Bethlehem Aida camp under siege
In the minutes before an Israeli sniper killed Abed al-Rahman Obeidallah, he may have noticed a large memorial for the 556 children killed during Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer.
He certainly would have seen Bethlehem Aida refugee camp’s 9-metre long Key of Return – the symbol of Palestinian refugees’ right of return – when he pointed his gun at 1.42pm on a sunny afternoon on 5 October.
The soldier, about 40 years of age, knew that 13-year-old Abed was wearing a blue school uniform and carrying a school bag as he looked through the crosshairs of his rifle.
He saw the UN sign above Abed’s small 1.6-metre frame when he fired a 0.22 calibre bullet directly at the boy’s chest.
For Palestinians, Abed’s murder is a reminder that the UN neither protects them in life nor speaks out for them in death.
‘All the camp is sad,’ says Umm Mohammed, a friend of Abed’s mother, Dalal. The mother of 6 fights back her tears. ‘He was one of our children.’
Abed’s death comes at a time of increased tensions across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For weeks Israeli rightwing groups have occupied the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, accompanied by Israeli soldiers. Access for Palestinians has been limited and worshippers assaulted.
Israeli forces killed 2 Palestinians in separate shootings in Hebron and Doura village, near Hebron, on 22 September. The following week, on 1 October, 2 Israeli settlers were shot dead by a Palestinian near Nablus; 2 others were killed in East Jerusalem’s old city 2 days later. This provoked a violent response from Israeli settlers and the Israeli military.
On 4 October, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society declared a state of emergency after 14 attacks on the Society’s ambulances and crew, settler 'price-tag’ attacks, and bullets fired by Israeli forces left more than 100 Palestinians injured in 3 days.
Today sees the 9th consecutive day of clashes in Bethlehem between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth outside Aida camp (population 6,000), next to Israel’s separation wall. Ambulances are on standby and debris, stones, spent rubber bullets and empty teargas canisters line the road. In the camp, residents watch the clashes from their roofs and balconies, running inside when soldiers fire teargas into the camp.
The sense of frustration with the Palestinian Authority and the international community is growing. No-one is sure what will happen next but while the 3 day official mourning period is over, the loss of Abed and the almost certain impunity for his killer will not be forgotten.