The Israel Defense Forces has released from custody a 26-year-old Palestinian who was suspected of trying to ram Israeli troops in the West Bank earlier this month, in an incident that led troops to shoot and kill a 15-year-old autistic Palestinian girl who was in the car with him at the time.
Fulla Masalma was shot by soldiers near Ramallah on November 14. The military said then that the car she was in had accelerated toward troops. But driver Annes Hassuna’s release from custody a few days later indicates the military has quickly ruled out malign intent, raising questions as to the soldiers’ conduct.
Hassuna, 26, from the Palestinian town of Beitunia, was also injured in the incident and was taken by troops to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center for treatment.
During his interrogation, he insisted he’d had no intention of ramming the troops. Palestinian news outlets, citing witnesses, have claimed the car was moving slowly when soldiers opened fire.
And according to a Friday report by the Haaretz daily, military prosecutors have ordered an investigation into the incident.
In an interview with Haaretz, Masalma’s family said the teenager, who was on the autism spectrum, had been missing for a few hours before they were notified of her death. They said they were not sure how she ended up in Hassuna’s car. He said she’d hitched a ride with him.
לפני שבועיים, חיילי צה"ל ירו למוות בנערה פלסטינית שהייתה במכונית. הנערה, פלה אל-מסאלמה, הייתה אוטיסטית וחמקה מביתה כמה שעות קודם לכן.
צה"ל טען שמי שנהג במכונית, פלסטיני בן 26, האיץ לכיוון החיילים ועצר אותו. כעבור ימים אחדים הוא שוחרר ממעצר לביתו. https://t.co/XREY5h2T1D
— Hagar Shezaf (@hagar_shezaf) November 26, 2022
Masalma, who would sometimes leave the house late at night without notifying her parents, “could not differentiate between day and night,” her sister said.
According to Hassuna, Maslama was standing at the side of the road and asked him to give her a ride.
בכל יום ספורו של ילד פלסטיני תחת כיבוש
פלה ראסמי אל מסאלמה.
בת 16 פחות יום.
נערה בגופה, כמעט אשה. מאובחנת על הספקטרום האוטיסטי ברמת תפקוד נמוכה.
ילידת בית עווא, אך המשפחה מתגוררת בביתוניא זה מספר שנים.<< pic.twitter.com/ogJg7JMqyH
— עדי ארגוב عدي أرجوف Adi Argov (@adinitay) November 19, 2022
“I was on my way home from a get together at 3 a.m.,” he told Haaretz. “I saw her at the side of the road. I didn’t even know her name. She said she was from Al-Bireh and wanted to go home.”
According to the military, troops who were operating in Beitunia at the time ordered Hassuna to stop, and that the car then stopped for a few moments before accelerating toward them.
Hassuna has denied this, saying he was not told to stop and was surprised by the gunshots.
“I didn’t even see any soldiers,” he said. “Why did this happen? Why was I shot?”
The IDF has also suggested that Hassuna may have been intoxicated at the time, a claim he has denied.