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Witnesses dispute IDF account after Palestinian shot during West Bank operation

Neighbors say soldiers acted ‘as if they were going to war’ as they sought to confiscate generator in shooting that left unarmed Haroun Abu Aram, 24, paralyzed

Palestinians protest Israeli policies and settler attacks in the south Hebron Hills as soldiers look on, January 2, 2021. (WAFA)
Palestinians protest Israeli policies and settler attacks in the south Hebron Hills as soldiers look on, January 2, 2021. (WAFA)

Palestinian witnesses to a shooting by Israeli troops on Friday that reportedly left a 24-year-old Palestinian man paralyzed disputed the army’s account that a violent, massive demonstration had preceded the shooting.

Haroun Abu Aram, 24, was shot in the neck by an Israeli soldier during a scuffle over a generator allegedly used in illegal construction. Abu Aram, who witnesses said was unarmed, was engaged in a tug-of-war over the electric generator with the troops seeking to confiscate it.

The Palestinian Health Ministry later said that Abu Aram was left paralyzed from the neck down following the shooting. According to witnesses on the scene, a soldier fired at the car which sought to take Abu Aram to a nearby hospital, puncturing one of the tires.

He was taken to a hospital in Yatta, a city in the south Hebron hills. When his condition deteriorated, he was taken to a hospital in Hebron.

“My son is hanging right now between life and death,” Abu Aram’s father Rasmi told the Kan Public Broadcaster on Saturday night.

According to neighbors and other eyewitnesses, the scuffle with Abu Aram did not take place during a larger confrontation between some 150 Palestinians and troops, as the army alleged on Friday, but rather while he tried to help a friend whose family was roughed up by the soldiers, with only a few people around.

“Haroun Abu Aram, my neighbor, is from a poor family, barely holding on. They’re simple people. He saw his neighbor being aggressed upon and showed up to help,” said Al-Rakeez resident Ashraf al-Amur.

A witness also discounted the possibility that the soldier opened fire by mistake, as one Israeli media report suggested.

“The soldier was, at the absolute most, two meters away from the young man. He raised his rifle and fired. It was deliberate,” said al-Rakeez resident Murad Hamamdeh, who attested that he was at the scene.

The Israel Defense Force said in a statement that the incident is “being investigated by the commanding authorities.” A formal investigation by the Military Police’s Investigatory Unit has not yet been announced, however.

The European Union condemned Abu Aram’s shooting, calling an “excessive and disproportionate use of force.”

Israeli forces arrived in the unrecognized West Bank village of al-Rakeez late on Friday morning to conduct an operation to confiscate equipment they alleged was involved in illegal construction.

“A representative of the Civil Administration who was present during the activity clarified to the Palestinian residents why the tools were being seized,” an Israeli military spokesperson said.

The soldiers entered al-Amur’s house — which is slated for demolition by the Civil Administration — and began to search it, according to Palestinian witnesses.

“The troops didn’t operate like an army dealing with ordinary citizens. They acted as if they were going to war. They searched [al-Amur’s] house as if they were looking for chemical weapons, not a generator,” al-Amur’s neighbor Hamamdeh told The Times of Israel.

Both Hamamdeh and al-Amur said that a soldier pushed Amur’s family to the floor and kicked Amur’s young son out of the way — “like a soccer ball,” Hamamdeh said.

Palestinians scuffle with Israeli soldiers outside of al-Tuwani in the West Bank, on January 1, 2021 (screenshot)

Abu Aram ran to confront the soldiers when he saw them dragging Amur’s generator toward their jeep. The town is not on an electrical grid and the generator would have been the family’s only source of electricity. Temperatures at night in the area can drop to 7º C (45º F).

Abu Aram had already had his own home demolished in November during an operation by the Civil Administration. His father had built the house as a wedding present for Abu Aram, who is engaged to be married.

In a video from the scene, the Palestinians can be seen scuffling with Israeli soldiers in an attempt to take back the confiscated generator. After the brawl escalates, a gunshot rings out off-camera. When the camera turns back toward the scene, Abu Aram is lying on the ground, apparently having been shot.

“We had no knives, nothing at all, we were unarmed. What forced the soldier to shoot live fire at him?” al-Amur said.

A spokesperson for the military said on Sunday that “a number of Palestinian residents ran wild and violently attacked the army force in an attempt to prevent the action from being completed.”

“A Palestinian was wounded by live fire during the incident, which is being investigated by the commanding authorities,” the spokesperson said. But the IDF declined to say if a formal probe by the Military Police Investigations Unit was in the works.

The military spokesperson also asserted on Friday that the shooting was preceded by “massive stone-throwing” by a crowd of over 150 Palestinians against Israeli troops.

The Palestinian residents of al-Rakeez who said they were at the scene of the shooting, however, disputed that account. Some young children did throw stones, they acknowledged, but both the stone-throwing and the large crowd emerged only after the shots rang out in the air.

“After the shots were fired, people began running to see what had happened. As the crowd gathered, the soldiers withdrew, got into their jeep, and left. After they saw the young man lying on the ground, some of the younger kids threw stones at the jeep as it drove away, cracking the back window,” Hamamdeh said.

“But when Haroun was shot? There were 10 soldiers, and six Palestinians — the house’s owner, his wife, Haroun, his father, his mother, and myself,” Hamamdeh said.

“The whole thing took around 50 minutes. It was only after the shots were fired that people showed up, and the soldiers saw them and left. Before that, it was just the six of us. Where are they getting this ‘150 people throwing stones’? That’s an excuse by some failed commander,” al-Amur said.

After Abu Aram was shot, al-Amur said, he brought around his car and dragged Abu Aram into it to take him to the hospital.

Al-Amur said that as he left the scene to head to a clinic in the local town of Yatta, one of the soldiers opened fire on his car, bursting one of the back tires.

An Israeli bulldozer demolishes a Palestinian structure in the south Hebron hills on September 30, 2020 (WAFA)

Al-Rakeez, in the south Hebron Hills, lies in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel maintains full civilian and security control per the Oslo Accords, and partly within an area known as Firing Zone 918, a military training zone.

The demolished house of Haroun Abu Aram lies within Firing Zone 918, according to a map provided by the rights group Breaking The Silence, while Amur’s house, where the generator was being used, is outside.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which is responsible for much of the day-to-day governance of Palestinians in Area C, did not respond to a request for comment by The Times of Israel to explain why Amur’s construction in al-Rakeez had specifically been deemed illegal.

COGAT also declined to elaborate on the record as to why the generator had been confiscated. But in a statement to The Times of Israel, a security source argued that “the tools were illegal because the construction was illegal. There were no permits for that zone, and the activity of those tools was thus illegal.”

Israeli authorities do not recognize many Palestinian villages in the south Hebron hills, and regularly arrive to demolish homes and confiscate construction equipment they deem illegal.

A Palestinian woman sits holding a child next to items salvaged from the remains of their home after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers in a disputed military zone in the area of Musafir Jenbah, which includes several villages, south of the West Bank town of Hebron on February 2, 2016. / AFP / HAZEM BADER

Palestinians argue that Israel rarely issues permits for them to legally build in Area C, home to around 200,000 Palestinians and all the Israeli West Bank settlements. Between 2016 and 2018, according to data released by the Civil Administration to the Bimkom rights group, only 1.4% of Palestinian requests for permits were granted.

A long-running court case over the firing zone has sought to establish whether or not the residents have the right to remain in the area. The case is still pending in the High Court.

According to a document discussed by the High Court in early August, future prime minister Ariel Sharon explicitly told a 1981 committee meeting on West Bank settlement that the military would declare some areas — specifically mentioning the south Hebron hills — to be training zones so as to curb “the spread of Arab hill-villagers.”

“There are places which we have an interest in declaring to be live-fire zones, so as to ensure that they remain in our hands,” Sharon, who was then settlement minister, told the committee.

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