domenica 8 maggio 2016

Gideon Levy : Palestinian Family Grapples With Siblings' Deaths as Israel Refuses to Release Bodies, Video

The bereaved father of Maram and Tahah is convinced that their double killing at the Qalandiyah checkpoint could have been prevented; Maram's two daughters still…

Now doubly bereaved, Salah Tahah tries to maintain composure that shows he is capable of dealing with this pain. He’s a 61-year-old shared-taxi driver who plies the route between his village and Ramallah, for 7 shekels ($1.85) each way. He speaks fluent Hebrew, which he picked up during the period when he worked at a poultry slaughterhouse in Beit Shemesh, driving ritual slaughterers and kashrut inspectors to and from Bnei Brak. His brother worked for 25 years as a janitor in Kibbutz Tzova. The people in this house recall fondly the many guests from Israel who visited them in other times.

Maram had been married for six years. Her father says she was waiting for the results of a pregnancy test. Last Wednesday morning, she told her mother, Fatma, that she was going to the East Jerusalem hospital. Her mother insisted that her younger brother accompany Maram. “We do not let our women go about alone,” her father explains.

Ibrahim, a student in the 11th grade, had been late for school that day and was sent home by his teacher. His fate was sealed: to accompany his sister on her death outing, which became his death outing, too.

They left after 8:30 A.M., taking a shared taxi toward Ramallah and then another one to the Qalandiyah checkpoint. There they started to walk toward the checkpoint in the lane reserved for cars. Salah says his daughter had never been to Qalandiyah and did not know where she was supposed to go.

Before leaving, Maram told her daughters that she would be back around midday and would bring them sweets. Her father, who was driving his taxi at the time, was told by his wife that Ibrahim had been sent home and that Maram had set out for Jerusalem with him.

Last November, the family mourned Yehya Tahah, a cousin of Maram and Ibrahim, who was shot in the head by soldiers while trying to get to work in a neighboring town; there had been a curfew at the time on his village. A photograph of Yehya, who was 20 at the time of his death, now hangs on the living room wall in this house of mourning. His father Yusuf has come to be with his brother as he grieves for his double loss.

Another uncle, Tahah Ksis, the one who worked in Kibbutz Tzova, says that during the tenure of Prime Minister Rabin, none of this would have happened. “It’s all because of Netanyahu. Netanyahu and the Shin Bet,” he says, referring to Israel’s security service.

What, then, happened at the checkpoint? The fact that the police are refusing to release the footage taken by the security cameras there has provoked strong suspicions. In other cases, where publicizing such footage served its interests, the police were quick to do so.

According to a report this week, Border Policemen called out to the sister and brother to stop, and when they kept going, fired into the air. Afterward, Maram apparently threw her bag onto the ground, and possibly also a knife, and was shot and killed by private security guards from a distance of 10 to 15 meters. That was as close as Maram got to them. Ibrahim, who, according to eyewitnesses tried to remove his sister’s body from the site, was also shot to death.

The two lay on the ground, in an embrace, dead or dying – no one bothered to check their condition – for about an hour and a half before being taken from the scene.

Kareem Jubran, field research director for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, took the testimony of the Red Crescent ambulance driver, who arrived on the scene about 10 minutes after the shootings, at 10:50. The driver told Jubran that he was not allowed to approach the two until 12:20, that he was driven off with threats and that no one went to check the siblings as they lay bleeding on the road. Finally, personnel from Zaka, an Israeli emergency response organization, arrived, placed the bodies in plastic bags and removed them.

“They killed them, they killed them,” says Yusuf Tahah, the father’s brother, “but at least give us the bodies. Tell us where to go and we will bring the bodies. We can’t go on with our lives before burying them.”

The pain at Israel’s confiscation of the bodies is almost as searing here as the pain at the loss of the sister and brother.

Of the three knives the police displayed in a photograph – they were quick enough to make that image public: the knives are apparently not considered “investigation material” – Salah Tahah recognizes only his son’s folding penknife. It has a screwdriver and a bottle opener, he says, and his son used to keep it in his pocket. The knife remains folded even in the police photo. The father does not recognize the other two knives, which are new and identical to each other.

Salah was driving his taxi and had no idea of what had happened, when his brother came toward him, made him stop and told him the appalling news. He let the passengers out and rushed home, where they already had heard.

“The Lord gave, the Lord took,” the bereaved father says now in the Hebrew he learned from hid days at the Beit Shemesh slaughterhouse. He does not add, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Gideon Levy

Haaretz Correspondent
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