A gate in the separation fence near the town of Qaffin, north of Tul Karm, in the West Bank, is also known as crossing point No. 436, at least by the Israel Defense Forces. It's comprised of a barrier, electronic warning devices, security cameras and a yellow iron fence clamped shut, scorched and abandoned. The soil, too, is black, from the tires that were burned here by protesters; only the blood has disappeared from the surface of the earth. In fact, a great deal of blood was spilled here a few weeks ago – that of 20-year-old Bader Harashi, who bled to death after being shot in the neck by a soldier.
A few dozen Palestinians were burning tires and throwing stones from the eastern side of the fence and gate; five IDF soldiers and an armored jeep were on the western side. Suddenly the right front door of the jeep opened, a rifle was thrust out and a soldier or officer fired a single shot into Harashi’s neck. Less than 15 meters separated the troops and the demonstrators, the high separation barrier making things difficult for the stone throwers. And only a few minutes separated the exchange of remarks between a soldier and Harashi, before he was struck down.
“You should be ashamed of yourself. Why are you here? Go back to your village, to your wife and family,” Harashi shouted in Arabic to the soldier, who was apparently a Druze – a fact that might have sealed Harashi’s fate. “I came here to break your head,” the soldier retorted in Arabic, before leaving with his four buddies. They had been standing opposite the protesters on the other side of the gate and they walked back to their armored vehicle, parked up the road, and got in. Then the same soldier returned in the jeep, opened the door and shot Harashi to death.
That was the course of events, as several eyewitnesses related to Abdulkarim Sadi, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which is also in possession of their names. On one rather stormy day this week, we walked with Sadi near the fence, trying to reconstruct the circumstances of the killing of a young man who had never before been in trouble with Israel.
It was quiet now, and a cold wind blew across the deserted structures that had been used by the army here: a lean-to and a concrete block on the western side of the fence, and a few concrete blocks where we stood, on the eastern side. A few dozen meters up the patrol road, there’s an opening in the fence that was made long ago. It’s not a secret that some residents of Qaffin use the breach to enter Israel to work there; alternately, soldiers open the yellow gate three times a week to give them access to their land, on the western side.
At least 500 people in Qaffin (whose overall population is roughly 10,000) have a permit to work in Israel. The town’s proximity to the Green Line has made it a convenient home for these people, who are generally considered to be good at construction. That’s also why Qaffin is known as a tranquil village. Indeed, before the protest against President Trump’s so-called peace plan on Friday, February 7, no one can remember the last time local residents demonstrated.
The night before, the IDF had killed a Palestinian police officer, Tarek Badwan, inside a police station in Jenin (see last week’s column). The event incensed residents of Qaffin, and was responsible, together with the Trump scheme, sent people into the streets for a spontaneous protest.
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In a spacious house in the heart of town, Nidal Harashi, 50, mourns the death of his son. But he is also anxious about the family’s future: Not only did they lose their beloved son and brother, at age 20, but Israel has revoked the work permits of Nidal and his three other sons. (He also has three daughters.) That’s customary when dealing with most bereaved Palestinian families, to foil any possible impulse they may have to avenge the killing. Thus, such families are punished twice – by a pointless death and by being deprived of their livelihood. Nidal’s face says it all.
Until the day of the disaster, Nidal had worked for a company with the poetic name of Building Little America, Building and Development Company. He had been with the company for 10 years, first working on building a mall in Hod Hasharon, and more recently on a project in Holon. He would leave Qaffin on Sunday morning and return home from Holon on Thursday evening, spending the nights in a container next to the skeleton of the building he was working on.
After finishing 7th grade, Bader also went to work in Israel – in Baka al-Garbiyeh, on the other side of the separation barrier. After three years of construction and renovation jobs, he had worked for the past two years in a carpentry shop, which is where he was Thursday, the day before he was killed. After work, he went to An-Najah University Hospital in Nablus to visit his mother, Ilham, 48, who had been hospitalized there three days earlier for a heart ailment. He spent the last night of his life with his mother, and took her home the next morning, following her discharge. They say at home that because Bader was the only son who wasn’t married yet, he was the closest to his mother. Now, following his death, her condition has worsened; she rarely leaves her room, and does so mainly to pay visits to the doctor.
At midday Friday, the family gathered at the house of another of the sons, Mohammed, to mark Ilham’s return. They went home about 2 P.M., and Bader asked if he could use the family’s car. Nidal says he didn’t tell them where he was going; he just got into the Kia car and disappeared. It emerges that he drove to the separation fence, about a kilometer away, and parked the car near it. A few dozen young people from town were already there, throwing stones and setting tires ablaze. Qaffin itself was quiet. It was a sunny day.
Nidal was taking his Friday afternoon nap when Mohammed suddenly burst in and roused him, shouting “Get up, Bader has been wounded!” He told his stunned father that Bader had been taken to the Thabet Thabet Hospital in Tul Karm, and the family rushed there.
Bader had been evacuated by a Palestinian ambulance parked not far from the fence, but apparently succumbed to his injuries on the way: The bullet had struck a major artery in his neck, causing profuse bleeding. The physicians at the hospital tried to revive him and also, initially, to conceal from Nidal and Ilham that their son had died – but Nidal had already grasped that, he says now. Ilham fainted and was taken for treatment. The doctors told them that they were still trying to arrange for the dying Bader to be moved to an Israeli hospital, but then the local council head arrived and informed them of his death.
The Harashi family is large, and thousands of people attended the funeral the following day.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office issued the following statement to Haaretz this week: “On Friday February 7, a violent disturbance developed at the security fence adjacent to the village of Qaffin, in the jurisdiction of the Menashe Regional Brigade, during which dozens of Palestinians three stones and hurled Molotov cocktails at the IDF soldiers, endangering the forces. During the disturbance, the fighters identified a Palestinian who was thowing a Molotov cocktail at them, and they responded with fire to remove the threat.
“In the wake of the event, the Criminal Investigation Division opened an inquiry, and at its conclusion, the findings will be passed on to the military advocate general.”
There are no photos of Bader in the house of mourning itself; no posters on the walls, no banners of Palestinian organizations flying from the roof. Their mourning is personal here, and is now gradually turning into dread. Nidal and his three remaining sons, Anas, Mohammed and Motasim, can no longer work in Israel, and thus four families have lost their livelihood – because one member of their family was shot down under circumstances that apparently did not justify the use of live ammunition. Naturally, no one bothered to tell the men about the revocation of their permits. Then, last Sunday, as they set out for Israel again for the first time, they were told at the checkpoint that they were not allowed to enter for security reasons, and were ordered to report in 30 days to the District Coordination and Liaison office, where they would be told if and when the permits would be returned.
A parting shot, from the hospital: Bader, dead, his neck bandaged, cotton stuffed into his bleeding nose. Nidal shows us this last photo of his dead son on his mobile phone, and says: “If this boy had been a Jew, the whole West Bank would have been sealed off. Why are we now also being punished by being denied our livelihood?”
That question, along with a few other tough ones that hang in the air, still has no answer in the town of Qaffin.