This year, an al-Nakba (the catastrophe) demonstration in the West Bank to mark 66 years of Palestinian displacement and occupation turned deadly.
For two Palestinian families, al-Nakba is now more than just a word. It is a heartbreaking reality.
On 15 May Nadeem Siam Nawarah, aged 17, and Mohammed Mahmoud Odeh Abu Daher, aged 16, were shot and killed by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at a protest outside Ofer military prison, near Beituna, a village close to Ramallah. They were there to mark the ethnic cleansing and displacement of 750,000 – 900,000 Palestinians in 1948 and to stand in solidarity with 100 Palestinian hunger-striking prisoners who are being held under administrative detention.
The circumstances surrounding the killings have caused controversy and renewed condemnation over the Israeli administration’s occupation of the West Bank.
The contradictions between the Israeli and Palestinian narratives are never more obvious than during Israelis’ independence celebrations and the Palestinians’ marking of the Nakba.
But it is not just the historical narratives that differ. It is also those which describe events such as the killings of these two teenagers.
Video footage recorded by entrepreneur Fakher Zayed, who has cameras installed around his four-storey residential building in Beituna show that the two boys were shot at almost the same spot, 73 minutes apart.
CNN producer Kareem Khadder was filming the demonstration, only realizing later that day that he had footage of the two Israeli soldiers firing their rifles at the same moment that Nadeem was shot, at 1.45pm.
Last week, CNN released the video of the incident, showing that just 15 seconds after the shots were fired Nadeem was carried away from the scene to an ambulance. Two hours after arriving at the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah he died from the single gunshot wound that had entered his chest and exited through his back.
The teenager had been wearing his school backpack over both shoulders and was walking towards the soldiers. The bullet pierced his backpack and his parents found it days later inside the bag (a ballistics report is still pending).
At 2.58pm, the shooting of Mohammad [pictured below, credit: Facebook] was recorded by Fakher’s security cameras. He was walking away from the soldiers when a bullet entered his back and passed through his chest. He was also rushed to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Neither boy was throwing stones nor acting in a way that could be deemed to pose an imminent threat to life when they were killed.
Another boy, Mohammad al-Azzeh, aged 15, was seriously injured by shots to his back and left lung, and a 23-year-old man (who wishes to remain anonymous) was lightly injured by a shot below his left elbow.
Allegations not apologies
Israeli officials quickly reported that live ammunition was not used to kill these boys. In an account from Israeli military spokesperson Libby Weiss, she states that some of the 150 demonstrators threw fire bombs, burned tyres and ignored the orders of the soldiers and border police. In return, as a means of dispersing the crowd, teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets were used.
A senior military spokesperson interviewed by the Guardian said that the released videos may have been ‘forged’ or edited to ‘misrepresent the extensive Palestinian violence that day’.
Despite his colleague having recorded footage of the shootings, CNN ‘analyst’ and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren went so far as to suggest that the killings were the ‘staged’ work of Palestinians. In response, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem posted seven and a half hours of unedited video on YouTube.
B’Tselem has stated that the fatal wounds ‘are completely consistent with injuries caused by live fire and could not have been caused by rubber-coated bullets – especially not when fired at a relatively long range, as was the case here.’
Speaking to the New York Times Rajai Abu Khalil, an emergency-room doctor who attempted to save the life of Nadeem [pictured left, credit: Facebook], stated that he had no doubt the boys were killed by live fire. ‘There were exit wounds,’ the doctor recalled. When they opened Nadeem’s chest, he said, ‘his heart was just destroyed.’
While Israeli officials would rather the debate stopped at whether or not live fire was used, the question now being asked is not ‘if’ but ‘who’. Close examination of the CNN video suggests that the soldier in the footage does appear to be firing an M16 rifle equipped with an extension attached to the barrel that allows it to fire rubber-coated bullets. But another group of Israeli soldiers was positioned behind a concrete blast wall on the edge of Ofer prison car park about 200 metres from where Nadeem and Mohammed were hit – out of the range of rubber bullets. An eyewitness said that it was there he saw a commander choosing targets through binoculars.
Whether it was one soldier or another that killed the boys doesn’t change the fact that two more young Palestinian lives were lost that day. According to Defence for Children International Palestine (DCI-Palestine), so far this year four children have been killed by Israeli soldiers. Since 2000, over 1,400 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli military and settlers in the West Bank.
‘Israeli forces continue to use excessive force and recklessly fire live ammunition and rubber coated bullets on unarmed protesters, including children, killing them with impunity,’ says Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. ‘While Israel claims to open investigations into such incidents, they are not transparent, and seldom result in a soldier being held accountable.’
The parents of Nadeem and Mohammed used the opportunity of Pope Francis’ 25 May visit to Palestine to appeal to him to speak out against the killings and other injustices committed against the Palestinian people.
The US State Department and the UN have called for Israeli authorities to conduct an investigation into the killings. UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco says: ‘It is of serious concern that initial information appears to indicate that the two Palestinians killed were both unarmed and appeared to pose no direct threat.’
The soldier who was seen shooting towards Nadeem in the CNN video has been suspended. But the lack of an independent inquiry and a culture of impunity mean it is unlikely that the families will receive the answers, or the outcome, that they are looking for.
With thanks to Samer Nazzal for the main and slideshow image. See his eyewitness photos of the demonstration.