The family of Ghada Ibrahim Ali Sabateen, the Palestinian woman who was killed Sunday by Israeli army fire near the West Bank village of Husan, gathered in the living room of their parents’ home. Several times over, Sabateen’s mother, Huriah, viewed footage showing how her daughter died. She says she hasn’t slept since it happened. “Every time I close my eyes, I see in front of me how she fell, I can’t sleep,” she said.
Sabateen, 45, had left the family home on Sunday to visit relatives who live nearby. On her way back, she passed soldiers who had been stationed on the main road through the village. The Israel Defense Forces spokesman says she “approached [the soldiers] in a suspicious manner” and, after she failed to stop as ordered, they fired into the air, then fired at her lower body.
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No weapon was found on her body. The family says Sabateen suffered from problems with her vision, and eyewitnesses described her as acting at the time in a frightening, confused manner. Two eyewitnesses say that after one of the soldiers fired into the air, Sabateen tried to run in the direction of a nearby fence, then turned around and ran toward the soldiers.
Sabateen’s aunt, Mona, was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the killing. “I live nearby, and I heard the sound of gunfire, so I went out,” she said. Initially, she didn’t realize it was her niece who had been shot. She said it took 15 or 20 minutes before the troops allowed her to approach the site.
“I tried to get there, and the soldiers raised their weapons in my direction and told me I couldn’t. I told them she was the daughter of my sister – how can I stay away? I asked a soldier if they had anything on her, and he said no. Had she done something? He said no. The soldier told me, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” she recounted.
Sabateen’s brother, who also arrived at the scene, said the soldier prevented her from getting close and pointed his weapon at her. “Why did he shoot her? He could have pushed her away and she would have fallen to the ground,” said the aunt, appearing drained.
The shooting was recorded on camera by a journalist for Palestine TV who had come to do a piece on the army position and its effects on the lives of Husan’s residents. Behind the position, a fence was long ago erected to protect drivers on the highway from stone-throwing.
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Mohammad Sabateen, mayor of Husan, which is just west of Bethlehem, said the army position has been there for five years and isn’t always manned. Wednesday night, a 16-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israel Defense Forces fire after, according to the army, he threw a Molotov cocktail at the position, which is constructed from two pieces of concrete in the middle of the town.
Hani Fanon, Palestine TV journalist said he saw Sabateen cross the street toward a sidewalk where the position is located after a car passed in her direction. “She continued walking, and a soldier shouted at her, ‘Stop, stop’ and shot into the air. She panicked and started moving toward the fence … and then ran towards the soldiers.”
The whole incident took place in the space of a few seconds. “She was very scared, you could see that,” said Fanon.
Another eyewitness said the soldiers at the position have told residents not to use the sidewalk nearby. “I heard the soldier say to her, ‘Get back’ and then fire into the air. She put her hands on her ears and then ran behind the army position and they fired at her,” he said.
Sabateen’s family rejects any claims that she may have tried to commit suicide. “She was ill, that’s true, but her children were her life – it is a lie,” said one relative. They said Sabateen had planned to do some food shopping before returning home from her visit.
The family said Sabateen had lived in Jordan until 2018 with her Jordanian husband and six children, and worked as a math teacher. After the death of her husband, she returned with her children to Husan, her native village, and gave private lessons. Her parents were teachers until they retired, as is her sister. Another brother is a doctor and two others are engineers.
In the parents’ living room, five of her six children were sitting. The oldest daughter, Nur, is a mother of two and wasn’t there. Mansour, her 20-year-old brother, is studying accounting at university and works in construction in the Jewish settlement Beitar Illit with his younger brother Mahmoud. The youngest brother in the family is 11.
“She lived for us and to help us to improve our lives. She wanted us to study and was always happy with us,” said Mansour, his eyes filled with tears.
He said his mother feared the army, among other reasons, because she hadn’t lived in the West Bank for so many years and life under the occupation wasn’t familiar to her. “We saw the video of the shooting many times over. It makes us angry and sad – they killed her in cold blood,” said Mansour.
The family says the children will remain in the house. “I am afraid of the great responsibility. Now I have to raise and support my brothers,” said Mansour.
The 14-year-old daughter, Jamila, said she hasn’t looked at the video that shows her mother being killed. “I can’t do it. I get choked up just thinking about it,” she said. “There’s no hope here. It’s not like life in Jordan – here you’re afraid of getting killed.”
Mona, Ghada’s aunt, now agrees with that. “Since it happened, I’ve been frightened. I feel that if I go out shopping or walk around the neighborhood, it could also happen to me.”
The IDF said in response: “On April 10, 2022, an IDF force undertook the process of arresting a suspicious individual, which included firing into the air when a suspect ran towards them in a suspicious manner. When she failed to stop and continued towards them, the force fired a single bullet at her legs from a short range.
“The suspect received first aid on the spot by the soldiers. Evacuating her for further medical attention was delayed by the Palestinians who were in the area.
“The circumstances under which this happened are still being clarified.”