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(Yet another…) Murder at a Checkpoint

September 23, 2009

Much too often, while surveying the local news in the morning, I see stories about Palestinians getting killed at a checkpoint or near a settlement.  The Israeli military always has their regular excuse for these arbitrary murders: “Security Reasons”

They always come up with some unimaginable (at least to someone who lives here and know the people and the situation) story about how the Palestinian attacked them first, and they responded by pumping 50 bullets into their “attacker”. 

One of the most ridiculous examples of this was when a 16 year old bedouin girl named Basma Awwad Al Nabary was killed at a checkpoint.  The soldiers official statement was that she had a gun in her backpack and she was reaching for it and was about to attack the checkpoint.  Hmmm….really?  A young bedouin girl was going to try to take out a checkpoint all by herself?

As I kept reading the story, I saw that after the soldiers shot and killed her, they sent a robot out to her body to see if she had any kind of weapon or bomb in her bag. 

Hmmm….so, in fact, they didn’t know if she had any weapons on her?   But didn’t the soldiers say she was about to shoot all of them and thats why they killed the poor girl?   Turns out, as usual, she had no weapons in her backpack–just her school books.

In her parent’s statement to Maan News, they said she wasn’t political at all and could never have even obtained a weapon, let alone would she wanted to use it to “single handedly take out a checkpoint”.  They said she was a nice, quiet girl who loved school and was a very involved student. 

Does that sound like the kind of person that would give up their life for the possibility of killing a couple soldiers at a checkpoint? 

Another recent story was of  Mohammed Naif, a 15 year old boy from Jalazone Refugee Camp north of Ramallah.  My apartment is  near Beit El settlement, and on the other side is Jalazone camp.  My roommate called me one night and said he heard gunshots near the settlement and saw lights from an ambulance in the same area.

Later, we heard from our friend that works in the PA that a 15 year old boy was killed because he and some friends were walking “too close” to the settlement. 

The official Israeli military statement was that the boy and his friends were throwing molotov cocktails at a “structure” near the settlement. 

Even if that was true, is that really an excuse for killing a 15 year old child?

Witnesses said that no molotovs were thrown until after they shot the boy, left him bleeding to death for an hour while they prevented the ambulance from getting to him, and shot (and injured) the medics as they tried to save Mohammed’s life. 

And the most recent event…

Yesterday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed Walid At-Tawil, 27, near the Beit Illit checkpoint, when “he failed to stop at the checkpoint when ordered.”

Eye witnesses told a much different story.  They said it looked to them like a planned ambush that demonstrates the (often misused) power that  Israeli soldiers wield over Palestinian travellers.

First of all…I have driven in the West Bank before and had to go through checkpoints.  And although it was my first time, Ive never seen a Palestinian relaxed when approaching a checkpoint. 

There is a kind of procedure you follow when driving through a checkpoint–you approach VERY VERY slowly, you see many soldiers with guns aimed in your direction, and spikes on the ground to prevent you from driving too fast. 

Then you pull up to the soldiers, slowly, with headlights off and dome light on if its nighttime, and stop.  Show them your IDs, then if youre lucky, drive off (unlucky ones will have their car searched or be put in a containment room and interrogated or just left alone in there for hours.

Even with this protocol kind of established, you dont always have to stop at checkpoints.  Sometimes the soldiers dont want you to stop, and so they wave you through.  But since they use confusing signals sometimes you dont know what they want you to do.  So you do everything extra slow to avoid looking like a threat to them.  Then they get angry because “youre wasting their time”. 

The point is– checkpoints are scary.  They are also confusing.  If Walid went throught the checkpoint without stopping, Im sure he thought they were waving him through.  If you drive through a checkpoint when they want you to stop, you know they will open fire on you, so you just dont do that.

The background to Walid’s story is that the soldiers stopped him at the Betar Illit checkpoint on Monday and detained him for two and a half hours, arbitrarily.  Witness said they heard the soldier screaming at Walid to never come through this checkpoint again or he would “”kill him”.

The next day, Walid was stopped at a gas station near the checkpoint when Israeli army vehicles pulled in–and the soldier who threatened to killed Walid the day before was one of the soldiers in the cars. 

Eye-witnesses said that the soldier walked over to Walid, hit him, then demanded to see his ID.  Then he told Walid to get in his car and follow their military vehicles.

Outside the gas station, the Israeli soldiers opened fire on the car, shooting the car and driver at least 35 times.  One witness said that Walid tried to run from the car when soldiers began firing, but he was not able to escape.

The official Israeli military report: “At-Tawil ran through the Betar Illit checkpoint, was chased fown by Israeli forces, then tried to run them down when he was caught.”

Does that match the eye witness report, at ALL? 

The abuses and humiliations that happen at checkpoints around the West Bank EVERY day are too numerous to count.  From arbitrary arrests and beatings, to unnecessary strip searches, to intimidation of women and children…its something unimaginable to people outside of Palestine.  But to Palestinians, this is everyday life, and something they have had to accept and live with.

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