Recent tragic events in the West Bank

By Robin

We had some very good news the other day. 14 year old Ehab Barghouti is back home with his family, and is walking and talking again. Ehab is the boy I have referred to in previous letters who was shot in the head with a rubber coated steel bullet whilst standing towards the back of a demonstration in the village of An Nabi Saleh. The initial prognosis was dire, with little chance of survival. No-one expected him to make as good a recovery as he has so far made.

There can be no such recovery for Mohammed or Ussayed Qadous, both of whom were shot with live ammunition in the village of Iraq Burin, in the north of the West Bank, just a few hours after I wrote and sent my last update. Mohamed, aged 16, was shot through the chest. Ussayed, 19, was shot in the head. There had been some clashes when soldiers had invaded the edge of the village earlier in the day. Things had then seemingly calmed down, when Israeli military and border police jeeps sped into the village from another direction, arrested the first three people they saw, and then shot directly into a small group of young men who had gathered in the street.

Mohammed died on his way to the hospital. Ussayed died that night.

The Israeli military spin doctors went into overdrive, claiming for a long time that no live bullets had been used, despite clear evidence from the x-ray of Ussayed’s skull, with the bullet lodged within it, and the entry and exit wounds in Mohammed’s chest, which could not possibly be caused by anything else. They then did acknowledge that the x-ray showed a live bullet, but argued that the hospital could not prove it was an x-ray of Ussayed’s head. Then, they admitted that it was his head, but said it could not be proved whether the bullet came from an Israeli gun or from a Palestinian Authority policeman. This is a ludicrous suggestion, as anyone who has ever been anywhere near a demonstration would testify. Fellow ISMers who were in Iraq Burin that day, and who were witnesses to the killings, are absolutely clear that the boys were shot deliberately by Israeli border police at a range of perhaps 20 metres. The Israelis have now, finally, admitted that ‘mistakes’ may have been made that day. No-one here expects for a moment that the killers will be in any way held to account though.

Nor does anyone expect to see just punishment for the soldiers who shot two more men – Mohammed and Salah Qarawiq – in Awarta, a few miles from Iraq Burin, the day after Mohammed and Ussayed Qadous were killed. Both boys were aged 19 and were on their way to farm. The circumstances surrounding their deaths remain unclear. Soldiers say they shot the two because they were being attacked by them. This story seems highly dubious, not least because they initially claimed that the boys were attacking them with a pitchfork, but then changed this to say they were attacking them with a syringe. It is not immediately obvious how one could mistake a pitchfork for a syringe, or vice versa. From all accounts other than those of the military, it seems that the boys had been stopped for a security check, detained, and then shot in cold blood.

It is not only soldiers who seem almost totally immune from justice. The killer of Summar Said Radwan is also likely to face no repercussions for the murder. Summar was a 21 year old Palestinian woman, deliberately driven into by a settler as part of their ‘price tag’ policy, which has been defined as “hurting Palestinian residents and damaging their property” in response to what they see as violations of settler rights by the Israeli government or military (basically, any time the government moves to limit further settlement expansion, or tries to in any way limit the violence of the settlers). It is perhaps worth mentioning once again that the Israeli government and military give a staggering amount of support and protection to settlements, all of which are illegal under international law and which probably pose the single biggest barrier to any kind of just peace here. Summar was killed last Friday.

All these young people who have been murdered in the past few weeks were killed for the crime of being Palestinian. Mohammed Qadous, Ussayed Qadous, Salah Qarawiq, Mohammed Qarawiq and Summar Said Radwan – hard-to-remember Arabic names to most of you who will be reading this, names that are hard to associate perhaps with real people. But they’re not just statistics. The week after the killings, we were in Iraq Burin again. The minibus that took us there turned out to be the same one that had taken the boys to the hospital – the thin sheet spread beneath us the only thing dividing us from the blood stains on the seat on which Mohammed had died. Pictures of the boys are posted up everywhere. The anger and grief in that village is immense – emotions that are echoed across so much of Palestine.

What hope there is here does not come from the possibility of a resumption in peace talks. The Israeli government has done enough to ensure that a two-state solution is not now a realistic possibility – the expansion of settlements and the building of the wall have ensured that no viable Palestinian state could emerge. At best, you’d have a kind of Bantustan state, comprising fragments of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, all of which would still be under the thumb of the Israeli state that would almost entirely surround it. At the moment, of course, things are just getting worse by the day, as settlements continue to expand and the wall continues to be built. The best analogy of peace talks that I’ve heard is from a Palestinian who said, “It’s like we’re arguing over who gets to eat the last slice of pizza but, while we’re arguing, you’re eating it”. So, for there to be any hope, first and foremost, things need to stop getting worse. The wall then needs to be destroyed and people need to be given back land that has been stolen from them. This is something of a long shot to say the least, but it’s what people here are pushing for. As one member of the popular resistance said to me the other day, “Our duty now is not to decide whether a one- or two-state solution is right in the long-term. Our duty is to try to create an environment in which any kind of solution could be possible”.

I’ll use my remaining time here in Palestine to do anything I can to help them create that environment.