At about 7:30 A.M. on the morning of the last Friday of Ramadan, 31 May 2019, seven members of the extended Gheith family set out from by car Hebron to Jerusalem to attend prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque. Luai Gheith – 45, a married father of nine who owns a factory in Hebron ¬– was behind the wheel. With him in the car were his son ‘Abdallah (15), his three daughters – Shaimaa (16), Tartil (14) and Daniyah (12) – his niece Sirin (14) and his nephew ‘A. (18)
During Ramadan, Israel allowed more Palestinians into Jerusalem for prayers than usual, but young men between the ages of 16 and 30 were still barred entry. Therefore, Gheith’s nephew, ‘A., would not be allowed through the checkpoint. Gheith drove towards the Mazmuriyeh/a-Nu’man checkpoint northeast of the Palestinian town of Beit Sahur, to drop off ‘A. and ‘Abdallah near the Separation Barrier, at a spot about 700 meters from the checkpoint. The plan was that they would climb over the barrier and meet the rest of the family on the other side, as many Palestinians do. The Separation Barrier in that area is made up of concertina wire at ground level and a chain link and barbed wire fence that is several meters high. The concertina is separated from the main fence by a path several meters wide.
B’Tselem’s investigation found that at around 8:00 A.M., Luai dropped off his son and nephew next to the barrier. Ten or so young men were already there, waiting for a chance to climb over. ‘Abdallah and ‘A. did not see any security forces nearby and decided to make the attempt. They climbed over the concertina wire onto the buffer path. At that point, ‘A. spotted a Border Police officer standing on the other side of the main fence. He jumped back over the concertina wire and shouted to ‘Abdallah to flee. At that point, Border Police officers fired two 0.22-caliber bullets at ‘Abdallah, one of which hit him in the chest. ‘Abdallah managed to leap back over the concertina and run several meters away before collapsing.
Luai Gheith, who was still there, drove them to al-Hussein Hospital in Beit Jala. The medical team tried to save ‘Abdallah, but in vain. In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 1 June 2019, Gheith described the pain of losing his son:
I raised my son for fifteen years, and I still can’t believe that he was martyred in the blink of an eye. He didn’t do anything wrong. He just wanted to get to al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan. He was daring and I think that’s what got him killed. He was in a rush to get to al-Aqsa and didn’t wait like the other young men.
‘Abdallah was a good boy. He was cheerful and everyone loved him. He used to help me at work after school. He loved his family and was always joking around with his sisters. I can still see him cracking jokes with them and with my niece in the car that morning. He was so excited to be going to pray at al-Aqsa on the last Friday of Ramadan. The Israeli police officer who shot him doesn’t know any of that. Nor does he know anything of the shock and heartache he caused me and my wife and my daughters, or that we will never find comfort again.
About half an hour to an hour earlier, at the same spot, Border Police shot and injured M.T., a 20-year-old Palestinian from the village of Hadab al-Fawar, south of Hebron. M.T., who works at a book and stationery store, had gotten there at around 5:30 A.M., also planning to cross the Separation Barrier so he could go to al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers. In a testimony he gave B’Tselem, he said he waited until after 7:00 and then tried to cross. After climbing over the concertina wire, he heard what sounded like gunshots fired with a silencer. He jumped back across the wire and gained some distance before realizing he had been hit in the stomach. M.T. was taken by private car to Beit Sahur and from there by ambulance to al-Hussein Hospital in Beit Jala, where he underwent surgery. He was discharged a week later.
In both cases, Border Police fired at the upper body of individuals merely for trying to cross the Separation Barrier to get to prayers in East Jerusalem: 15-year-old ‘Abdallah Gheith was killed and M.T., was hit in the abdomen. There can be no justification for this type of gunfire, with its predictably fatal consequences. It shows just how little the lives of Palestinians count in the eyes of both the officers in the field and the entire chain of command that allows such actions to take place.
Israeli media quoted Border Police officials as saying that Gheith and M.T. were shot with crowd control measures. Yet 0.22-caliber bullets are live ammunition for all intents and purposes and, therefore, cannot be considered crowd control measures. In theory, the military acknowledges this fact: A full decade ago, the MAG stated in a letter to B’Tselem that 0.22 bullets would be used only in instances that justified live fire, i.e., only in cases of mortal danger to security personnel or others. In practice, lethal use of 0.22-caliber bullets continues, and they are still perceived as a means of crowd control.
Based on past experience, no one – neither the officers who killed ‘Abdallah Gheith and injured M.T., nor persons higher up the chain of command, including those responsible for formulating the orders and regulations – will be held accountable. Moreover, Israel will not have to pay damages to the families, having passed legislation conveniently barring Palestinians from any viable option of suing the state for damages.
Was the shooting of 15-year-old ‘Abdallah and 20-year-old M.T. criminal? Absolutely. It was entirely unjustifiable. Neither ‘Abdallah nor M.T. posed any danger. Nor could they have posed any danger as they were: in broad daylight, caught between concertina wire on one side and a high barbed wire fence on the other, facing Border Police officers who were armed and ready and in protective gear. This is not a case of mortal danger, or in fact of any danger at all. Under such circumstances, the use of weapons capable of causing serious injury and even death – as has been done before and as the officers did here – cannot be justified on any moral or legal grounds. The fact that the predictable and deadly outcome of this egregious conduct is met by public indifference and that the conduct receives the full backing of all official bodies demonstrates just how little worth is accorded Palestinian lives.