A young Palestinian’s walk of death
|Gideon Levy 02/11/2019|
The guards at a checkpost that’s off-limits to pedestrians claimed the young man approaching them had a knife. They kept shooting at him after he was wounded and prostrate. Now Israel won’t return his body to his family.
Why did he keep walking? What was going through his head and what were his intentions? Did he plan to assault the security guards, or did he simply want to die? His cousin shouted to him to stop. Two drivers, whose vehicles were parked on the roadside, warned him that if he kept going he would be shot. The armed guard standing behind the concrete cube also called to him to turn back. But he ignored them all. He strode purposefully forward, not running but also not pausing, toward the checkpoint, walking to his death. The guards say he was armed with a knife, but three eyewitnesses didn’t see a weapon. When he failed to halt, one of the guards fired two rounds in the air, then two more at the young man’s legs – by the book. Bleeding, he fell to the ground. He tried to get up, although it’s not clear whether that was a voluntary effort or not. Then the guards sprayed him with eight to 10 more bullets that tore his body apart.
The dead man, Raad Bakhri, 25, came from a West Bank family that has been conducting business with Israelis for years. Since he had no security record and showed no inclination of wanting to hurt anyone, he too received a permit to work in Israel, not long ago.
After the horrific incident two weeks ago, Majid Bakhri, Raad’s stunned father, was told to go to the Tul Karm Governmental Hospital (aka Martyr Dr. Thabet Thabet Hospital) to collect his son’s body. While he was en route, however, the Israeli authorities had a change of heart: They have been holding onto the body since the incident and refusing to return it to the family.
The bereaved father has only two requests now: to know the whole truth about what happened at the Jabara checkpoint – known as Te’enim (Figs) Crossing, in Israeli parlance – on the evening of October 18, and to get his son’s body back for a proper burial at home.
Kafr Zibad is a small village in the rural area known as the Kufriyat, which lies between Tul Karm and Qalqilyah. The verandah of the Bakhris’ small stone house overlooks farmland; there are a few uncultivated fruit trees in the garden. In memory of Raad, Palestinian and Fatah flags have been hung on a truncated olive tree.
The elder Bakhri, 66, greets us with a toothless smile. In his best Hebrew, he calls himself an “advertising man”: He explains that he owns a printing press which he uses to print ads, images and slogans on T-shirts, hats, cups, banners and other objects. He does a great deal of business with Israel. Raad was the third of five children. Born in 1994, he had enrolled in the industrial management department at the Palestine Technical College – Kadoorie in Tul Karm, but dropped out in order to join the family business. A month ago or so, however, he decided he wanted to work in Israel, with the goal of saving enough money to be able marry and establish his own home, even though his father wanted him to stay in the business. Raad received a work permit that allowed him to sleep in Israel and got a job at a construction site in Kfar Sava. During the last week of his life he didn’t work because Israel was closed off to West Bank Palestinians during the Sukkot festival. He spent the time helping to harvest olives on the family’s land, a few hundred meters from their house.
On that Friday the 18th, he walked with his father and with his brother, Noor a-Din, to the olive grove. He was in a good mood, Bakhri recalls now. They returned home in the afternoon; Raad showered and changed his clothes, and they had supper together. Apparently the family was still pondering an incident that had occurred two days earlier.
On Wednesday evening, Raad was driving the family car, a 1999 Seat. At an intersection not far from Kafr Zibad, next to a car wash, another car hit Raad’s lightly. The two drivers got out and seemed to be relatively relaxed, until three young men from Tul Karm who had been standing at the intersection came over, and a violent brawl ensued. They hit Raad on the head with a chair, whereupon he went to the Tul Karm hospital, where he needed stitches. Was it there that the seeds of his death were planted?
According to local sources, Raad returned home distraught and asked his father and brother to go with him to Tul Karm to find his attackers and take revenge on them; they refused. Bakhri says now that his family contacted the families of the young men involved in the fight and planned to hold a sulha – a ceremony of reconciliation – that Saturday. For his part, the father rules out any connection between the brawl and his son’s death. Others in the town think Raad was upset because his family did not agree to avenge the attack on him. That, too, is not enough to dispel the fog surrounding the circumstances of his death.
In any event, on Friday evening after supper, M.S., a cousin in her 60s from Tira, an Arab town in Israel, called; Bakhri says she loved Raad more than she loved her own children. M.S. asked Raad to bring her freshly harvested green olives. Since the Bakhris’ trees yield only black ones, Raad bought 10 kilos of green olives from a neighbor, and filled three soft-drink bottles with home-made olive oil, as gifts for the beloved cousin from Tira.
Raad told M.S. to drive to the Jabara checkpoint, south of Tul Karm, to pass through it in her car, make a U-turn and park on the right side of the road, facing west. Raad also went to the checkpoint, parked on an internal road below the main road, took out the olives and the bottles of oil, and walked via a small olive grove toward his cousin, who was waiting in her car.
He was wearing his best clothes, she related later, and was in good spirits. He only told her that he was in a hurry, people were waiting for him. He put the olives and the olive oil in the trunk of her car, declined to accept money, mumbling “Another time” – and left.
Raad started to walk toward the checkpoint. There was a red plastic barrier, what’s called a “New Jersey roadblock,” along the roadside. The Palestinians know it’s forbidden to pass it on foot. A few dozen meters further along the road is a sign in three languages declaring that entry is prohibited to pedestrians. Raad ignored the sign and walked on.
Parked in front of the checkpoint at the time were two cars belonging to Palestinian drivers waiting to transport home West Bank returning from their jobs in Israel. It was about 7:40 on Friday evening. One of the drivers suddenly noticed the pedestrian who was heading westward, toward the checkpoint, and shouted: “Stop – they’ll shoot you!” Raad made a dismissive gesture with his hand and went on walking. Another driver, who was eating falafel in his car, also saw what was happening and says he remembers being furious at the young man who was ignoring the warnings.
Abdulkarim Sadi, a field researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, went to the checkpoint on three successive evenings after the fatal incident that day, to find eyewitnesses. He is the one who found the two drivers, both from Tul Karm, one 45 years old, the other 21. The two refused to have their names published, for fear it would cause them trouble vis-a-vis Israel.
Separately, the two men gave Sadi the exact same account about what had happened. Both emphasized that they did not see Raad holding anything. The cousin, M.S., who was still standing there, saw her beloved relative advancing toward the checkpoint and also shouted to him to stop, but to no avail.
Jabara, like many other West Bank checkpoints, is manned by guards from a private security firm. One of them, positioned behind a concrete cube there, shouted to Raad, “Go back, go back” in Hebrew and Arabic. His shouts were loud, clearly heard by those at the checkpoint. But Raad ignored them.
At this point the guard fired two warning shots in the air and then two more at Raad’s legs. An instant after he collapsed, laying in a pool of blood, he apparently tried to get up with his last remaining strength. More guards approached – it’s not clear how many – and opened fire. Eight or 10 bullets struck him.
His father says now that he was told his son was hit with a “rain of bullets.” The images that were released afterward, apparently by Israel, show only a black body bag by the roadside with blood trickling from it; there is also a photo of an unknown hand holding a knife.
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, which bears responsibility for the checkpoint, provided the following statement to Haaretz this week: “There was a terrorist holding a knife who charged at the security detail at Te’enim Crossing with the aim of perpetrating an attack. The terrorist ran toward the guards, on Sabbath eve, under cover of darkness, and in the area prohibited to pedestrians. The security team at the crossing operated according to protocol: They called to him to halt a number of times, signaled him with a flashlight to stop and commenced deterrent firing. The shooting, with the aim of incapacitating the terrorist, was carried out from extremely close range, and only when it became clear that he was holding a knife in his hand and that his purpose was to attack the security detail. The attempted attack was documented and investigated. The facts of the incident are perfectly clear and refute your allegations,” regarding whether Raad had a knife, and whether the forces had no alternative to killing him.
The two drivers and the cousin – who called one of Raad’s brothers to tell him what happened – apparently hurried to leave the site. The checkpoint was closed off to traffic. According to Majid Bakhri, another 45 minutes passed before his son’s body was evacuated.
An autumnal breeze blows past the verandah of the house. “What was he thinking? Only Allah knows. I want to know exactly what happened, without falsifications,” Bakhri tells us. “I want to know what happened on our side and what happened on their side. I asked the cousin: By God, tell me if there was a knife, and she said no. If there had been a knife, her husband, who was also in the car with her, would have stopped Raad.”
This past Sunday, at 1:30 in the morning, the Bakhri family awoke to the sound of loud knocking at the door. Six jeeps of the Israel Defense Forces accompanied an agent of the Shin Bet security service who goes by the name “Captain Abu al-Ez,” who had come to question the grieving father at the only time available to them. They wanted to find out whether anyone intended to avenge Raad’s killing. The captain told the father that Raad had pulled a knife before he was shot. Majid says he told him, “You say that. I believe it. I will not say that you are lying. But I also am not lying. I don’t know exactly what happened.”
Majid says he wants to see the footage from the security cameras at the checkpoint, but hasn’t been allowed to so far. He asked his wife, Rima, to check if a knife was missing from the house. None was missing.
Majid: “Raad had an entry permit to Israel. If there was anything going through his mind, what would have been easier than entering Israel and carrying out an attack there? So why didn’t he do that, if that was in his head? Only God knows what was there.”
Then he suddenly chokes up and gasps, and for the first time since our conversation began, tears well up and Majid begins to weep, silently.