By Akram Al-Waara
Saeed Odeh’s dream was to play football for the Palestinian national team. Fahima al-Hroub dedicated her life to her hair salon, delighting in the joy she gave women in the village of Wadi Fukin.
Though separated by generations, the 16-year-old boy and 60-year-old woman were both gunned down by Israeli forces this week, their lives tragically cut short by Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy.
Odeh spent most of his days practicing with the Balata youth football team in the Palestinian city of Nablus, one of the top teams in the Palestinian youth league.
When he wasn’t there, he could be found kicking the ball around with friends on the streets of his hometown of Odala, near Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank, or at home watching a match on TV with his family.
The one thing that he never left home without was his Palestinian youth football league ID card.
‘He was shot by the soldiers in cold blood. It was an execution, end of story’
– Fuaad Abdel-Rahim, Odeh’s cousin
It was that same card that was used to identify his body at the Rafidia hospital in Nablus city after he was killed on Wednesday night.
Odeh was shot by Israeli forces near the entrance of Odala at around 9pm, as he was going for an evening stroll with his friends – a typical nighttime activity for the boys on cool summer evenings during the month of Ramadan.
A number of armed Israeli soldiers were stationed at the entrance of the town, where they had been enforcing a closure for four days as part of a widespread manhunt for the perpetrator of a shooting attack that targeted three Israelis at the nearby Zaatara military checkpoint earlier in the week.
“The soldiers had been conducting massive searches and arrests in the area, and had completely besieged Odala, Beita, and Aqraba for four days,” Fuaad Abdel-Rahim, Odeh’s cousin, told Middle East Eye.
“All the entrances and exits to the town had been closed for days, and the soldiers were restricting everyone’s movement in and around the village, which was really difficult for us, especially during Ramadan,” Abdel-Rahim said.
While residents of Odala and the neighbouring town of Beita told Reuters that there had been clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the same area for several nights, Abdel-Rahim said that Odeh was taking a walk with his friends right after they had finished their iftar meal for the evening, and there were no confrontations at the time.
The Israeli army told AFP that Molotov cocktails had been thrown at soldiers “during a routine operation south of Nablus,” and that “the soldiers acted to stop the suspects by opening fire on them.”
Abdel-Rahim and other family members have denied the claims made by the army.
“There were no clashes taking place at the time Saeed was shot, nor was he or anyone else throwing stones,” he said.
A report by Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) found that “Israeli forces reportedly confronted Palestinian youth at the village entrance prior to the shooting”.
“Saeed was not involved in the confrontations at the time he was shot, according to information collected by Defence for Children International – Palestine,” the organisation added.
“He was shot by the soldiers in cold blood,” Abed al-Rahim said. “It was an execution, end of story.”
‘Maybe he would still be alive’
According to eyewitnesses in Odala, Israeli forces had opened fire on Odeh as he approached the entrance to the village, shooting him twice. When Odeh’s friend attempted to aid him, he was also shot.
Documentation by DCIP shows that both boys were shot in the back. Odeh was struck once in the pelvis and once on his right shoulder, with both bullets exiting through his front.
“The soldiers shot at them from a very close range, less than 100 metres,” Abdel-Rahim said. “The other boy tried to help Saeed, but he was immediately shot as well, and so he had to leave Saeed lying on the ground as he tried to escape.”
‘The Israeli soldiers grabbed and pulled Saeed’s bleeding body towards them so no one could reach him, and they left him lying there bleeding on the ground’
– Fuaad Abdel-Rahim
According to Odeh’s cousin, the second boy had managed to run for 200 or 300 metres before he was evacuated by bystanders.
“The Israeli soldiers grabbed and pulled Saeed’s bleeding body towards them so no one could reach him, and they left him lying there bleeding on the ground without any medical attention,” he said.
Abdel-Rahim’s account of the events was corroborated by testimony and documentation from DCIP and the Palestinian Red Crescent, which said that Israeli forces had prevented Palestinian medics from reaching his body for at least 15 minutes.
By the time the Red Crescent medics were able to access his body, he had no vital signs. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital a short while later.
An Israeli army spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
“I know we can’t say for sure but as a family we can’t help but wonder, if they had given him the proper first aid, stopped the bleeding, or let the Palestinian medics evacuate him immediately, maybe he would still be alive,” Abdel-Rahim said.
‘Fahima was kind’
Saeed Odeh was the second Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces in a matter of days, after 60-year-old Fahima al-Hroub was shot by Israeli forces at the Gush Etzion junction in the southern occupied West Bank on 2 May.
Hroub, a resident of Wadi Fukin village in the Bethlehem governorate, was shot and killed as she approached Israeli soldiers at the junction, where they are permanently stationed to protect a number of settler bus stops in the area.
The Israeli army said that Hroub was carrying a knife in an attempt to stab soldiers in the area, and was shot after soldiers had fired warning shots in the air. She was taken to the Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem in critical condition, and was pronounced dead shortly after.
No soldiers were wounded during the incident.
Her body is still being held by Israeli forces as part of Israel’s widely condemned policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinians accused of committing attacks against Israelis.
“We are devastated by what happened,” Hroub’s husband, 62-year-old Hamed, told MEE from his home in Wadi Fukin. “Fahima was kind, had a very quiet demeanour, and wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Hamed said that his wife had been suffering from severe depression and anxiety for years, a condition that was worsened this past year under the coronavirus pandemic.
“Fahima had a small business, a women’s hair salon, that she loved. She was already feeling very depressed because of all the lockdowns, and then when she was forced to shut down her business because of Covid, she fell into a deep depression,” he said.
‘These soldiers have the training to deal with these situations, but because we are Palestinians, it is easier for them to just kill us’
– Hamed Hroub, Fahima’s husband
A few weeks prior to her killing, Fahima went to the doctor for a routine check-up when she was told that her cancer, which she had already battled and beat a few years prior, had come back.
“That was the tipping point. She was in a very dark place,” Hamed said. “A few days after that, she tried to overdose on pills, and we had to rush her to the hospital.”
Hamed said his family had tried to help Hroub as much as they could, including taking her to psychologists in Bethlehem. The doctors, he said, had prescribed antidepressants, but she had refused to take them.
“I think that she believed she didn’t have any options in her life, and that she couldn’t bear it any longer,” he said. “We are very sad to lose her in this way. The fact that they are holding her body is only adding to our pain. We just want to bury our loved ones in peace, and put their souls to rest.”
Hroub’s family said that while they know the soldiers fired warning shots in the air before aiming at her, they believe they could and should have done more to stop her before using lethal force.
Video footage of the incident published on social media shows a timid Hroub, wearing a face mask, slowly approaching the soldiers with the knife in her hand, close to her side. As the soldiers fire warning shots in the air, she pauses before continuing to slowly inch towards them from a distance.
“If you look at the video you can see that she herself was scared and not convinced of what she was doing,” Hamed said.
“This was not someone who wanted to attack anyone. She did not run at them, or lunge at them. She’s not even holding the knife up high or actually making any stabbing motions.”
Hamed said it should have been clear to the soldiers that Hroub did not pose a real or immediate threat, as she was an older woman who appeared to be timid and scared.
“These soldiers are big, strong young men with full protective gear. They could have tackled her, disarmed her, fired tear gas or rubber bullets at her, or anything else except live ammunition, and they would have been able to stop her without getting harmed themselves,” he added.
“These soldiers have the training to deal with these situations, but because we are Palestinians, it is easier for them to just kill us.”
Israeli forces have long been criticised for their “shoot-to-kill” policy against Palestinians, in cases where they did not pose an imminent threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers who have killed them.
Rights groups have condemned the Israeli police actions as “state-sanctioned executions.”
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has documented dozens of cases over the past few years in which it describes the conduct of Israeli soldiers as a “grave and alarming picture of excessive and unwarranted use of lethal gunfire, which in some cases was tantamount to the summary execution of assailants or suspected assailants”.
The grievances aired by the Hroub family about Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy were similarly expressed by Saeed Odeh’s friends and family, who say that the boy was wrongfully executed by Israeli forces.
“Even if the Israeli claims that Saeed was throwing stones were true, it is not a reason to shoot him with live ammunition and kill him,” Abdel-Rahim said.
“Even if there are clashes going on, there is no justification to use this level of force in such an inappropriate way. The use of live ammunition makes this an execution; and another crime that has been added to the record of the Israeli army.”
In response to Odeh’s killing, DCIP Accountability Programme Director Ayed Abu Eqtaish said that “Israeli forces routinely unlawfully kill Palestinian children with impunity, using intentional lethal force against Palestinian children when they pose no threat. Systemic impunity has fostered a context where Israeli forces know no bounds.”
Following Odeh’s funeral on Thursday afternoon, Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian activist who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, told MEE that “Saeed’s execution sends a message to all Palestinian children and youths that their lives don’t matter under the occupation.”
“Israeli soldiers have been given the green light by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the highest levels of Israeli government to shoot any Palestinian who moves,” he said.
Daghlas accused the international community of being complicit by remaining silent and not putting a stop to Israel’s policies against Palestinians and their children.
“When the Israeli soldiers killed Saeed, they killed his dreams of being a professional football player, and they killed the dreams of all the Palestinian children of having a peaceful future,” he said.