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Qalandia R.C. behind the Separation Barrier. Photo by Anne Paq, Activestills, 3 Apr. 2019
From the field

Israeli police enter Qalandia Refugee Camp, assault Palestinian teen, fire indiscriminately, and injure five

On Monday, 17 December 2020, at around 8:00 A.M., Border Police and Special Patrol Unit (SPU) forces entered Qalandiya Refugee Camp, which is mostly located in the Palestinian Authority, outside Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. The forces turned towards the Hamad family home, where ten members live. Some of the officers spread out in the nearby streets and others on rooftops, and about 10 SPU officers entered the family’s home with a dog. They attacked Nasrallah Hamad (15) and locked the rest of the family in separate rooms. The officers then conducted a search of the house, during which they broke two doors and tore up furniture upholstery. About half an hour later, the officers left, taking two family members, Muhammad (28) and Mu’az (21).

While the officers were in the house and after their departure, residents of the camp hurled stones and heavy objects at them. Several police snipers opened live fire, including 0.22-inch caliber bullets (two-twos), at residents in the camp — without distinguishing between those who took part in the clashes and passers-by — injuring four people. ‘Ali Hamad (25) was hit in the abdomen while on the family’s roof after the police arrested his two brothers; Ahmad Rum (29) was shot in the chest as he stood at an intersection near the Hamad family home; ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Qader (16) was hit in the hip near his grandmother’s house, about 100 meters from the Hamad home; and Muhammad Khalil (47) was hit in the leg below the knee as he tried to help the wounded ‘Abd al-Qader. Another resident was wounded by shrapnel. According to media reports, six officers were injured lightly.

The violent raid the police conducted at the Hamad family home, which included assaulting one of its sons, breaking down doors, imprisoning the occupants, and destroying property, cannot be justified. Neither can the massive shooting by the officers who, according to the police, “felt their lives were in danger, opened fire and used crowd control weapons.” Yet, this explanation does not reconcile with the incident's circumstances, as B’Tselem’s investigation indicates. Armed officers in protective gear used live fire inside a crowded residential neighborhood, shooting bystanders and residents and injuring five people. Such shooting is also unjustifiable.

In this case, as in hundreds of others, no one will be held accountable for the violence meted on the family or the wanton shooting — neither those who committed the acts nor the various officials up the chain of command or the legal advisors who sign off on such operations time and again.

B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad collected the following testimonies.

‘Ula Hamad (47), the matriarch, described the police officers’ violent raid on her home, the arrest of two of her sons, and the injuring of a third son:

On Monday, 7 December 2020, at around 8:00 A.M., I was asleep. Suddenly, I woke up from my son Nasrallah’s shouting from his room, “Mom, Mom.” I got up out of bed in alarm and heard police officers in the house. I got dressed quickly, woke up my husband, and went to my son’s room. There were about 10 officers there, armed and wearing black uniforms and protective gear with helmets and black masks. You could hardly see their eyes. They had a huge, muzzled dog that looked terrifying.

Several of them pinned my son down to the floor. Poor Nasrallah was screaming and crying for help. He told me, “Mom, they’re hitting me. Mom, Mom.” I thought I was going mad. How can four armed men attack a child like that? I yelled at them, “What you’re doing is shameful. What did he even do? He’s a child.” I tried to release him from their hands, but they pushed me away at gunpoint. Only after I started begging did they agree to release him.

Meanwhile, other officers arrested two of my older sons. Then they forced me, my husband, my daughters, and my mother-in-law two into one of the rooms. Through a slit in the door, I could see the officers destroying the doors of two rooms and heard them throwing some furniture to the floor. After they left, I saw that they’d torn the upholstery of nine seats in the living room furniture.

About 20 minutes later, they left the house, taking away my sons, Muhammad and Mu’az, with their hands tied behind their backs. I tried to leave the room to stop them from arresting my sons and yelled at the officers, “Shame on you! Where are you taking them? What did they do?” But the officer who was by the door pushed me inside and blocked me from going out.

After they left, I ran after the officers to the building's front door, but I stepped back because some of them were firing live rounds at stone-throwers outside. When I went back up the stairs, I saw my son ‘Ali (25) bent over with his hand on his stomach. He said, “I’ve been hit. I’ve been hit in the stomach.” I lifted his hand to see where he’d been injured. He was bleeding slightly. I later understood from him that he had gone up to the roof to see where the officers were taking his brothers, and then he got hit by a bullet one of the officers fired at him. We took ‘Ali out to my husband’s car, which was parked in a nearby yard, while the officers were still clashing with stone-throwers who were several dozen meters away from us.

We drove ‘Ali to the Mujama Falastin Medical Center in Ramallah. We got there in less than 10 minutes. After a checkup at the ER, they took him in for an operation that lasted more than three hours. According to the doctors, his injury was severe. The bullet had penetrated his stomach, and they had to take out part of his intestines. The doctors tried to reassure us and told us that we don’t need to fear for his life. He was discharged, and now he’s recuperating at home, but he hasn’t gone back to his job yet, which helped us cover some of our living expenses.

Ahmad Rum (29), a shared taxi driver from Ramallah, arrived at the refugee camp at 8:30 A.M., parked his vehicle, and advanced on foot to meet a friend. While he was standing at an intersection near the Hamad family home, he was injured by a 0.22-inch caliber bullet in the chest.

In his testimony, he recounted:

Ahmad Rum with stitches in his abdomen after being operated on. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 15 Dec. 2020

I parked my car and advanced carefully on foot into the camp to meet a friend. There were clashes near the Hamad family home between several young guys who were throwing stones from an alley, from behind the corners of homes and rooftops. Police officers were firing live rounds and “rubber” bullets at them. I could see two or three Border Police officers near the Hamad family home from where I was standing. About 10 more people were standing and watching from several dozen meters away. Suddenly, I felt something like a sting on the left side of my chest. I didn’t hear a shot. I only felt the bullet hitting me. Then I started bleeding and felt nauseous.

A few young guys who were near me picked me up and carried me for 30 to 40 meters and put me in a private car that took me straight to Mujama Falastin Medical Center in Ramallah. There were already three or four injured people from the camp in the ER. I underwent surgery that lasted for about two hours, and then I was transferred to the surgical ward for further treatment. Apparently, the bullet that hit me was fired from top to bottom and exited from the left hip. I was discharged five days later on Saturday night. I’m not working right now because I can’t walk. My job supported my family of seven. It’s still unclear what the injury’s consequences will be, and I’m anxious about the future.

‘Ali ‘Abd al-Qader (16), a camp resident and 11th-grade student, returned to Qalandiya R.C. at around 8:30 A.M. after going to his school and discovering that classes had been canceled due to the coronavirus. When he was near the Khalil family’s bakery, a police sniper shot him in the thigh. Immediately after his injury, one of the bakery workers, Muhammad Khalil (47), came out and tried to help him get away, but he too was shot by a sniper, who hit him below the knee.

‘Ali ‘Abd al-Qader after his release from the hospital. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 15 Dec. 2020

In his testimony, ‘Abd al-Qader recalled:

At 8:30 A.M., when I was close to my grandmother’s house and the bakery, I felt a very sharp sting in my thigh. I understood that I’d been hit in the middle of the right hip. I was terrified, bleeding a lot, and started screaming, “I’ve been hit, I’ve been hit.” I didn’t hear the gunshot and didn’t see the officer who injured me, but I think it was one of the officers in the street in front of the Hamad family home, about 80 meters away from me.

I tried to run back towards the bakery to ask for help but fell down after a few steps and couldn’t move my leg. Muhammad Khalil came towards me from his bakery, which is about 10 meters from the spot where I’d been hit. He picked me up to help me, but suddenly, he was also hit by a bullet in the leg. I didn’t hear the shot that time, either. Several young guys and a paramedic who were nearby helped us get into a private car. The paramedic, who rode with us, wrapped a piece of cloth over my wound to stop the bleeding.

In his testimony, Muhammad Khalil also described what happened:

Muhammad Khalil at the hospital. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 7 Dec. 2020

As the forces were on their way out of the camp, I looked out from the bakery and heard sounds of live rounds and “two-two” bullets. I saw ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Qader running and limping on one foot in my direction. He was bleeding and injured in the thigh. I went out of the bakery to help him. I advanced several meters, reached him, and supported him. At the same time, there was an officer near the Hamad family home about 80 meters away from me. While I was holding the wounded boy, I was hit in the left leg under the knee by a “two-two” bullet. I didn’t fall, and I kept trying to help the boy, but I couldn’t hold him anymore. A paramedic from the neighborhood reached us and helped me lift ‘Ali. We managed to get away from the officers’ firing range and hid in a corner until a private car took us to the Mujama Falastin Medical Center. When we got there, they took us straight to the ER, where they gave me an IV, disinfected the wound, and bandaged it. In the evening, I underwent surgery to repair the tendons and nerves damaged by the shooting. I was discharged six days later.

At the hospital, it turned out that ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Qader’s femoral artery had been severed and that he was suffering from muscle tears and damage to the femoral nerves. He underwent surgery on his leg and was released six days later but may need further surgery to reconstruct the nerves and tendons.

In his testimony, he further recounted:

Now I’m bedridden and can’t move without help. The principal said they would consider my situation and organize online learning for me after I recover. I used to help out at my aunt’s restaurant, but now I can’t work anymore. My father passed away about nine years ago. I’m the eldest son and the only one who can work and support the family. We’re four people in our family, and we now receive support from relatives and social organizations. I don’t know how we’re going to manage and how long we can go on like this.