Jenin, occupied West Bank — Suleiman Abu al-Waf will never forget the “thumping sound” that forever changed his life.
The 47-year-old, a general physician in the Jenin Directorate of Health, was sitting at home with his younger son and two daughters on November 29. The Israeli army had raided the city’s refugee camp that day, ripping up streets, ordering people to leave their homes at gunpoint, and bombing a house.
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But once word spread that the army had withdrawn, Suleiman’s elder son, 15-year-old Basil, told his father he wanted to go out and play with his friends. “He insisted, so I allowed him to go out and warned him not to go far,” Suleiman recalls. Basil was playing in the al-Basateen neighbourhood, far from the refugee camp. “It is known as a very quiet area,” Suleiman says.
So when he heard the sound, he knew something was wrong. “I picked up my phone and called Basil more than once. He did not answer,” the father says.
He ran out of his house and saw another boy, eight-year-old Adam Samer al-Ghoul on the street, injured in his head. Another boy came running up: “Uncle, Basil is injured.” When Suleiman got to his son, he saw paramedics trying to revive him. They refused to believe he was a doctor, so they kept him away from his son.
But Suleiman knew instantly. “From the first sight of Basil, I knew that he was a martyr. Praise be to God.”
Basil and Adam, young boys playing in Jenin, were shot dead by Israeli soldiers during the Jenin raid, in which two adults were also killed. A video that captures the boys being shot has since gone viral. The Israeli army arrested 15 others from the refugee camp, which has been a central focus of battles between them and Palestinian resistance fighters.
The boys were among more than 260 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank who have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers since the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7. Israeli bombing and artillery fire have also killed more than 17,000 people in Gaza in this period, including at least 7,000 children.
Basil was studying at Jenin Secondary School in the 10th grade. “His mother, a pharmacist, and I dreamed that he would become a doctor and that he would study medicine — but we never pressured him to choose any stream,” Suleiman says.
Now, those dreams have been replaced by an indescribable sorrow for the family of Basil, among at least 63 children killed in Israeli attacks in the West Bank since October 7. “The pain is very difficult,” the father says. “What happened is heavier than the mountains, a feeling that only the parents feel.”
Basil’s uncle Hazem Abu al-Wafa, who works in a medical analysis laboratory, describes his nephew as a simple child.
“Basil is a child who does not know anything in life except his school, his books, and playing with his friends, like the interests of any other child,” Hazem says.
Hazem, his brother Suleiman and the rest of their family usually meet every weekend in the village of Silat al-Harithiya, where they have a home. That’s where Hazem last met his nephew — the weekend before his death.
The family, Hazem says, values education, a consequence of how they were brought up.
“We grew up in an environment that made us celebrate if one of our children gets a good grade,” he says.
“Our father worked for us a lot, and he was a teacher.” Suleiman and Hazem are among nine siblings — five brothers and four sisters. “We are all university graduates.”
Basil was also a good friend, says 14-year-old Hassan al-Masry. The two first met earlier in the year and over play and jokes, quickly became close friends. The day before Basil was shot, they were sitting with other friends. They made a fire as they chatted.
“We were happy and laughing, and nothing could be better than this,” Hassan recalls.
The next day, he was sitting with Basil at their usual hangout spot, when Hassan’s mother called him home for lunch.
It was while he was eating that he heard the sound of bullets and people shouting. “ I ran outside,” he says.
His friend, and Adam, were dead.