The following report was submitted by Simphiwe Pato, an SACC-trained Ecumenical Accompanier who is based in Hebron.
I remain puzzled by the lack of Israeli judicial authority in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers and border policeman seem to consistently and publicly operate outside the rule of the law. The military system that occupies and governs the West Bank is perhaps one of the most expensive military systems in the world and one assumes that with such high levels of training a matching level of ethics would be in place to ensure such an expensive system is not brought into disrepute. So, with this in mind, it puzzles and frustrates me when a 19 year old Palestinian man passes through two out of three ‘metal detector – stop and search’ checkpoints, all three within 50 meters of one another and manned by Israeli border policemen, only to get gunned down by these same officers before he could reach the third checkpoint because he was moving too fast. What possible threat could a 19 year old man, proven to be unarmed by the two metal detectors he had already passed through, possibly pose to five or seven of these apparently highly trained officers? And if he really was a threat, wouldn’t such an expensive military system have trained these officers in methods of disarming such threats without killing them? After all, wouldn’t the man be of better use to Israeli intelligence alive as opposed to dead? I remain puzzled.
The 19 year old Palestinian man was Hammam Nasseraldin and he was killed by Israeli border policemen on the steps of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron on 6 May 2009. My colleagues and I were given the chance to speak with Hammam’s father and cousin on 16 May to find out more about Hammam and perhaps discover a reason for the killing. Hammam’s father, Mohammed Bassam Nasseraldin was in Jordan when his son was killed and was called back to the West Bank by Israeli officials to retrieve his son’s body from the military. The family welcomed us and appreciated our efforts to accurately investigate the killing. These types of incidents have happened before in the West Bank, and more often than not the story goes untold or is buried along with the investigation.
It has been concluded by the family through various sources that Hammam was on his way to the Mosque from the family shop
in the Bab Al-Zawiye area of Hebron and that he was running late. Between 20:00 and 20:30 he arrived in the Mosque area and proceeded through checkpoints 1 and 2 without any problems from the border policemen. The first two checkpoints are 20 meters apart and the second and third checkpoints are separated by the 31 steps leading to the entrance of the Mosque. I myself have
been through these checkpoints on several occasions and can testify that the security checks are thorough and if the metal detector sounds when you walk through it, you are ordered to remove all metallic objects and to pass through the metal detector again and again until it stops sounding. Individuals can also be pulled aside into a private area and body searched should the metal detector continue to sound when they attempt to pass through it. All bags are searched by the border policemen at the second checkpoint as well. Hammam had been through these processes and was allowed to pass checkpoint 2. What the family and other sources have confirmed is that at some stage the prayer call began while he was still outside the Mosque and this meant that he was late for prayer. It was at this stage that Hammam began to try to get into the Mosque as fast as he could by running up the 31 stairs leading to the third checkpoint and the entrance of the Mosque. He was shot by border policemen on the seventh step. He died on the spot.
Hammam’s father indicated that there were exit wounds on both Hammam’s chest and back which suggests that he was shot by officers from the bottom and top of the stairs. In other words, bullets were fired by officers from both checkpoints 2 and 3. This could also support initial reports that were released the day after the killing which suggested that one of the border policemen was struck by a bullet during the incident. Reports also suggest that the officers shouted at him to stop but he continued to run up the stairs. However, once beyond the second checkpoint you are in a confined, secure space; so again, even if he did disobey orders, why was he killed for his actions especially considering the amount of man and gun power and his apparent lack of threat to a larger area?
We spoke to a friend of the family, a Hebrew lecturer and he confirmed a report he had seen on one of the Israeli television networks broadcasting in Hebrew. Different statements were made on this channel within 48 hours of the killing of Hammam. The initial report suggested that Hammam had made a threatening attack on one of the officers but the third and final report dispelled that by saying that he had simply began running up the stairs when the prayer call began and the officers opened fire. When he was searched after the killing he was found to have had no weapons in his possession.
Hammam leaves behind his father, mother, four brothers and three sisters. He was in his final year of high school and had ambitions to be a dentist. He had spent the last summer shadowing a dentist to gain experience. He was described as being independent and a committed member of his family and religion. At 19 he had already committed the majority of the Koran to memory and was a devout Muslim. He had no political affiliations. He was an ordinary member of society who was killed at the Ibrahimi Mosque which is regarded to be the fourth holiest place in the world to Muslims.
We met with the family again on 28 May to have dinner with them and to find out if there had been any further contact from Israeli officials regarding some kind of judicial process or investigation. They said that to date they had heard nothing but that they will continue to pursue justice. In an environment that seems to have no justice, I hope they can find it.
Simphiwe Pato works for South African Council of Churches as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of EAPPI, the South African Council of Churches or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here, or place it on a website, please first contact firstname.lastname@example.org or the EAPPI Communications & Advocacy Officer (email@example.com) for permission.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was launched in August 2002. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy, and stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation. The programme is coordinated by the World Council of Churches.
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 120 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works co-operatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by General Secretary Samuel Kobia from the Methodist Church in Kenya.
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30 June 2009