation – after the stone had been thrown and the vehicle had come to a halt without anyone being hurt – the brigade commander’s life could not have been said to be in serious danger.
Nevertheless, Israel Defense Forces Col. Yisrael Shomer and the driver emerged from the vehicle, weapons at the ready. There was a shout to halt; one youth obeyed, the other tried to flee. Shomer and his driver gave spirited chase and then, from a few steps away, a distance of six or seven meters, the youngster was shot at least three times with live ammunition. All the rounds slammed into his upper body – face, chest and back. Shooting with intent to kill.
The youth, Mohammad Kosba, 17, collapsed on the main road, blood flowing profusely from his mouth and nose. According to testimonies collected by Iyad Hadad, the Ramallah area field researcher for Israel’s B’Tselem human rights organization, the brigade commander then got back into the jeep and drove off without summoning medical aid.
A Palestinian eyewitness told Hadad that he saw Shomer (or his driver) approach the wounded youth and turn him over with his leg, apparently to see what his condition was.
In Israel, the brigade commander’s heroism drew universal acclaim and admiration, from MK Yair Lapid to the head of the IDF Central Command. By the time Mohammad Kosba arrived in a Ramallah hospital, after being evacuated by a private car and then transferred to an ambulance, he was dead.
Mohammad was the third son of Fatma and Sami Kosba, indigent residents of the Qalandiyah refugee camp, to be shot dead by the IDF, all for throwing stones. His two brothers – Yasser, who was 10 at the time, and Samer, 15 – were shot and killed within a period of 40 days in the winter of 2002. Five years later, their brother Thamer was seriously wounded when he was shot by soldiers for no apparent reason.
Now the IDF has killed Mohammad, too. The boy of four whom I met when I visited the doubly bereaved family 13 years ago, following the deaths of his two brothers, is now also buried in the Qalandiyah cemetery, not far away.
A piece of cardboard now covers the mound of dirt and the blood-saturated garbage in the center of the main road – next to the divider, in the middle of a very busy intersection, on the main road between Qalandiyah and the A-Ram neighborhood – where Mohammad fell. Traffic here is always indescribably chaotic.
The intersection was, of course, jammed early last Friday, too, ahead of the Ramadan prayer service in Al-Aqsa Mosque in nearby Jerusalem, as masses of worshipers made their way there from all parts of the West Bank. Mohammad Kosba and his friend Haroun Hazoun, who both recently finished 10th grade, arrived there shortly after 6 A.M. Their purpose, according to Sami Kosba, was to join the volunteers who were helping direct traffic at the intersection. The teens recognized the brigade commander’s jeep, which arrived at the intersection from the direction of the Adam settlement. One of them approached the vehicle and hurled the stone into the windshield, bringing about Mohammad’s almost instantaneous death.
Memorial posters commemorating him, pasted hastily onto the cement blocks on the roadside, now attest to the events here.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated this week: “A Military Police investigation is under way in this matter. Upon its conclusion, the findings will be passed on for examination to the Military Advocate General’s Unit.”
The days of mourning were still at their height when we visited the family’s meager home at the refugee camp’s entrance, not far from the scene of the incident.
It’s the same home I visited in February 2002, after which I wrote the column “Sami Kosba’s 40 days.” In this dwelling the sons have been taken at an incomprehensible rate.
“No one forgets his sons,” Sami says dryly, glancing at the commemorative posters for Yasser and Samer, to which Mohammad’s has now been added. (There’s also a joint poster of all three dead boys on the home’s wall).
“This officer who killed Mohammad wanted to punish the person who threw a stone at his car," Sami adds. "I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if it was Mohammad or someone else. But what difference does that make? Was he endangering the officer’s life at the time he was shot? To leave the jeep and shoot my son in the back? When people on the Israeli side are killed, Israel leaves no stone unturned and finds whoever did it and puts them on trial. But when they kill our people, is anyone tried?”
The father’s face hasn’t changed much since our previous meeting, during his earlier bereavement: the same fatigue and gloominess, the same anguish and pain and dry eyes – and the same inner strength, which is so hard to understand. There are no tears in this house, certainly not in the presence of strangers, only faces steeped in great suffering.
In the years that passed since Sami lost two sons, he had to deal with the serious wound sustained by his son Thamer, who was shot in the stomach for no clear reason in 2007, in the supermarket where he worked in, during an IDF raid. Thamer is still suffering, both physically and mentally. After he recovered he was tried and convicted of stone-throwing; his father says he had to pay a fine of 20,000 shekels (about $5,000). Sami continues to provide for his family from the earnings of his small kiosk next to the refugee camp’s school. Mohammad helped out there during summer vacations, including the current one.
Last Friday, Mohammad went to pray in the mosque at 4 A.M., and afterward ate the pre-fast Ramadan meal with his father. Sami went back to sleep, Mohammad headed for the Qalandiyah checkpoint. He hoped he would be able to sneak into Jerusalem, in order to pray at Al-Aqsa. He’d succeeded the week before, but the procedures for entering Jerusalem had been toughened since then as punishment for the killing of Malachi Rosenfeld near the settlement of Shvut Rachel a few days earlier. Sami tried to persuade his son not to try to get to Al-Aqsa. “It’s dangerous,” he told him.
At about 7 A.M., the eldest son, Taher, woke his father to tell him that Mohammad had been wounded and was in the Ramallah Government Hospital. About an hour earlier, around 6 A.M., the family’s youngest child, 10-year-old Iman, had called Mohammad to ask him where he was. He told her he was helping direct traffic next to the Qalandiyah checkpoint.
Sami and Fatma rushed to the hospital, but Mohammad was no longer among the living.
Taher, 32, now shows us photographs of his brother’s body, on his computer, with all the entry and exit points of the bullets and the congealed blood around the nose. He also has a video clip showing the removal of the bullet from his brother’s face at the hospital, after his death. Sami’s sister, Fathiya, collapsed when she heard the news and has been hospitalized since at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; she has a blue Israeli ID card. Fatma, the mother, is closeted in her room, and Sami received the few condolence callers who arrived during our visit.
Everything is in God’s hands, he says.