HALHOUL, West Bank — At a small medical clinic northwest of Hebron, dozens of members of the Abu Asabeh family on Wednesday received the remains of their loved one, Mahmoud Abu Asabeh, who was killed in Israel by a rocket fired from Gaza earlier this week.
Nihal Abu Asabeh immediately broke down in tears and fell to the ground when she saw her 48-year-old son’s body. Her family members hoisted her up and helped her sit on a nearby chair.
“Mahmoud… Mahmoud,” she cried out, as medical professionals carried his body into the clinic in the West Bank town of Halhoul to wash and wrap it in a white cloth.
Later, family members and locals brought the body to Halhoul’s Nabi Younis Mosque, where they performed traditional prayers and subsequently buried Abu Asabeh in an adjacent cemetery, beside his grandfather.
The funeral was almost entirely devoid of chants and factional flags, which are commonplace at funerals for Palestinians killed in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Traditional Middle Eastern scarfs, however, were laid on Mahmoud’s remains.
No senior Fatah or PA officials attended the burial service. In contrast, a month ago, many high-level Fatah and PA officials took part in a funeral for a Palestinian who was allegedly killed by settlers in the northern West Bank. Few journalists covered the event.
Mahmoud Abu Asabeh, a Palestinian from Halhoul, was a contractor with a permit to work in Israel, where he spent much of his time.
Late Monday night Mahmoud was killed, and a Palestinian woman was seriously injured, when a rocket fired by terrorists in Gaza directly impacted the Ashkelon apartment building they were both in. The attack came during a 24-hour period of intense violence that saw over 400 rockets launched from Gaza into Israel.
The Israeli army also carried out strikes on Hamas and Islamic Jihad infrastructure throughout the coastal enclave, the IDF said.
In a blunder that was heavily criticized, Israeli rescue forces missed the apartment Mahmoud and the woman were in. Rescuers combed the building for victims and evacuated several wounded people, but left without finding Abu Asabeh and the woman. The two were found only over an hour after the impact by a local man, Shlomi Lankri.
Abu Asabeh was found dead inside the home. The woman, who has not been identified, was discovered alive and transported to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center. She was in moderate condition as of Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman for the medical center.
Mahmoud was the only civilian to be killed in Israel during the sharp flareup of cross-border violence between Sunday and Tuesday.
After an Israeli operation that went awry in Gaza on Sunday left one Israeli officer and seven Palestinian fighters dead, terrorist groups in the coastal enclave shot off hundreds of rockets and projectiles at Israel. The IDF responded by targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad infrastructure throughout Gaza.
In a twist of fate, the only person killed in the terrorist barrage was himself a Palestinian — one who reportedly abhorred the violent conflict.
Abu Asabeh had worked in Israel for approximately the past 15 years, according to his uncle Imad Abu Asabeh.
“He would go to work in Israel on Sunday and return home to Halhoul on Friday,” Imad, who owns a car rental company, said in a phone call on Tuesday. “That was his weekly routine.”
Abu Asabeh’s son Bashir told the Ynet news site his father had many Jewish friends and was very concerned by the eruption of violence. Bashir also said he had planned to return to Halhoul on Tuesday.
Abu Asabeh’s last Facebook post was of a video of a rocket being intercepted in what he indicated was Ashdod.
“Ashdod now. May God be gentle,” he wrote.
Imad too said the family opposed the rocket attacks on Israel and the Israeli strikes in Gaza.
“God wrote for Mahmoud what happened to him,” he said on Tuesday. “But we are against the rocket attacks and the strikes on Gaza. We want all of it to stop because we do not want to see more victims.”
Imad said Mahmoud left behind a wife, two daughters learning at local universities, and three sons including one studying at a military academy in Russia at the Palestinian Authority’s expense and a five-year-old boy.
“Mahmoud was like my brother,” cousin Ashraf al-Masri, 43, said. “He was one of those people who would bring excitement and energy to family events and weddings.”
Ashraf also remembered Mahmoud as generous person who would support his family members and friends.
“When he found out a few weeks ago that one of our cousins needs a liver transplant, he did all the necessary checks to see if he could donate part of his,” he said. “He did them all without even notifying us beforehand.”
The Jewish Agency was planning to send support to Mahmoud’s family from its Fund for the Victims of Terror, a spokesman for Issac Herzog, the agency’s chairman, confirmed in a phone call.
The New York Times first reported that the Jewish Agency was intending to send funds to the Abu Asabeh family. They were to be the first non-Israelis to receive money from the agency’s fund “in recent years,” the spokesman said.
Asked if they would accept the funds, Imad, Mahmoud’s father Abdelhamid and other family members said they would, but noted that the Jewish Agency had not contacted them yet.
Intisar al-Wazir, the chairwoman of a Palestine Liberation Organization body that provides payments to the families of Palestinian “martyrs,” did not immediately respond when asked if the Abu Asabeh family would be eligible to receive support from the PLO institution.
Imad, Ashraf and several other family members also said they did not know the woman who was in the apartment with Mahmoud when the rocket hit. The New York Times reported that she was Mahmoud’s second wife who he had married approximately six months ago.
After Abu Asabeh was buried on Wednesday, family members gathered in a hall to share a meal of yellow rice and beef.
Speaking outside the hall, Ashraf lamented Mahmoud’s absence.
“He was important to me and the people here,” he said. “I am not sure what we will do without him.”