AR RAKEEZ, West Bank – Mohammad Abu Aram cried as he knelt in front of a pool of his son’s blood that had seeped into the dirt road.
A Palestinian flag marked the spot where the father of seven said his son Haron, 25, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers as they tried to confiscate a generator in this isolated hamlet in the occupied West Bank on the day. New Year’s Eve.
“My dear son, may God help you. What happened to us? ”Abu Aram said to himself as he accompanied NBC News days later to the scene of the shooting, which left his eldest son paralyzed.
As Haron languishes in a hospital, a question continues to torment his father: what could he have done to protect the young farmer?
In a series of interviews in the months following Haron’s shooting, Abu Aram, who at 51 has white stubble and is missing a few teeth, and his wife, Faresah, 47, detailed the growing pressures from the Israeli occupation on his family.
“Our lives have become more and more difficult since he was shot,” he said this week. “I don’t work at all, I’m in the hospital all day every day with him.
Contestation of accounts
Just days after the January 4 shooting, the Israel Defense Forces said their troops were attempting to confiscate and evacuate an “illegal building” in the nearby village of At-Tuwani, south of Hebron, on January 1 when they were attacked by Palestinians. A Palestinian, the statement said, was injured by live fire.
Haron’s family dispute this account and say the young man stood up for his neighbors’ right to own a generator. Their neighbors had complied with an Israeli order to stop building an agricultural shed, Abu Aram said, but they needed the generator to power their house.
Human rights groups say the shooting is another example of the “excessive” use of force deployed by the Israeli army against Palestinians in the occupied territories. It is also an indication, they say, of how Israel is using planning and construction, among other tools, to make life miserable for Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank.
“He is trying to make life impossible for these people to leave, as of their own choosing,” said Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for the Israeli group B’Tselem, which works to end the occupation, with reference to Palestinian farming communities. , like Ar Rakeez, in Area C of the West Bank.
Israel retains near-exclusive control – including over law enforcement, planning and construction – in Area C, which makes up about 60 percent of the West Bank. About 2.7 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and about 440,000 Jewish settlers, according to Peace Now, a group that campaigns for a Palestinian state.
The IDF said a military police investigation had been opened into the shooting and the findings would be submitted to the Military Advocate General’s Corps.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
The Israeli Civil Administration, the branch of the military responsible for civil affairs in the West Bank, has addressed questions about the incident and allegations that Israel is using planning and construction to pressure Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank, to the IDF. spokesperson.
The IDF spokesman returned the request for comment on the planning and construction allegation to the civilian administration.
“ Chronic uncertainty and threat ”
Abu Aram says his family has been living in a dark and damp cave since the IDF demolished their house last year. The Israeli Civil Administration has not confirmed that their house has been demolished, but NBC News has visited the cave where the family lives.
In Area C, construction by Palestinians is rarely allowed, rights groups say, and unlicensed structures have to be regularly demolished, “creating chronic uncertainty and threat, and encouraging people to leave,” according to the area. the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Most of Area C has been allocated for the benefit of Israeli settlements or the Israeli army, to the detriment of Palestinian communities,” says the website of the UN office.
In 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc around the world, Israel has stepped up demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, while so far this year it has advanced plans to build nearly 800 housing units. in the Jewish settlements in Zone C of the West. Bank and put out tenders for around 2,000 more, according to B’Tselem and Peace Now.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, territory captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967, for a future independent state. They consider, along with most of the international community, that the Israeli settlements there are illegal and constitute an obstacle to peace.
“Our father told us to protect our homes,” Abu Aram said, recalling his father’s advice on how to deal peacefully with “the enemy”.
“My father never told me that one day they would shoot my son,” he added.
Haron woke up in a good mood on January 1, his family recalls. He was hospitalized a few hours later, a bullet went through his neck and came out of his skull, according to his father.
The young farmer had attempted to take the generator out of the hands of the soldiers when the shot was fired, Abu Aram said.
The IDF said in the January 4 statement that when border police and troops were in At-Tuwani on January 1, around 150 Palestinians rioted and threw stones at them.
In a follow-up statement on Jan. 12, he said an investigation revealed that “it appears” the troops faced “deadly threats” while in the area, prompting a military commander firing warning shots in the air. The Palestinians then attacked him, causing a stray bullet to hit a Palestinian who was part of the riot, he added.
NBC News viewed a video made by a local boy that appears to show four men confronting a group of soldiers over a generator in Ar Rakeez. At one point, a hand-to-hand fight ensues and a gunshot can be heard before Haron is shown lying in the dirt.
B’Tselem says Israeli investigations into similar incidents have served to whitewash the offenses and are mostly closed without further action.
Haron, who has woken up from a coma, can make sounds but is paralyzed from the neck down, his mother, Faresah recently said.
But Abu Aram said this week that Haron’s condition worsened and he drifted in and out of consciousness. To make matters worse, he said, the young man’s fiancee l ‘left after the shooting.
“For the past two months I have tried to help him come to terms with the fact that he was paralyzed but I was unsuccessful. He cannot accept the fact that his fiancée has left him, ”said the distraught father.
The Haron shooting and the house demolition are perhaps the most visible examples of the continuing pressure the family claims to be under in the hills south of Hebron. However, his parents also say that Israeli settlers in the West Bank regularly harassed their families.
Rights groups say the hills south of Hebron are a hotspot for settler violence and that attacks on Palestinians are being used as an unofficial tool by Israel to drive out Palestinians.
Elnatan Scharia, spokesperson for the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization that represents Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said the council opposes any violence against anyone and that the violence in the area is coming from Palestinians.
Palestinians are regularly accused of violence against settlers in the West Bank, ranging from throwing stones to stabbing. But rights groups say when this happens, the military often takes action, while it often turns a blind eye to settler violence.
The IDF said security agents operate in the West Bank to maintain security and enforce the law to all populations, and that they work to prevent violations of the law by Israelis against Palestinians. Israel Police said they investigate when complaints are received for crimes of disorder and violence.
Meanwhile, ifs and regrets plague Abu Aram.
“I couldn’t protect my house from demolition and I disappointed my children,” he said, adding, “I want my son to come back to me.”
Lawahez Jabari reported from the West Bank; Saphora Smith reported from London.