Ghazal was born eight months ago. She’s a big baby and has tiny earrings. On Monday of this week her family sat her under an olive tree in the grove they own, in the center of a small circle of stones on which bloodstains are still visible. Ghazal smiled, naturally having no notion about where her grandfather and her uncle had placed her. The bloodstains are her father’s: It spilled from his head when an Israel Defense Forces sniper shot and killed him from a distance, three days before our arrival.
The bloodstains are scattered across dozens of meters on the rocks in this well-tended olive grove, the route of the victim’s evacuation. Her father sat here last week, under his trees, and from high up on the hill across the way a sniper aimed his rifle and fired one shot that slammed into his head and shattered his skull. Photographs of the blasted head and the spilled brains are shocking. If only the sniper could see them. He would not shoot again. If only he were also to see the baby’s grandfather, Muhammad Khabisa’s bereaved father, and his bereaved brother, her uncle, seating the fatherless infant in the spot where her father fell just three days earlier. The deceased’s father, Ali, and his brother, Ibrahim, burst into heartrending tears. They are joined by the dead man’s friends, who have also gathered around the olive tree. A poster with the victim’s photograph is wrapped around the tree. Someone is making a video of the event, to be shown to Ghazal when she is older.
Ghazal was the only child of Muhammad Khabisa, a house painter of 28 from the village of Beita. The IDF sniper who shot him last Friday did so with live ammunition, with the intent to kill. That’s the IDF’s way, sometimes, to put an end to the village’s demonstrations against the unauthorized settler outpost Evyatar, which was built illegally on Beita’s land in May. The settlers were subsequently removed, but the structures are still intact and the land has not been restored to its owners. Mount Sabih, Beita’s mount of olives, with cultivated groves on its slopes, is topped by the abscess of Evyatar. Eight people have been killed in the demonstrations here since May, seven of them from Beita. The blood is on the hands of the settlers, the defense minister and the IDF.
It’s impossible not to remember the merry performances by the settler big shot Daniella Weiss after the establishment of this lawless protrusion, her face wearing a wicked smile. The defense minister who ordered the evacuation, the IDF that guards the site day and night, and Weiss and the settlers all know that Evyatar is here to stay, that its evacuation was just a passing wink at the rule of law. But in Beita they say, We will not give up. “Maybe after you fire 15,000 bullets and kill the whole village, the land will be yours,” says the deceased’s uncle, Musa Khabisa, today. The baby, who can’t talk yet, is sitting on the earth that is saturated with her father’s blood, surrounded by the weeping of the mourning men, and the brazen, provocative structures of Evyatar on the mountain. The blood boils.
Beita’s community center is situated deep inside the village. Its walls are covered to the ceiling with photographs of those who fell over the past few months, the months of killing since Evyatar’s establishment. From the jurist Dr. Issa Daoud, who was killed by IDF troops on May 14, the first to fall in this protest campaign, and whose bereaved brother is now sitting with us in the community center, to the house painter Muhammad Khabisa, the latest victim, killed on September 24, whose family is now mourning him. Seven killed from this village and one more from the neighboring village, Yatma. Seven of the eight were killed in demonstrations, and one, the village plumber, Shadi Shurafi, who was opening a water line at the entrance to the village and was killed by soldiers in the evening of July 27.
Muhammad Khabisa married his cousin, Malik, a 21-year-old studying at Al-Quds Open University to be a special-education teacher, about 18 months ago. Ghazal is their first child. Ali Khabisa, 58, the dead man’s father, is a laborer who has worked in Israel most of his life. Muhammad also worked in Israel, in the periods when he succeeded in obtaining a work permit. Last Thursday, Malik, Muhammad and Ghazal visited the grandparents at their home, which is about 500 meters from their house. It was the last time they were all together. Now the exterior of the young couple’s is adorned with a large poster depicting Muhammad hugging Ghazal in a huge mourning poster. Ghazal is suddenly brought into the room in the community center where the mourning period is being observed, and her grandfather cannot contain his tears. Abdulkarim Sadi, the local field researcher for the Israel human rights organization B’Tselem, also cannot remain dry-eyed.
An oppressive silence descends on the room. Musa, the uncle, who’s 49, says, “It is important for us that the parents of the soldier who sent their son to the West Bank to kill people who have babies at home should understand what is going on here.” Ali, the bereaved father, says he wants to recruit Israeli attorney Avigdor Feldman to place on trial the occupation, which behaves in this way and kills innocent people, and also to bring about the removal of Evyatar.
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On Fridays, the villagers go to pray and afterward, at about 11:30 A.M., most of the men head toward Mount Sabih, a distance of about two kilometers. The IDF builds roadblocks of dirt every week, to prevent vehicles from approaching, so the villagers walk. They did so last Friday, too; Ali didn’t join them that day.
At about 3:30 P.M., he got a call from the demonstrators: Your son was wounded. “I asked where my son is and they said he had been taken to An-Najah Hospital in Nablus,” Ali recalls. “What we know is that Muhammad was sitting under an olive tree and a sniper shot him from a distance of about 150 meters.” He and the neighbors rushed to the hospital, but he was told by a physician that his son was dead. He died instantly when his brain was shattered.
Musa, the uncle, says that the residents here want the world to know that they have the right to defend their lands. According to the demonstrators, after Muhammad was killed, soldiers fired tear-gas and stun grenades at those who tried to move the body to an ambulance that was waiting at the site. It’s also possible that the soldiers intended to confiscate the body.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued the following statement to Haaretz after the incident: “In the region of the Givat Evyatar outpost, which is in the area of the Shomron Territorial Brigade, there were violent riots with the participation of hundreds of Palestinians, who burned tires and threw stones at IDF soldiers. A claim about a Palestinian who was killed is known. The event is being investigated.”
“A claim is known.” What’s far better known is the question of why the IDF uses live fire against unarmed demonstrators who are hundreds of meters away, below the soldiers, and pose no danger to them. A video from last Friday shows a group of elderly demonstrators from the village standing quietly opposite IDF troops, until suddenly one of the soldiers fires tear-gas and stun grenades at the nonviolent group to chase them off their land. The director of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society branch in Nablus, Dr. Ghassan Hamdan, was wounded in that assault.
Villagers also show a photograph of an IDF major, armed and armored from head to foot, and say that he is the commander in the region and he is the one who gives the snipers the orders about whom to shoot. They are convinced that the soldiers choose a random target to bring about the end of the demonstration. Khabisa and his friends hid behind a stone wall in the olive grove, far from the soldiers who were high up on the hill that overlooks the demonstrators. It’s hard to understand why he was chosen to be the victim. There is no way to allege that the demonstrators endangered the soldiers in this situation.
The father-in-law of the deceased, Mohammed Bani Shamasi, says: “Instead of planning their lives, these young people are being pushed by the occupation into a very dark place. Two, three settlers established a settlement on our land, and then the whole Israeli army protects them. What is the difference between them and criminal gangs or mafia organizations? How long will the Palestinians live without justice? How long will this murder continue? It must end already.”
To which the father, Ali, adds, “When an Israeli is killed, everything is done to catch the person who killed him and to kill or punish him. But when our sons are killed, no one in Israel cares. We need a force to protect us. There is a vast difference between the Israelis for whom we have been working for years in Israel, and the government and the settlers we know here.”
Afterward, on the mountain, at the place where his firstborn, Muhammad, fell, his father picks a leaf from the olive tree under which his son was sitting, and puts it in his pocket as a keepsake.