Mother waits 36 years for Israel to return son’s body

in Electronic Intifada

For the last 36 years, Raoufa Khattab has refused to believe that her son Abd al-Rahman is dead until she sees his remains with her own eyes.

“They haven’t returned his body to us, so perhaps he’s alive, perhaps he’s in jail,” she keeps telling Ahmad, another son.

Ahmad was only 13 when his brother Abd al-Rahman was killed in April 1979 during an armed confrontation with Israeli forces near Bisan, a town located in the north of present-day Israel.

Abd al-Rahman led a small group of resistance fighters who tried to carry out an attack against an Israeli military post in the area.

After his killing, his body was transferred to one of Israel’s “cemeteries of numbers,” where Palestinian combatants are buried in secret and are identified only by numbers etched on metal plates. Israel has designated these cemeteries as closed military zones. Continue reading “Mother waits 36 years for Israel to return son’s body”

Palestine’s Inconvenient Rebels

Palestinian girl in Gaza demonstrating near the buffer zone

In 1995, when Samar became pregnant with her fifth child, doctors suspected that the fetus had a growth deficiency and would not survive.

Samar, her husband Ibrahim, and their four other children had just settled in Occupied Jerusalem’s Shu’fat Refugee Camp, with Samar’s mother Nawal looking after her with the utmost care and affection. Samar delivered a perfectly healthy boy who they named Subhi after his maternal grandfather, a resistance fighter with the Palestinian Liberation Organization during the 1970s and former political prisoner in Israeli jails. The young Subhi’s father, Ibrahim, had also been imprisoned in those jails during the First Intifada. As had two of young Subhi’s brothers, who each spent nearly a year imprisoned. Continue reading “Palestine’s Inconvenient Rebels”

Israel tore Fadi Alloun’s family apart; then it killed him

Fadi Samir Alloun in an undated image posted on Facebook.

Last week, Fadi Alloun celebrated his 19th birthday with friends in Issawiyeh, a village in occupied East Jerusalem. He was thrilled that he had recently obtained a driving license. As a birthday gift, his father promised to help him buy a car. Continue reading “Israel tore Fadi Alloun’s family apart; then it killed him”

After baby’s murder, Israeli sniper kills another Palestinian child

A photo of Laith al-Khalidi posted on his Facebook page in December 2014.
A photo of Laith al-Khalidi posted on his Facebook page in December 2014.

Published in Electronic Intifada

Israel responded to the widespread revulsion over the murder of 18-month-old baby Ali Dawabsha by fatally shooting a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank.

Laith al-Khalidi was “killed in cold blood,” according to Fadel, his father.

Fifteen-year-old Laith was in the vicinity of the Atara military checkpoint near Ramallah when a sniper in an Israeli watchtower shot him in the back on Friday last week. Laith was accompanied by four friends at the time he was shot.

“Perhaps he went to express his outrage at the killing of Ali Dawabsha, but when soldiers shot him from the checkpoint tower, he wasn’t throwing any stones whatsoever,” said Fadel.

The details obtained by Fadel of the incident sharply contradict Israel’s spin.

Israel has exploited the fact that Palestinian youth were involved in confrontations with its soldiers in its attempts to “justify” the killing.

An unnamed military spokesperson claimed that Israeli soldiers had opened fire on Laith as a “response to immediate danger.” Those comments were reported by The New York Times, which called Laith “an assailant who had thrown a firebomb.”

However, evidence in many other cases has shown that such routine claims by the army should be treated with the utmost skepticism. Last month, video evidence showed that an Israeli colonel had shot dead Palestinian teenager Muhammad al-Kasbeh, in the back, as he ran away, debunking the army’s claims that occupation soldiers were in imminent danger from the youth. Video also caught Israeli soldiers shooting dead two Palestinian youths in cold blood in Beitunia in May 2014.

Just this year, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says that it “has documented dozens of cases in the Ramallah area of the West Bank in which Palestinians were injured, some severely, by live ammunition fired by Israeli security forces.”

The group says that “the large number of persons injured and the types of injury, indicates that live ammunition was used against demonstrators even when security forces were not in mortal danger.”

The army’s depiction, moreover, does not tally with how Laith’s parents, who live in Jalazone refugee camp, remember him.


As soon as they heard of baby Ali’s murder by Israeli settlers, Laith’s parents had an ominous feeling. Could something happen to their own children in the clashes with Israeli soldiers that would more than likely ensue?

It was not Laith, but his elder brother, Yazan, that they were really worried about.

Despite being two years his junior, Laith — who hoped to become a lawyer — was considered the more mature and reliable sibling. For that reason, their father asked Laith to make sure that Yazan stayed away from any clashes that day.

Laith had repeatedly urged his brother to stay safe.

“My son Laith wasn’t one of the kids who’d go to protests week in, week out and throw stones,” said Samar, his mother.

Even before Laith’s murder, the family had suffered heavily at the hands of the Israeli occupation. Fadel, now an assistant dean at Birzeit University, was involved in popular resistance during the first intifada. He was imprisoned for six years.

For three of those six years, he was held in administrative detention, under which Israel locks up Palestinians without charge or trial.

His mother, meanwhile, had been injured in her leg after Israel attacked a protest in 1994. The protest was held in response to that year’s massacre in Hebron, during which the US-born settler Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Although both his parents have been politically active, they were eager that no harm should come to their children. Their children were therefore discouraged from battling Israel’s forces of occupation.

“I wish they were different from us,” said Samar. She reacted with disbelief when she received a phone call at 5:30pm on Friday, telling her that Laith was injured.

“I initially asked, ‘Laith who?’” she said. “I couldn’t even contemplate the idea that they were referring to Laith, my son.”

Laith had told her that he had gone to Ramallah to play billiards.

“Hoping against hope”

After he was shot, Laith was taken to Ramallah’s hospital, where he underwent surgery that lasted six hours.

“We had hoped that he would somehow come through this alive,” said Fadel. “I was sitting next to the room where the surgery was taking place, hoping against hope that my son would survive. Around midnight doctors took him to intensive care and five minutes later he was gone.”

Samar is a nurse. As soon as she saw Laith, she could tell that his situation was critical.

“I cannot describe what I went through during those six hours,” she said.

There was a moment in their ordeal that Samar described as “ridiculous.” A doctor told Laith’s parents that if he survived the night, he would be transferred to Hadassah, an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem.

“How can those who kill our sons then go on to treat them?” Samar asked. “How can we agree to this? But I was ready to do anything to save my child’s life, even if that meant sending him to an Israeli hospital. I would have done anything.”

Mourners say farewell to Laith al-Khalidi during his funeral near the West Bank city of Ramallah, 1 August. The teenager died in hospital hours after being shot by Israeli occupation forces near the Atara military checkpoint on 31 July. Shadi HatemAPA images

Yazan, Laith’s brother, had tried to persuade him that he should join Fatah. But Laith told him that his allegiance was to Palestine, not to any political party.

“Laith was everything to me,” said Yazan. “We did everything together, we shared the same room, used the same computer, played cards together, watched sports together. We fought, we laughed, we both liked Real Madrid. But Laith was better than me. If anyone had to die, it should have been me, not him.”

Crying, Yazan raised his voice to an almost piercing level. “Laith, why did you go away?” he asked.

Laith’s 7-year-old sister Lor will only stop crying when she is told that Laith would hate to see her so upset.

“They have taken our happiness”

After a moment’s calm, she broke down again when little things remind her of Laith — like the beautiful mirror and the toys he gave her on the first day of Eid.

“They [the Israelis] have snatched the smile from this girl’s face; they have taken our happiness away,” said Samar. “With Laith’s passing, I feel that a piece of me is gone.”

According to his father, Laith’s biggest dream was that the family could return to the village of Annaba. They were expelled from Annaba — located near Ramle, a city in present-day Israel — during the Nakba, the 1948ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

“Laith visited his village when he was a kid and since then he always asked me, ‘when will we return home?’” said Fadel.

It is instructive that Laith’s killing was only mentioned towards the end of the aforementioned report in The New York Times.

Another Palestinian teenager was also killed that day. Muhammad al-Masri was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in a watchtower on Israel’s boundary with Gaza.

Their deaths received just a fraction of the attention devoted to the condemnations issued by Israeli establishment figures following the murder of baby Ali.

Not for the first time, Western media have been extremely accommodating to Israeli propagandists. The crocodile tears of Israeli politicians over one child’s death are treated as if they are genuine. Yet European and American journalists have not stopped to ask why the same politicians failed to condemn the killing of other young Palestinians on the same day.

If those journalists did some serious analysis or research, they would realize that the killing of baby Ali was not an aberration. Palestinian children and teenagers are regularly killed by Israelis.

Occasionally, the killers are settlers, inculcated with the extremist ideology on which Israel was founded. More often, they are soldiers carrying out the orders of a racist state.

African-Palestinian community’s deep roots in liberation struggle

Ali Jiddah speaks with a tour group in the Old City of Jerusalem in March 2014.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler


In early June the African Community Club in Jerusalem’s Old City was crammed with mourners. They had come to pay their respects to the late Subhiyeh Sharaf, an amiable woman and community elder.

The club serves as the headquarters of the African Community Society. It is a gathering place for the African community and a social and cultural center for Palestinians, screening films and hosting debates and other activities.

Outside the club, young men were running to bring tea to every incoming guest and maintain order. The necessary funds for Sharaf’s funeral ceremony were raised through donations as is typically the case during occasions of mourning and celebrations that take place in the African community here.

This is known as hatita, a longstanding tradition among Jerusalem’s African-Palestinians, in which community members contribute a certain sum of money according to their ability.

The tradition mirrors the strong ties and communal solidarity that distinguish the African community in Jerusalem. Most of this community, of approximately 350 people, live in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

Interviews with members of the community and the society’s Arabic website reveal a rich history. African migration to Jerusalem dates back to 634 when Omar Bin al-Khattab, the second Muslim caliph, conquered Jerusalem. But it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that Africans started settling in Jerusalem in significant numbers.

Coming mainly from Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal, Africans flocked to Jerusalem for two main reasons. The first was religious: some considered Jerusalem the final destination of their pilgrimage. The second reason was their willingness to fight along with Palestinians against British and Zionist colonialism.

Guardians of mosque

The Africans who came to Jerusalem were initially scattered across the city but were in the early 1930s concentrated in two buildings facing each other, a few meters away from one of the main gates to al-Aqsa mosque. The gate is known as Bab al-Nazir or Bab al-Majlis.

The neighborhood itself was built in the 13th century and is characterized by its Mamluk-era architecture. It primarily served as a resting place for pilgrims and as a shelter for the poor and the homeless.

During the final years of Ottoman rule, the buildings were turned into a notorious prison compound where rebels against the Ottomans were held, including African dissidents. Following the end of Ottoman rule, the buildings — referred to as al-Ribat al-Mansouri (or al-Ribat al-Kurdi) and al-Ribat Aladdin al-Bassir — became part of the Islamic Waqf, a religious trust.

In the early 1930s, Palestinian political and religious leader Sheikh Amin al-Husseini leased them to Jerusalem’s Africans.

While taking pride in their African roots and trying to preserve their ancestral traditions, Africans in Jerusalem have largely integrated with other Palestinians and were woven into the Palestinian Jerusalemite fabric. This integration was facilitated by shared religious ties, the sense of belonging that Africans immediately formed with Jerusalem and the fact that African migrants could easily interact in Arabic.

The two most powerful manifestations of this integration are social and political. On the social level, intermarriages between Africans and other Palestinians in Jerusalem are common, occasional complications notwithstanding.

Active in struggle

This is not to say that racism against African-Palestinians doesn’t exist. Some Palestinians who are not from Jerusalem pejoratively refer to the African community as the “neighborhood of slaves,” for instance.

Mahmoud Jiddah, an African community member and alternative tour guide, told The Electronic Intifada that “we occasionally face racism by other Palestinians due to our darker skins, but by no means can you say that this is a trend. Far from it.”

He added that the main perpetrator of racism is the Israeli police. “We face a twofold oppression by the Israeli occupation: first because we are Palestinian; and second because we are black,” he said.

On the political level, Africans have been strongly involved in the Palestinian struggle.

Jiddah, whose father migrated to Jerusalem from Chad at the beginning of the 20th century, said that Africans were particularly active in the Arab Salvation Army and played a key role in the Jerusalem battles during the 1948 Nakba, Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact, the commander of the battalion that prevented the fall of Jabal al-Mukabber — an East Jerusalem neighborhood — in 1948 was the Nigerian-born Muhammad Tariq al-Afriqi.

Africans also suffered their fair share of displacement during the Nakba with almost one-quarter of the original African population in Jerusalem becoming refugees in neighboring countries.

The role of Africans in the Palestinian liberation struggle became even more notable following the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem.

The very first female Palestinian political prisoner was Fatima Barnawi, a Palestinian of Nigerian descent, who served 10 years in Israeli occupation jails after a foiled bombing attack in Jerusalem. She was released in a 1977 prisoner exchange and deported.

During the height of the first intifada, a high percentage of the African population — both male and female — was imprisoned.

The first Palestinian killed during the second intifada was Osama Jiddah. A member of the African community, he was shot dead by Israeli forces on 29 September 2000 while on his way to donate blood in al-Maqased hospital on the Mount of Olives.

These are just a few examples of the active participation of the African community in the Palestinian struggle for liberation that belies their relatively small numbers. For the African community, resistance is not a choice, but an obligation made unavoidable by living in the Old City.

Passport racism

For some people coming from other places in Palestine to pray in Jerusalem for the first time, it is not obvious that there is a community that lives a few meters away from one of the holiest Muslim sites. Their initial reaction when they learn about it is to say that these people are so lucky and blessed.

For African-Palestinians, however, this can occasionally be a blessing in disguise.

Living in the heart of the Old City means being a target of Israel’s constant attempts to drive Palestinians out of this place and erase Palestinian identity and existence. In this context, Israel systematically denies building permits to African-Palestinians living in the Old City.

Even minor restorations or the building of an additional room are banned, forcing people to smuggle basic construction materials into the neighborhood. Newly-built Israeli settlements in the city are quickly restored and expanded, while Palestinians are threatened with demolitions if they build one additional room or restore their houses.

Restrictions on building — combined with high levels of poverty and unemployment — have forced some members of the African community, particularly the younger generation, to look for residence outside the Old City. Many have moved to areas like Beit Hanina or Shuafat because it is extremely difficult to accommodate a growing family in the Old City.

This problem is faced by all Palestinians in the Old City. But one problem unique to African-Palestinians is that — unlike most Palestinians in Jerusalem — many of them do not have a Jordanian passport.

“My father carried a French passport which he gave up following Chad’s independence in 1960,” said Mahmoud Jiddah. “When he applied for a Jordanian passport — since Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule then — it took him more than four years to receive it … But even the fact that my father carried a Jordanian passport doesn’t mean that I could automatically attain one. I’ve only received a temporary passport a couple of years ago and it’s about to expire.”

Jiddah added that he has a list of 50 African-Palestinians from Jerusalem who are banned from receiving a Jordanian passport. He explained that this Jordanian policy of refusing to give passports to African-Palestinians has to do with considering them “strangers.”

He said: “Imagine — we’ve been living here for our entire lives and we’ve sacrificed everything for Jerusalem and the Jordanian authorities consider us strangers. But when they ruled over Jerusalem in 1948, they suddenly became the kings.”

African-Palestinians are forced to travel using a laissez-passer, which means they are not allowed to visit Arab countries with which Israel has no diplomatic relations. Alternatively they are left with the option of applying for a Palestinian Authority or international passport which could jeopardize their residency status in Jerusalem. The other option left is to apply for an Israeli passport, which the community strongly rejects.


In a sense, the African community in Jerusalem is a microcosm of the challenges Palestinians in Jerusalem face, and of the resilience they maintain.

Jiddah was arrested by Israeli occupation forces on 5 September 1968, along with his brother Abdullah and their cousin and comrade in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ali Jiddah.

Mahmoud was sentenced to 25 years in jail, while Ali was sentenced to 20 for planting bombs. Both of them were released in 20 May 1985 in a prisoner exchange between Israel and the splinter group PFLP-GC.

A self-proclaimed Palestinian, African and socialist, Mahmoud, like his cousin, refused all pressure to deport him from Jerusalem. The men preferred to spend most of their lives in jail over leaving Jerusalem.

Mahmoud’s brother Abdullah, though, was deported in 1970, and was separated from his family and city.

“The first time I saw my brother was in Switzerland in 1993 when I got an invitation to a human rights conference in Geneva. I will never forget that moment,” Jiddah said. “The second time we met after that was in Jordan in 2012, which only makes me wonder: do I still have 20 years left in my life to see my brother again?”

Mahmoud Jiddah is as old as the Nakba. His community embodies the Palestinian narrative of uprooting, defiance and survival in all of its details.


Two unequal worlds in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem

Published in Electronic Intifada

A Palestinian youth stands on the rubble of his family’s home demolished by Israeli authorities in Issawiyeh on 1 December. (Muammar Awad / APA images)
A Palestinian youth stands on the rubble of his family’s home demolished by Israeli authorities in Issawiyeh on 1 December. (Muammar Awad / APA images)

Walking the streets of Issawiyeh in occupied East Jerusalem, one could easily think that Israel has succeeded in normalizing a very abnormal situation.

The process of colonization affecting the village has been so relentless that Palestinians living here say “we have gotten used to it.”

Youths in Issawiyeh nonetheless keep fighting back — usually with rocks and fireworks — against Israel’s brutal behavior. This year, the spirit of resistance has been especially strong.

Spontaneous rebellions occurred after the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair in early July and during Israel’s 51-day offensive against Gaza, which began less than a week later.

Many of those taking part were radicalized in early 2013, when the people of Issawiyeh mobilized in support of local man Samer Issawi, who undertook an historic hunger strikein an Israeli jail.

Israel responded to this year’s protests by firing bullets at rock-throwers. When that didn’t suppress the rebellion, the Israeli military resorted to collective punishment — a practice forbidden by international law — against the entire 20,000 people living in the village.

In late October, the military sealed all but one of the entrances to the village with concrete blocks.

Under siege

The closure created an immense hassle for many residents.

Fadi Atiyeh attends a high school outside Issawiyeh. Because the road from which he usually travels by public transport was shut, it took him one and a half hours to reach school in the morning.

The closure was eventually eased after a few weeks. That measure was taken after local youth decided to block the only entrance to the village that Israel hadn’t closed. That entrance was a point of access for Israelis to Maale Adumim, one of the largest Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Although Israel has no difficulty making life miserable for Palestinians, its forces apparently did not wish to subject Israeli settlers to any inconvenience.

It is important to underscore that the siege of Issawiyeh has not been fully lifted. Israel often blocks the road connecting the village to the adjoining Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

As well as putting the village under siege, Israel attacked villagers with bullets and tear gas grenades. On 6 November, al-Amal, a school for children with special needs in Issawiyeh, was attacked with tear gas, terrorizing the young students.

On 13 November, Israeli police shot eleven-year-old Saleh Samer Attiyeh Mahmoud, permanently blinding him in his left eye. Doctors have been doing what they can to save his right one, which was also seriously injured.

Two different worlds

Issawiyeh and the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University are right beside each other; yet, in some respects, they are two different worlds.

On 16 November, as I was attending an international humanitarian law class, I overheard an American exchange student joking about “sound effects” when the noise of Israeli gunfire could be heard coming from Issawiyeh.

Although the violence was just a ten minutes’ walk away from where he was sitting — and involved breaches of the international law he was learning about — he and many other students have been able to keep on going to class, treating the nearby unrest as little more than background noise.

Salam Muhaisen does not have that luxury. Each morning during the closure, she walked from her native Issawiyeh to the Hebrew University, where she is a student of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.

“On the way I smell skunk water, see the police invade the village and suddenly I’m [at] the Hebrew University where all is perfectly quiet,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

A few Israeli students have bothered to see first-hand what is happening in Issawiyeh; some attended a protest on 12 November. That demonstration was not attacked by Israeli forces — perhaps, according to Muhaisen, because they did not wish to leave a bad impression on the Israeli students.

“Most Hebrew University students believe we are only rioters and trouble-makers who throw rocks for no reason,” Muhaisen said.

“Worse still, some Israeli students here ask me, ‘why don’t you go study in Birzeit [a Palestinian university near Ramallah] or Bethlehem?’ — as if I owe them an explanation for studying in a place built on my own land.”

Muhaisen added, “But obviously all of this adds another incentive for me to study and succeed here; it is my own way of standing up to the racist colonial establishment that takes my rights away.”

Overcrowded ghettos

In October 2013, an Israeli governmental plan to build a nature reserve on Issawiyeh land was put on hold following local and international opposition.

However, earlier this year, Israeli authorities relaunched the plan and designated much of Issawiyeh and its surrounding area, including the lands of nearby villages, as “national park land.” Under that pretext, Israel routinely denies Palestinians permission to build new homes or expand existing ones.

The same restrictions do not apply to Israeli settlements. A large part of Issawiyeh’s land has been expropriated to make way for a “students’ village” — a large compound where dormitories for the Hebrew University will be located. The Israeli settlement of French Hill is also encroaching into Issawiyeh.

The house where Salam Muhaisen and her family live is one of many in Issawiyeh to have been served with a demolition order. Her father has already paid 45,000 shekels ($11,500) to the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality, which complained that the house was built without its approval.

“We are required to contact an architect to draft and propose a plan that would make our home legal,” she said. “We cannot afford to do this as we are a family of seven kids, with two university students. It’s ridiculous that not only have they confiscated our lands, blocked us from harvesting our olive trees and denied us permits to build, they are also requiring us to pay them more money in fines and taxes.”

On 1 December, the Issawiyeh home of Ishaq Hamdan’s family was destroyed for the second time in recent years.

Hamdan was arrested a few months ago over fines and property taxes that the Jerusalem municipality has demanded that he pay. He is serving a one-year prison sentence.

His treatment is doubly cruel, given that his two eldest sons had left higher education so that they could find jobs in order to pay for their home’s construction.

As well as having to pay those bills, Israel is now insisting that the family pays the costs of the demolition.

Muhaisen suggested that Israel’s strategy in blocking access to Issawiyeh was to drive a wedge between different generations of Palestinians. The thinking, she argued, was that older people would blame the stone-throwers for the closure and would therefore put pressure on them to cease their struggle.

If that was Israel’s strategy, then it clearly did not work. The youth of Issawiyeh have continued to grow support from their community.

No matter how hard Israel may try to “normalize” the occupation, there will always be Palestinians determined to resist.