How a normal day ended in tragedy for Palestinian teens

Two girls were shot after attacking a man in Jerusalem, in an incident that has devastated and baffled their families.

'When she left, the neighbour saw her and told her she looked very nice. Everything was normal,' Maleeha Awad said of the morning her daughter was shot dead [Marcus Whisson/Al Jazeera]
'When she left, the neighbour saw her and told her she looked very nice. Everything was normal,' Maleeha Awad said of the morning her daughter was shot dead [Marcus Whisson/Al Jazeera]

Qalandia refugee camp, occupied West Bank – One by one, the schoolgirls filed into the living room. Backpacks still on their shoulders, the ninth graders embraced Maleeha Awad and kissed her on each cheek.

“May she rest in peace,” the girls whispered. Some wiped away tears as they turned and left the room. Shock etched into her face, Maleeha softly mumbled her gratitude.

The girls had worn black headscarves to school that day as a mark of respect for their classmate Hadeel Awad, 14, who was shot dead on Monday morning in Jerusalem. Her mother, Maleeha, thought her daughter had gone to school along the normal route that day.

It's not logical. She was not poor. She was not very political. She did not want to end her life. She was happy; she was a good student. There's no explanation.

Abdelhamid Awad, brother of slain teenager Hadeel Awad

“I woke her up and made her a bowl of cornflakes,” Maleeha told Al Jazeera. “She ate a spoonful of honey and she ate some dates. I gave her some money. She got dressed and told me she wanted to go to get her cousin and go to school. When she left, the neighbour saw her and told her she looked very nice. Everything was normal.”

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Hadeel’s 16 year-old cousin, Norhan, lives across the street in the Qalandia refugee camp, close to the Israeli separation wall. The two girls attended the same high school and would walk there together every morning.

But on Monday morning, the girls headed for Jerusalem instead.

“The school principal called the house and said Hadeel and Norhan didn’t show up at school. And I said, ‘No, they left the house, they went to school,'” Maleeha recalled. “After a while, we heard there was an attack in Jerusalem.”

In video footage recorded that morning on Jaffa Street, a thoroughfare in West Jerusalem, Hadeel is seen wearing her school uniform and a white hijab, alongside Norhan. Suddenly, Hadeel runs towards a nearby pedestrian, her arm raised at head level, wielding what appears to be a pair of scissors.

She springs towards the man, who reaches for his waist and pulls out what appears to be a handgun. He points it at Hadeel while retreating from her. Meanwhile, Norhan stands in place, apparently holding a pair of scissors in the air. A man in a black T-shirt emerges from a parked white car with a handgun and shoots Norhan; another man then hits her with a chair.

On the walls in Qalandia refugee camp, local children have plastered posters of Hadeel Awad [Marcus Whisson/Al Jazeera]

The pedestrian appears to fire a shot at Hadeel, who stumbles and falls to the ground. The man in the black T-shirt then fires multiple shots at Hadeel from close range as she lies on the ground, before returning to Norhan, who is also lying on the ground. He shoots her again at close range.

Norhan, who was shot twice, was taken to hospital, where she remained on Friday, prohibited from speaking with her family. Hadeel, who was shot four times in the upper body, was pronounced dead on Wednesday.

In the moments before the video was taken, the girls attacked a 70-year-old Palestinian man with scissors, in an apparent case of mistaken identity. He was lightly wounded.

The footage has troubled the Awad family, who believe that the armed men used excessive force against the teenagers.

“The man who shot her, he didn’t have to kill her,” said Menal Awad, the victim’s aunt. “He did it deliberately to kill. It was an execution.”

In a  letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli human rights group B’TSelem highlighted the shooting of the Awad cousins and demanded an end to “the horrific string of summary street executions”.

RELATED: Bringing into question Israel’s extrajudicial killings

The youngest sibling among 16, Hadeel was a strong student and recently came first in her school term, scoring an average of 94 percent in her classes. Quiet and headstrong, Hadeel was ambitious, focused and driven, her relatives said. Menal, who often spent Fridays with Hadeel, said that last week she seemed like a happy, funny teenager.

“We had a really good time together. She was laughing and joking with her uncles and brothers,” Menal told Al Jazeera. “This Friday, we planned to go to Jericho and have lunch with her brother. I wanted to reward her for her good grades in school. She had the best mark in the class.”

In Hadeel’s small bedroom, the walls are painted pink, and her homework assignments still sit on the desk next to her semester report. On the shelf above the desk is a framed photograph of Hadeel’s older brother, Mahmoud, who was fatally shot in the head by Israeli forces at a protest at the Qalandia checkpoint in 2012.

Hadeel’s brother, Abdelhamid Awad, says he is at a loss as to why the attack happened [Marcus Whisson/Al Jazeera]

Rather than seeking revenge, Hadeel responded to the tragedy by deciding to become a doctor, said her sister, Haya Awad, 33.

“When her father died, Hadeel was seven years old,” Haya told Al Jazeera. “She was the baby, the youngest in the house, so Mahmoud stepped in and gave her the care that a father would give to his daughter. She was very close to him and she was affected by his death very much.”

On the walls outside the Awad family home, local children have plastered posters of Hadeel. A stream of brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbours have stopped by to pay their respects.

As dozens of plastic chairs were laid out for a memorial service on Wednesday, Hadeel’s brother, Abdelhamid Awad, wandered forlornly across the courtyard. Like Haya, he did not think Hadeel had sought to avenge the death of her favourite brother. He remained at a loss as to what happened.

“She was close to him, but this was years ago; she was not trying to avenge him. It’s not logical,” he told Al Jazeera. “She was not poor. She was not very political. She did not want to end her life.

“She was happy; she was a good student. There’s no explanation.”

Source: Al Jazeera


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