A Cheerful Car Ride, a Final Selfie. Then Shots Fired by Israeli Troops

The Palestinian village of Deir Ballut didn’t lose anyone in the first two intifadas, until one young resident tried taking his sister to her driving test

Two soldiers running quickly toward the tent in the new outpost of Halamish, and settlers signaling something to them. That’s what Atallah Tamimi from the village of A-Nabi Saleh saw when he approached the traffic circle in his car. Then he saw a white car standing by the railing, on the right side of the road, a little bit after the trailers of the outpost. The rear window was shattered. An accident, he figured.

Then he noticed a Ford taxi that had stopped further up the road, and as he was about to pull over and stop himself, he saw that a man had slipped out of the driver’s seat of the car, was face down on the asphalt and bleeding profusely. Later on, Tamimi would realize that the two soldiers he’d seen running into the tent just a few meters away were involved in the shooting of the bleeding young man.

“I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, give me medicine,” Tamimi heard him murmuring when he got closer. A woman standing next to the young man was shouting and shouting.

Her name is Latifa Musa. She is 33, from the village of Deir Ballut. A few minutes earlier she’d been sitting in the front seat, alongside the driver, her younger brother Mohammed, 26. This was on Tuesday, October 31, at about quarter to nine in the morning.

They joked the entire ride from their village, and listened to favorite music. Latifa recoded a video of the two of them as "Salamat Salamat" played in the background. Before the two of them headed to Ramallah, Mohammed had driven some other family members to their olive grove, for the olive harvest. They had taken a picture with everyone smiling. Latifa had a driving test in Ramallah. Mohammad was supposed to pick up his truck-driving license, having recently passed the test. It meant a new start in life, hope for a steady income – which is why he was in such a good mood.

They didn’t find someone else to drive them to the big city. Mohammad suggested that they go in his car. Latifa was hesitant. His car had yellow, Israeli, plates – “mashtuba” (“erased”) often without a valid registration or insurance. In villages in Area B (where the Palestinian police cannot patrol), Palestinians buy old Israeli cars from their owners or from various car brokers. They are cheaper than the cars that are for sale in the Palestinian market. Sometimes the Israeli car owners inform their insurance company that the vehicle was stolen, but that’s not the buyer’s concern. Mohammed Musa’s family says the registration was still valid. “What could happen?,” Mohammed asked his hesitant sister.

Mohammed and Latifa approached the traffic circle south of A-Nabi Saleh. To their right was the entrance to the military base on the edge of the Halamish settlement. Opposite them was the outpost that was erected after the murder of the Salomon family in August. The outpost had since grown to house at least a dozen trailers and an asphalt road. Soldiers who guard the outpost, from behind big concrete and plastic cubes, block the entrance to the road that connects the area villages, and prohibit Palestinians from driving on it.

They entered the roundabout, and then a soldier aimed his rifle at Latifa. Another soldier was beside him.

Latifa in the hospital after the shooting.
Amira Hass

“I don’t know why they jumped out at us, where they suddenly came from,” she told Haaretz. “We were wondering what they wanted from us, and the soldier was still pointing the rifle at me.” She says she heard the other soldier say, “No.”

She thinks the two argued, and that one of the soldiers was against using weapons. She’s not sure if she saw him push up the other one’s rifle, or if she only thought that’s what happened or heard later what eyewitnesses told the press.

“There was a shot in the air,” she recalled. “Mohammed laid down over me, protecting me. That’s what a brother does for his sister, right? The car swerved, I raised the handbrake, the car went into the railing on the side of the road, there were shots. My brother opened the door. I got out of the car, turned around and stood next to my brother. He fell out of the seat and I started to shout. I didn’t yet realize that I’d been wounded in the shoulder.”

No soldier came to help her injured brother, she says, and Tamimi and another Palestinian witness confirm that. Tamimi called the Red Crescent. Pictures on social media show a Palestinian crew bandaging Mohammed, who is lying on the asphalt. The soldiers wouldn’t permit the Palestinian ambulance crew to transport the patient to Ramallah. Meanwhile, Tamimi decided to drive Latifa to the Istishari Hospital north of Ramallah.

Mohammed Musa

An Israeli ambulance arrived after 20 minutes, but a witness who spoke with Haaretz by phone says the crew did not rush to treat the wounded man, but first went to talk with the police who were there. The witness, who was the driver of the Ford, says he saw a soldier fire at the car, from behind. Pictures posted on social media show the car with its rear windshield shattered and bullet holes in the front windshield.

The image of the wounded man was broadcast on television almost immediately. Relatives who are Israeli citizens identified him, found out he was in Beilinson Hospital and rushed there. “The doctor was literally crying that she wasn’t able to save him,” one of the relatives tells Haaretz. She feels sure that if he would have reached the hospital sooner, he could have been saved.

Last Friday morning, in her hospital room, Latifa recounted her final moments with her brother, halting her tale now and then to speak on the phone with some of her uncles. She was trying to convince them to let her go to the funeral, which was scheduled for four in the afternoon, once the body would be returned from the autopsy at Abu Kabir.

“I have to see him, to say goodbye,” she said. “The doctor said that in my condition it will be okay for me to leave the hospital for a few hours, don’t worry. I won’t cry, I won’t fall apart, I promise.” She had already had one surgery on her shoulder, and was expected to have another. Her face was pale, she was hooked up to IVs, her wounded arm in a sling, and she had a black eye.

Her mother Zahar who sat at her bedside still couldn’t believe her young son is gone. He’s a rascal, she says with a smile. A rascal with a kind heart. “We were hoping for him to get married soon, now the funeral today will be his wedding,” said Latifa, angrily.

She said that on that Tuesday she also planned to see her eldest daughter Aisha, who was taking part in a course in Ramallah with visitors from abroad. What kind of course? “My daughter plays soccer,” she replied, as if it should be obvious. For 16 years, she lived in Brazil with her Palestinian-Brazilian husband. She and their five children are also Brazilian citizens. A year-and-a-half ago she decided to return to Palestine so her kids wouldn’t lose their language and culture. Now that their uncle has been shot dead, they ask: “Mom, why did we come here?”

On Friday, from about two-thirty in the afternoon, dozens of people from Deir Ballut waited by the entrance to the village for the arrival of the military vehicle that would transfer Musa’s body to a Palestinian ambulance. Two Border Police jeeps and border police officers were positioned nearby. To make sure there are no disturbances, it was said, but seeing them with their rifles and helmets felt like a provocation for the local residents.

The Palestinian ambulance, carrying Mohammed’s body, drew closer to the waiting crowd. The people rushed toward it and tried to look in the windows. One of the siblings entered the ambulance and came out wiping tears. Then the stretcher with the body was taken out and wrapped in a Palestinian flag. Several men carried it toward the family home, where Zahar and her daughter had come from the hospital. The number of people escorting the body kept growing. People came from neighboring villages, too. The narrow streets of the village were packed. A few Palestinian flags were waved, as were a couple of Fatah flags. A few slogans were shouted, but for the most part everyone marched in silence. Someone said to me: ‘This is the village’s first shahid. Before now, soldiers hadn’t killed any of our people, in either the first or second intifada.”

In silence, the crowd parted to let the stretcher-bearers enter the family’s yard. Dozens of women stood there surrounding the mother, supporting her as she said her final goodbyes to her son.