Nablus, occupied West Bank – It has been almost two months since Najlaa Dmaidi’s eldest son, 19-year-old Labib, was shot dead by Israeli settlers.
But for the 42-year-old mother, time has stopped. She keeps her head down and her eyes glued to the ground in sorrow over her killed son.
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“He turned 19 on July 21. His birthday was on the same day his sister’s high school matriculation exam results came out,” she said in a muffled voice.
Sitting in the living room of her home in the Palestinian town of Huwara, south of Nablus city, Najlaa said: “That was the last time we all celebrated together.”
Huwara is surrounded by four illegal Israeli settlements and countless settler outposts, military checkpoints and bases. It has come under severe settler attacks and movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli army for more than a year and a half.
“Labib would always liven up the house. He loved to joke, to play, he loved life, he also loved his homeland,” Najlaa said, fidgeting with her fingers.
On the night of October 5 – and into the early hours of October 6 – dozens of Israeli settlers attacked the Dmaidi home which is situated on the Huwara road – the main artery running from the north to the south used by both Palestinians and settlers.
The attack came hours after a Palestinian carried out a drive-by shooting in the town, causing no injuries.
“The settlers were gathered in front of our building and snipers standing on rooftops were shooting at people,” Najlaa explained, adding that the “army was with” the settlers and that they were firing tear gas into their home.
Some 25 family members, including 13 children, were inside when the attack took place. Labib was shot dead while standing on the roof of his uncle’s house just opposite his family’s building.
“His 12-year-old brother was standing next to him when he was shot,” said Najlaa.
‘Dreams shattered in the blink of an eye’
Labib was in his second year of a graphic design degree at Palestine Technical University – Kadoorie in the nearby city of Tulkarm.
His father, 50-year-old Mohammad, an engineer, is a soft-spoken man with a neatly shaved beard.
“I would sit with Labib and we would draw plans for his future,” he recalled. “In a blink of an eye, all of these dreams were shattered.”
The father-of-three said he was very proud of his son before he was killed. “Labib would go to university every day, and after that he would work at his uncle’s store in Huwara,” Mohammad told Al Jazeera, adding that his son was also taking a course in home decor.
The worsening conditions for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, particularly in Huwara, make it difficult to imagine a better future for Palestinian children, he said.
“No one is not afraid for their children, their nephews and nieces,” said Mohammad. “They have no future.”
Owing to its location on a main highway in the occupied West Bank, Huwara’s 9,000 residents once enjoyed a steady stream of business due to the constant flow of Palestinians driving through from other cities and villages.
But since May 2022, the Israeli army and settlers have slowly turned Huwara into a ghost town, much like Shuhada Street in the Old City of Hebron.
On February 27, hundreds of settlers rampaged through Huwara, carrying out what was described as a “pogrom” and which left a 37-year-old Palestinian man dead, hundreds of others injured, and dozens of cars and homes burned down. Several other attacks have happened since.
Israel reimposed movement closures on October 5 after the drive-by shooting in the town, with the vast majority of Huwara’s 800 stores forced to shut their doors. They have never reopened.
“We were not even allowed to walk or stand on the road at all for the first 45 days after October 5,” said Najlaa.
Mohammad believes that Israel used the Gaza-based Hamas armed group attack on Israel two days later, on October 7, to severely intensify restrictions in Huwara.
That day, Hamas fighters killed some 1,200 people in a surprise operation. Shortly afterwards, Israel launched an ongoing shelling campaign on the besieged Gaza Strip, killing at least 15,000 Palestinians, including more than 6,000 children.
But Labib’s father said the focus on Hamas since October 7 shifts the focus from Israel’s policies against the Palestinian people as a whole.
“They claim that what is happening is about Hamas. My son was killed on October 6. There was no Hamas,” Mohammad told Al Jazeera.
“When they burned down Huwara in February, there was no Hamas. When they attacked our house yet again two weeks after they killed my son, there was no Hamas,” he said.
“Imagine that a minister of a state comes out and says to the media ‘erase Huwara’ – what world are we living in?”
‘Living under the illusion of a state’
Due to the frequency of settler attacks and heavy militarisation of Huwara and the southern area of Nablus, which is also heavily populated with illegal settlements, the Dmaidi family said their children are suffering severely psychologically.
“My niece has a literal nervous breakdown when she sees the settlers. Particularly after the night Labib was killed, she falls to the ground and starts shaking,” said Mohammad.
“All the children of the family saw Labib lying on the ground on the street bleeding out after we carried him from the roof. It was horrific for them,” he explained.
The killed teen’s father said he believes the Palestinian Authority (PA) shares part of the blame for the situation of residents in the occupied West Bank today.
The PA was created as a temporary governing body in 1993 and has administrative control over small pockets of the occupied West Bank.
It was meant to serve for five years in the lead-up to the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the 1967-occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The continuing Israeli occupation, land theft and settlement building have meant that the Palestinian state was never created.
Many Palestinians now view the PA as little more than a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation due to the requirement that it share intelligence with the Israeli authorities, among other policies.
“We have been living under the illusion of a state for 30 years,” said Mohammad.
“I used to go up to the mountain, there was no Yitzhar [an Israeli settlement south of Nablus]. Thanks to Oslo, Yitzhar is now here. The settler comes down with all ease to the centre of our town – this is all based on Oslo. Now in two or three years, they won’t just come to the front door, we are going to find them in our living rooms,” he said.
“We have a president, we have a prime minister, and yet, we have nothing at the same time.”