It was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life. My daughter Eman was getting married. What a joy to watch her dote on herself as she did her hair and put on make-up in shades unsuitable for an ordinary day in Abu Dis. We did not tell her that Ahmad had been shot dead. She looked so precious in her white dress, the way it hugged her waist and then flared out like a princess; it changed the spring in her step. So, we decided to wait to let her know until she had taken a few photos unencumbered by a weight that would press on her for the rest of her lifetime: Israeli soldiers had shot her brother, Ahmad, at a checkpoint and left him to bleed to death for over an hour.
Ahmad had been running errands for Eman’s wedding. He was traveling between our hometown, Abu Dis, a small East Jerusalem suburb separated from the bustling city by Israel’s apartheid wall, to Bethlehem. What used to be a busy thoroughfare for commerce and social life connecting us to Jerusalem is now a dead end. Our backyard has been transformed into a series of 26-foot high concrete slabs that imprison us. We can still see the golden reflection of Dome of the Rock, where we used to pray on Fridays and special holidays; Israel has yet to steal the sky from us. We have also found alternative routes connecting us to other Palestinians. Ahmad was on one such alternative pathway to Bethlehem, a place he loved and a 15-minute drive from home. He just had to pass through the “Container,” an infamous Israeli checkpoint.
Ahmad had passed through it many times before but on June 23 he was in a Hyundai he had rented for his sister’s wedding. When the armed soldier motioned for him to pass, he lost control and the car veered into the kiosk where four soldiers stood. The impact sent a soldier to the ground but, as the video footage shows, she jumped up quickly enough to watch another soldier shoot as many as seven bullets into Ahmad’s upper body. He had stepped out of the car, most likely in confusion and fear. He tried to put his arms up but was shot before his elbows reached his shoulders and then he dropped, like a wilted flower, into a fetal position. Other Palestinians waiting at the checkpoint watched and even videotaped Ahmad as he writhed in pain and slowly bled to death. An Israeli ambulance arrived within ten minutes and treated the soldier for her light injuries. They did not treat Ahmad. The soldiers also refused access to the Palestinian ambulance that tried to reach Ahmad.
My husband received a call and rushed to the scene, but the soldiers refused him the decency of holding his dying son. Israel declared Ahmad a “terrorist,” the accident a car-ramming, and concluded that the shooting was self-defense and the denial of life-saving medical treatment and familial goodbyes were justified. But there was no real investigation.
No one checked the car’s black box or, apparently, read the report in Consumer Affairs detailing Hyundai accidents in South Korea and beyond since 2009. No one took note of the fact that even in times of war, incapacitated combatants are entitled to medical care. No one bothered to consider that, as much as we all hate Israel’s occupation, we love our families more, and my Ahmad would never have done this, and certainly not on his baby sister’s wedding day. Still, Israel has held his body captive, refusing us the dignity of a proper burial.
In the past two years, Israeli soldiers have killed over 200 Palestinians under Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy, many for the simple act of participating in the Great March of Return, after which the Israeli authorities have attempted to smear them as terrorists. Yet, the record shows that in the vast majority of those incidents, the slain Palestinian did not even have a weapon. The United Nations Human Rights Council has found that Israeli troops lethally shoot Palestinians on “mere suspicion” or as “a precautionary measure.” And in 2018, the Israeli High Court sanctioned its shoot-to-kill policy against protesters in the Great March of Return in Gaza. Ahmad was not an aberration and, as we Palestinians know too well, he was not the first nor will he be the last to be mercilessly stolen from us.
Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy is embedded in its racist military regime and territorial expansion, and its commitment to Palestinian removal and dispossession. We have been steadily squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces as Israeli settlements boom around us, atop our hills where settlers can watch us from above like prison guards. Ahmad died a week before Israel’s threatened annexation of another significant amount of Palestinian lands, as much as thirty percent of the West Bank, which could still take place any time. While the world has been howling at Israel’s plans to officially annex West Bank land, we have already lived in a de facto annexation reality for more than 50 years. Israel has been denying us our basic rights, evicting us from our homes and stealing our land in order to replace us with Jewish settlers, approximately 650,000 of whom now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of international law.
We have existed in an annexation reality, with or without a formal declaration, and have been paying a heavy price for it. Our existence has impeded Israel’s vision for uninterrupted sovereignty from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. As natives, we are inconveniently in the way, and so Israel, its army, and its armed settlers take away our lives with excruciatingly painful ease. Ahmad was not the first nor the last one to be stolen from us, but he should be.
If it were not for American support, Israel would not be able to continue its theft of our land or dispossession of our people. Despite our loss, we are heartened by recent efforts among members of the Democratic party to hold Israel accountable by conditioning the $3.8 billion the US gives to Israel each year. This is the minimum step in the right direction. Still, we know it is an uphill battle as Republicans and some Democrats insist the US continue to unconditionally support Israel, no matter how many children they snatch away from us, how many homes they destroy, how many walls they build, how many hilltops they desecrate, and weddings they turn into funerals. And despite that US support, pressure from six U.S. senators advocating on behalf of Ahmad’s paternal aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family has been impotent in influencing Israel to simply release Ahmad’s body for burial.
Ahmad deserved to live. We deserve justice. Palestinians deserve freedom. We have submitted an appeal to five UN special rapporteurs calling for justice for Ahmad, and since 2005 there has been a grassroots boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign for Palestinian rights and freedom. There is no shortage of options for what the international community can do. There is only a decision to make: will it continue to be a part of the problem or become a part of the solution?