Residents mourn Palestinian youth killed in ‘cold blood’

Arkan Mizhar, 15, is the 31st Palestinian child killed by Israeli forces in 2018 due to ‘culture of impunity’.

Relatives of Palestinian teenager Arkan Mezeher, who was killed by Israeli soldiers during a raid, mourn during his funeral in Dheishe refugee camp, near Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank
Relatives of Arkan Mizhar, who was killed by Israeli soldiers during a raid, mourn during his funeral [Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

The night before 15-year-old Arkan Mizhar was killed by Israeli forces, he kept telling his father Thaer how much he loved him, as if he sensed that he would not live another day.

Thaer last spoke with his son over a WhatsApp video call on Sunday night, since Arkan was staying overnight with his 78-year-old grandmother in the same Dheisheh refugee camp to help take care of her.

“I swear I love you,” Arkan told his father, showing him what he had bought for Ghassan, his younger brother.

I bought him three types of ice cream and chips, so you don’t say that I don’t like my younger brother,” Arkan told Thaer.

“Then he repeated how much he loves me over and over again. I asked him what’s wrong, but he kept saying ‘nothing, but I just swear I love you’,” Thaer recounted to Al Jazeera.

The following morning Thaer received a call informing him at first that Arkan had been shot in the leg, “to avoid horrifying” him.

But as he rushed back to the camp, his gut feeling that his son had in fact been killed only grew stronger.

Israeli forces had shot Arkan in the chest during confrontations before dawn that day as the soldiers raided the camp to arrest youth. The camp is located just south of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

His family describes Arkan as an active, social and hardworking student who dreamed of studying mechanics in Germany to become an electrician or car mechanic. He had just finished the ninth grade and was enrolled to attend a nearby industrial high school in September.

At the young age of 11, he had already learned how to make sofas and chairs. Noticing his son’s natural talent, Thaer set up a workshop for him a few years ago.

“He was always smiling and his face always happy and welcoming,” Thaer said of his son. 

Growing up the second-eldest of seven kids in a poor family, Arkan was always a big help, his uncle Abdel Hameed Mizhar told Al Jazeera. During the holy month of Ramadan, he sold fruits and vegetables from a cart to help provide for the family.

“I wish that Arkan, my nephew, could be the last martyr from the Palestinian nation that seeks freedom and peace,” Abdel Hameed Mizhar said.

'[The Israelis] killed [Arkan] in cold blood as they usually do,' Abdel Hameed Mizhar told Al Jazeera.
‘[The Israelis] killed [Arkan] in cold blood as they usually do,’ Abdel Hameed Mizhar told Al Jazeera.

‘Killed in cold blood’

Residents of Dheisheh say Israeli forces began raiding the camp as they regularly do, just before the dawn prayer around 3:30am to arrest youth and began “heavily” firing tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition.

According to researchers from Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), Arkan was shot with a single live bullet near his heart, which exited through his back. He was in the main alleyway entrance next to the camp’s main road where the confrontations were taking place when he was shot.

His autopsy revealed that he was most likely shot from a short distance of approximately 10 to 15 metres, said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director at DCIP.

The Israeli army told the media they had arrested two young men suspected of “terror activity” during their raid.

Israel says these routine raids are necessary for security reasons, but Abdel Hameed Mizhar says this reasoning doesn’t add up.

“They killed him in cold blood as they usually do,” Abdel Hameed told Al Jazeera.

“The arrests happened on the east side of the camp and the kid was killed [about 800 metres away] on the west side at the main street. So it’s not related; it’s just an innocent kid,” Abdel Hameed said, adding that the number of soldiers raiding the camp was unusually large.

“With the number of soldiers, whoever witnessed this scene would arrive at the conclusion that they had an order to kill,” Abdel Hameed said.

“[These are] political decisions made by the gang of Netanyahu and the extreme right to practice not just apartheid but brutality, which is worse than apartheid.”

The spokesperson for the Israeli forces did not respond to Al Jazeera for comment.

The army told media that residents had been “throwing improvised explosive devices, Molotov cocktails and stones” during their raid.

Two Palestinians were reportedly were shot in the leg. Altogether, 11 Palestinians were detained that night across the occupied West Bank in raids, which are a nightly occurrence.

There are around 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, including around 300 children, with 440 individuals held without charge or trial.

‘Culture of impunity’

Arkan is the 31st Palestinian child to be killed by Israeli forces so far this year, the majority of whom were aged 13-15, according to DCIP.

He is the sixth child fatality in the occupied West Bank, with the vast majority of children killed in the besieged Gaza Strip during the Great March of Return this year.

“[Our] documentation reveals that there was no need at all to shoot at the children. The culture of impunity that Israeli soldiers enjoy gives them a green light to shoot to kill,” Abu Eqtaish of DCPI said. 

“In almost all cases the Israeli authorities do not open investigations in the killing of Palestinian children and in case they do open an investigation, they close the probe without indicting Israeli soldiers.”

Accountability for fatal shootings of minors is extremely rare. Abu Eqtaish noted that there has been only one incident – the killing of 17-year-old Nadeem Nawara – that resulted in an investigation and indictment.

Ben Deri, an Israeli border police officer, was sentenced to nine months in prison last April for killing Nawara with an Israeli M16 round to the chest during a demonstration in May 2014. Nawara posed no threat to the soldiers.

Under international law, lethal force may only be used when a direct and mortal threat to life or serious injury exists.

“His punishment wasn’t consistent with the gravity of the crimes that he committed,” Abu Eqtaish said.

Palestinian stone throwers, however, can face up to 20 years in jail

Rana Nazzal, a Palestinian who regularly volunteers with the Shoruq organisation in Dheisheh, told Al Jazeera that violence ending in arrest, injury and death is part of everyday life for the youth who live there.

“The Israeli army enters the camp every week, often multiple times,” Nazzal said.

“Older children and teenagers begin to understand that this type of violence isn’t normal and you see a lot of teenagers writing, making art or music, becoming socially and politically active or in other ways expressing their hardship.”

“They aren’t surprised any more, but that doesn’t mean they don’t carry the trauma. Like one 17-year-old boy told me yesterday, it will eventually hit you – that you lost your friend or your brother – but it sometimes takes months to feel the pain,” Nazzal said.

Ehab Iwidat contributed to the report from the occupied West Bank.

Source: Al Jazeera