A 14-year-old Palestinian bystander lost his eye on Friday afternoon in the West Bank city of Hebron after apparently being hit by a rubber-tipped steel bullet fired by an Israeli soldier, although the Israeli army said it could neither confirm nor deny the matter.
A spokesperson for the IDF did not deny the possibility and acknowledged that Israeli soldiers had fired rubber bullets at a crowd of Palestinians nearby.
“There was a violent protest, including stone-throwing and stone-slinging, and the military responded with riot dispersal mechanisms, including rubber bullets,” the Israeli military’s spokesperson said.
Family members of the boy, Izz al-Din Nidal al-Batsh, said he was nowhere near the protests when he was struck in the eye.
In a security camera video widely shared on social media, the boy can be seen standing in a vegetable shop when he is hit. Al-Batsh’s family claimed the clashes were not taking place next to the shop, but rather down the road. The young teenager does not seem to be participating in any demonstration, merely looking out into the street.
A Palestinian child from Hebron was shot in his eye, he got a rubber bullet which was shot by an Israeli army sniper. The video is clear, the child didn't show any threat on the soldiers. He was inside a vegitable shop. pic.twitter.com/uZvEDP6hvM
— Issa Amro عيسى عمرو ???????? (@Issaamro) April 9, 2021
The army said that an initial investigation by the division’s commander had concluded that the soldiers had not fired directly at the shop. In cases of suspected negligence or wrongdoing, the army’s investigative unit — the Military Police — will occasionally open an inquiry.
“The investigation was done at the level of the division, not by the Military Police,” a spokesperson said.
But Izz al-Din’s cousin, Abd al-Karim, told the Haaretz daily that one of the soldiers “pointed their gun at us and fired. It was clear he aimed at us.”
Izz al-Din regularly works after school at the local store, his father Nidal told The Times of Israel.
“He’s a student who excels at school. But he goes after school to work, to help out, weigh vegetables. He takes care of his own money and so on. But then this befell him,” al-Batsh said.
رصاص الإحتلال الإسرائيلي يُفقد الطفل #عز_الدين_البطش (13عامًا) عينه اليمنى خلال عمله في متجر للخضار بحي باب الزاوية في #القدس. هذا الطفل الصغير الكبير يعمل في ذلك المتجر منذ عامين ليعيل أسرته. pic.twitter.com/NPic4LEiLJ
— Areej Saqqa (@SaqqaAreej) April 11, 2021
According to Nidal, the vegetable shop lies in the neighborhood of Bir al-Hummus. There are regular clashes farther down the road — some 150 meters, according to the father — in an area of the West Bank city known as Bab al-Zawiya.
The flashpoint space lies adjacent to an Israeli checkpoint that divides parts of Hebron under formal Palestinian Authority rule from a thoroughfare — known as Shuhada Street — under Israeli control.
After Izz al-Din was shot, he was rushed to Alia Hospital in Hebron. After consulting with the doctors there, the boy was transferred to St. John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem later that night. The doctors in Jerusalem confirmed that his eye could not be saved.
“He was shot around 3:30 in the afternoon. But it wasn’t until 12:30 at night when I delivered him in my arms over to the Israeli side at the checkpoint; his eye was damaged for ten hours before he reached St. John. I think there was some negligence there,” Nidal said.
Israeli security forces regularly use rubber-tipped bullets against Palestinians in the West Bank as a riot control mechanism. With a metal core surrounded by a rubber coating, the projectiles are less lethal than live fire, but can still blind, cripple, or kill.
Nidal told The Times of Israel that he supports an investigation into how his son was blinded. Rights groups have criticized Israeli internal military investigations, which they charge rarely lead to convictions.
“Of course, I’d like to see an investigation. God put me in charge of this child. The errors need to be fixed so that everyone can learn from them,” Nidal said.
Izz al-Din al-Batsh returned home on Sunday afternoon. According to his father, the long-term effects of the rubber-tipped bullet on his son’s health are still unknown.
“Someone told me my son was 14, he barely saw life before his eye was put out,” Nidal concluded sadly.