A group of youths, or perhaps we should say children, take a small Palestinian flag that is spread on the ground and an olive branch propped up by stones and silently move them to a new location a few meters away. Then they spread the flag out again, collect some rocks from between the olive trees, place them in a circle and stick the olive branch in the center. What preceded this activity was the discovery that the monument they had created for their friend, Mohammed Daadas, who was killed before their eyes a week ago, had not been placed in the right spot – i.e., exactly where the 15-year-old was standing when he was shot and killed – but nearby. Now they were moving the makeshift memorial to the correct place.

These young people have grown up prematurely and seen death from close-up, at an age when many of their peers have probably never seen the bodies of their friends.

This group lives in the New Askar camp adjacent to Nablus, in the northern West Bank. Last Friday, November 5, around 20 or 30 youths went to the olive groves in the village of Deir al-Hatab to demonstrate opposite the settlement of Elon Moreh and its outposts, and against the Israel Defense Forces soldiers deployed there. Demonstrations are not held here every week, but the protracted hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the relentless, violent attacks by local settlers on Palestinian olive harvesters and farmers prompted the group to head to the nearby village, which has been dispossessed of its lands.

After a walk of four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the refugee camp, they reached the olive groves of Deir al-Hatab. About 20 soldiers were already positioned opposite them, on the other side of the low stone walls that separate the plots belonging to different farmers, about 50 meters from the young demonstrators. It’s an ongoing ritual: stone throwing by kids, hurling of tear gas and shots in the air on the part of IDF soldiers, shouting and curses from both sides.

It was about 3:30 P.M. The groves are behind the school, within the village proper, far from any Israeli settlement or any road. A single illegal outpost that sprouted from Elon Moreh is visible in the distance, on the hill across the way. But even at such a remove, people are not allowed to demonstrate; here too soldiers wait in ambush for them, provoke them and sometimes also shed their blood.

On Monday we drove from New Askar to Deir al-Hatab with three of the young residents of the camp who took part in last Friday’s demonstration: Jihad, 14; Hani, 14; and Yusuf, 15. Also accompanying us was Abdulkarim Sadi, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, who is from the city of Tul Karm. The three young teens still looked shell-shocked from what they had witnessed a few days earlier, but none of them cried. They were part of a group of four or five in this particular place, while their friends dispersed elsewhere. One of the stones they threw hit a soldier, who immediately took aim with his rifle and shot their friend Mohammed Daadas, they explain.

Mohammed grabbed his stomach, hunched over and collapsed on the ground. “I’ve been hit,” he shouted to his friends, but they didn’t believe him. Only when he raised his bloodstained hand did they grasp what had happened, the youths tell us. Quickly they ran to him and carried him to the nearest house, where they called for help. Mohammed cried out, “Mom! I want my mother, bring my mother.” Those were his last words before he lost consciousness.

A private car owned by a resident of Deir al-Hatab rushed Mohammed to Rafadiya Hospital in Nablus, and meanwhile all the demonstrators began to head there. A shared taxi passed by and the driver took nine of them to the hospital. They had no money; the driver took them for free. About 50 other children and teenagers also arrived at the hospital from the demonstration and the refugee camp. They thought their friend would survive, but not long afterward they were informed that Mohammed was dead.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit responded as follows to a query from Haaretz: “On November 5, 2021, a disturbance took place on a road near the settlement of Elon Moreh, within the area of the Shomron [Samaria] territorial brigade, during which the rioters threw stones at IDF fighters at the site. The force responded with crowd-dispersal means and with live fire. In the wake of a report that was received about a Palestinian being killed, a Military Police investigation has been launched; at its conclusion the findings will be passed on for examination by the military advocate general.”

“You came here as human beings and we very much appreciate it,” the uncle of the dead teen, who shares the same name, Mohammed Daadas, tells us in flowery Hebrew. “It is a great burden upon our backs to convey the message that we are human beings.”

In the diwan in New Askar, mourners sit and receive condolence calls. Amjad Daadas, a tall, slightly built man of 45, is the bereaved father. Mohammed was his eldest child and only son; he and his wife, Najela, 37, have two daughters, Asil, 13, and Dalin, 11. Amjad is a construction worker who is currently helping to build a new house at 35 Hahayil Street in Ramat Gan. His dead son was in 10th grade in the camp’s Mohammed Amin al-Saadi School, run by the UNRWA. This family’s refugee origins lie in the village of Arab Abu Kishk, “north of the house of [IDF General] Moshe Dayan,” according to the uncle, Mohammed – near the Morasha neighborhood in today’s Ramat Hasharon in central Israel.

Amjad’s voice betrays him when he talks about his son. He was an outstanding student, the father says; he loved soccer and computer games, and above all dreamed of being a press photographer. To that end he took a course at a photography school in Nablus. For half a year he made the trip to that city twice a week; he completed the course about a month ago and received a certificate of excellence. His picture, in which he posed with a camera loaned to him by the school, was posted on social media after his death. He didn’t own a camera and took pictures with his cellphone, which his family cannot unlock since they don’t know his password; the images he took could go with him to his grave without being seen by others. His last project during his course was a photo shoot in Gamal Abdul Nasser Park in the center of Nablus.

Occasionally he would go with friends to demonstrate against the occupation, Amjad tells us: “He is part of the people, and like every other boy he sees what is going on and takes part.” Worried that his father would not let him go to the protests, Mohammed would tell him that he was going to play soccer – which is exactly what happened last Friday. The family got up around 9:30, father and son went to pray as usual, but this time at two different mosques – Amjad in a mosque outside the refugee camp, his son in Askar. They got home at noon and had lunch. Amjad went for a nap and Mohammed said he was going out to play with friends. Friday. It was a fine day.

Amjad bursts into tears now. When he woke up, he says, he saw that there were a number of unanswered calls on his phone. In the meantime, neighbors arrived and told him that Mohammed had been injured and evacuated to Rafadiya. His father rushed to the hospital. The physicians tried to calm him down, explaining that his son was in the operating room and was being cared for. The boy was in critical condition; the bullet that had slammed into him severely damaged his stomach tissue. Shortly afterward, the physicians gave him the terrible news.

Uncle Mohammed, who said he wishes he could talk to Israeli soldiers and tell them that Palestinians are human beings just like them, is convinced that his nephew and namesake was killed as a result of deliberate policy. “There is a procedure to kill children so they will not grow up; to put an end to their lives so that they will not resist the injustice and the oppression.”

For his part, Amjad says he has mixed feelings. While inconsolable after his son’s death, he apparently finds some solace in the thought that his son “has gone to God, who is more merciful than all people and more than our lives are here.”

Young Mohammed Daadas was buried in the New Askar cemetery at midday on Saturday, with all his classmates in attendance.