A Palestinian Plumber Was Shot Dead by Israeli Troops While Trying to Fix a Water Outage

Why did the soldiers kill this man? And why is Israel refusing to return his body?

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Leith Shurafi holding a mourning poster for his father Shadi, who was killed last week.
Leith Shurafi holding a mourning poster for his father Shadi, who was killed last week. Credit: Alex Levac

The press conference, if you can call it that, was pathetic. Sad. Hopeless. Some two dozen elderly men – functionaries of the Palestinian Authority and local notables, together with the bereaved father and the grieving son – stood at the entrance to their village under the broiling noontime sun, holding large posters. The microphones of local television stations were passed from hand to hand, the speeches were delivered, the lofty rhetoric was uttered – and everyone knew that their words were just blowing in the wind.

The setting, too, was pathetic. The demonstrators were poised between the village’s wholesale produce market and its stone-cutting factory, amid putrid piles of rotting fruit, mostly mango, and the refuse of the factory. Behind them was parked a truck that carried the inscription, in Hebrew, as though by invitation, “Millions of people can’t be wrong” – the slogan of the St. Moritz company, which manufactures cleaning and pest-extermination products.

Whether millions are right or wrong, this village, Beita, which lies between Tapuah Junction and Nablus in the West Bank, declared the start of a campaign for the return of the body of one of its finest sons, the village plumber, Shadi Shurafi. He was killed last week on Tuesday evening by Israel Defense Forces soldiers from the Kfir Brigade – as he stood next to what are apparently the village’s main water valves, down the road from its entrance, holding a monkey wrench.

The leaders of the village and the PA officials have threatened that until the family of the deceased plumber receives his body for burial, there will be no quiet around here. According to the officials, Israel is – appallingly – holding the remains of about 300 Palestinians, within the framework of the profiteering from bodies that’s going on, which is supposedly intended to bring about the return by Hamas of the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip in 2014, Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul.

Everyone knows that the soldiers’ bodies, as well as the two captive Israeli civilians being held in Gaza, will be returned only in exchange for live Palestinian prisoners serving time in Israeli jails. But why not hoard bodies and ratchet up the pain of the families of the Palestinian dead?

Saad Shurafi, at the site where his brother Shadi was killed. A war has ensued over the return of the plumber’s body.Credit: Alex Levac

Residents of the militant village of Beita don’t intend to give in any time soon: They are convinced their plumber did nothing to justify being shot with live ammunition, while he was clearly on the job. During the press conference, which was comprised of a collection of declarations for the local media of Hawara and environs, Shurafi’s son, 13-year-old Leith, faced the cameras with a grim look, while the deceased’s father, Omar, fought hard to keep himself from bursting into tears.

The two were positioned below a stone monument bearing a map of Palestine, which functions like the gateway to the village. That morning, two IDF jeeps were parked at the entrance to the village, a few hundred meters away. The army knows in advance about every gathering that takes place here. A Palestinian ambulance was also on the scene, waiting for developments. Five Palestinian demonstrators have been killed here in the past few weeks, in the battle over the land of the nearby Evyatar settler outpost, which was forcibly taken away from several villages in the area. Four of those killed were from Beita, and now the plumber has been added to the list.

Speakers at the press conference on Monday, when we visited, were a reflection of the PA itself. Weary, expressionless, they delivered their spiels on autopilot. There was a representative of the Palestinian Ministry of Information, officials from other ministries and alongside them the omnipresent Khairi Hannoun, 62, a demonstrator from Anabta. He attends demonstrations throughout the West Bank wearing traditional Palestinian attire, a Palestinian flag attached to his cane and a keffiyeh on his head. He’s been dubbed the “Palestinian George Floyd,” because last September an Israeli soldier struck him while another pressed on Hannoun’s throat with his foot. Hannoun came out of it better than the original Floyd, and now he’s at the Beita demonstration.

At the conclusion of the speeches, we watched as the participants started marching toward the soldiers. Another army jeep was summoned and also some soldiers on foot, who took up positions along the road. The elderly demonstrators walked, arms linked, chanting, “With blood and fire we will redeem you, O martyr.” A few meters from the soldiers they stopped. A moment later the soldiers fired two tear-gas canisters at them, but the protesters held their ground despite the frightening noise and the stinging gas. They stood mutely opposite the soldiers, who behaved with relative restraint, possibly because they see that the demonstrators are the same age as their own grandfathers.

These soldiers are the children of our friends and the friends of our children, and now we were standing opposite them, blending in with the residents of Beita who are fighting to get a body back. These people are the “Goldins of Beita,” but without the publicized journeys abroad and PR machine of the Israeli family of one of the two soldiers whose remains have been held in Gaza for seven years. Israeli flags flap in the breeze on the lampposts on the main access road to the village, as though this were sovereign Israeli territory.

Leith, Shadi Shurafi's son, at the site of his father's death.Credit: Alex Levac

After a short time the demonstrators turned around and headed for the renovated hall in the center of the village, where they paid their respects to the grieving family. Omar, who had held back his tears during the press event, could no longer contain himself and began weeping bitterly, uncontrollably, the villagers hugging him. Leith’s young face was emotionless, traumatized. He was wearing a yellow T-shirt with the words “Dolce & Gabbana” inscribed on it. Besides him, Shurafi also left behind three other children, all younger then Leith.

Their father was employed for 17 years by the village council as a plumber, and he also worked in neighboring villages, including the town of Hawara. He drove a 2015 BMW X5 jeep, with which he left his house last Tuesday after 10 P.M. Why did he go out? Where did he go? Why did he stop next to the collection of valves opposite the settlers’ small reservoir for drinking water? It’s not clear. His brother Saad, 43, relates that Shurafi was summoned both day and night, and frequently, to check the local water system, as he was that fateful night, when the water supply to the villagers had stopped. The system is very poor and the supply is frequently disrupted.

Saad saw his brother that afternoon, he told us, as he was filling the little pool he had placed on the roof of his house for the children. The local council called his brother that evening, Saad says, and asked him to see about the water outage. He drove his jeep to the entrance of Beita, then turned south on Highway 60. He parked a short distance from the village, next to a junkyard, the only spot where parking is possible on that main highway, which has no shoulders at all. He got out of his vehicle and walked back a few dozen meters, then crossed the highway eastward, exactly like we did this week with his bereaved brother and son. It was the first time they’d been there since their loved one was killed.

On one side of the highway is a small reservoir and other water installations that are protected by a guard armed with a machine gun – as it was when we were there this week. On the other side are pipes and valves and faucets enclosed by a fence that has holes in it. That’s where Shurafi headed. The valves and so on are a few meters away from the highway, beyond its safety rail, on a slope. Behind them lies an olive grove. There are no warning signs indicating that entry is forbidden. According to Saad, all the water-related mechanisms there are connected to Beita’s supply.

It was 10:30 P.M., and other than Shurafi and his killers there was apparently no one around. In the houses not far from the road people were still out and about and suddenly heard gunfire shattering the quiet. The residents later told Saad that they counted about 12 shots. At 11:30 P.M., Saad read on Facebook that his brother had been killed by soldiers.

Shadi Shurafi's father, Omar, center.Credit: Alex Levac

What happened there?

A statement issued by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit after the incident said that Shurafi had advanced quickly toward the Kfir soldiers, holding what looked to them like an iron rod. They fired into the air, he didn’t stop – and they killed him.

In response to a query from Haaretz, the spokesperson wrote: “In the wake of the incident, a Military Police investigation has been launched, at the conclusion of which the findings will be forwarded for examination by the military advocate general’s unit. The body is being held by the IDF in accordance with procedures. The issue of the return of the body is being examined by the relevant persons and is subject to the political decision makers.”

There were some neighbors who saw Shurafi get out of his vehicle carrying a monkey wrench and walking slowly toward the water valves. In a photograph published after his death a wrench is seen lying on the ground and next to it a pack of Marlboros and a bloodstain. The bloodstain was dry this week when we got there. Why did the soldiers kill this man? And why is Israel refusing to return his body?

On Monday this week Saad went to the Israeli Coordination and Liaison office in Hawara, in a desperate attempt to retrieve his brother’s body. A female officer told him politely, he relates, that they know his brother had a clean record and apparently didn’t do anything, but added that the return of his body is not in the hands of the Civil Administration. “She said that someone high up would decide and they would let me know.” The officer then gave him his brother’s ID card. He opens it now and bursts into tears.

In the meantime, the road leading out of Beita is completely blocked by protesters. After the village elders left the press conference, the young people showed up. A car ahead of us carried tires on its roof for burning, but there was no need for them as thick black smoke was already billowing above the road and at the entrance to the village. Stones were hurled with slingshots, tear-gas canisters were fired, and for a moment it seemed as though we were in a war – a war over the body of the plumber from Beita.

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