When a Palestinian girl is shot and killed ‘by accident’

Samah Abdullah, 18, was in a car with her family when she was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers, dying three weeks later. The army claims it was an accident.

By Yossi Gurvitz / Yesh Din

Illustrative photo of masked IDF soldiers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Illustrative photo of masked IDF soldiers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Samah Abd Al-Muman Ahmed Abdullah, from the West Bank village of Amoriya, woke up on Monday, November 23rd 2015, as she did on any day. She was an 18-year-old recent high school graduate who had just begun a cosmetics course in Nablus with her younger sister, H. Samah and H. took public transportation to the school. At about 11:00 a.m., Samah spoke with her mother and said she wanted to take H. to a hairdresser. Several hours later, an Israeli soldier fired a bullet that hit Samah in the head, mortally wounding her. After three weeks in intensive care, Samah died in an Israeli hospital.

This all took place during the blood-soaked days of the beginning of the so-called “knife intifada,” when IDF soldiers were killing Palestinians — some involved in attacks, some not — in great numbers. On the day of the incident, an Israeli police officer killed a girl who had carried out a stabbing attack with a pair of scissors, before shooting another girl after she was already “neutralized.” At about the same time, an 18-year-old Israeli was wounded in a stabbing attack near the settlement of Homesh. With the exception of Gideon Levy, the Israeli press did not busy itself with the story of Samah’s death.

Samah’s father, Abed, finished his work in the field at around midday, informing his daughters that he would pick them up from Nablus. The mother, Halleh, and younger brother A. also came along for the ride. After some shopping in the city they started back home. After an hour the family’s car reached Hawara checkpoint. They passed the checkpoint without any other cars ahead of them; soldiers were present, but they did not try and stop the car. Then shots rang out. The front windshield was smashed. After that came the screams.

Abed shouted for the passengers to duck. The car lurched on for a short distance, and then stopped. When Abed looked back, Samah was bleeding from her head. The hospital will later determine that a bullet went through her forehead, having found an exit wound.

A Red Crescent ambulance in the area evacuated Samah to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. The rest of the family members hopped in a cab, and the two vehicles headed north back toward the checkpoint, where they were delayed. The soldiers refused to let the ambulance pass to Nablus. Abed, heated, asked the soldiers “Why did you kill my daughter?” “She had a knife,” they answered. He screamed at them: “A knife, what knife? She was holding a knife while sitting in a car with her mother and her siblings?”

An Israeli soldier stands watch at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus. (IDF Spokesperson)
An Israeli soldier stands watch at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus. (IDF Spokesperson)

The soldiers delayed the ambulance at the checkpoint for around 10 minutes. Then they finally allowed the ambulance carrying the mortally wounded young woman to go on to the hospital. Samah underwent an operation, but it was clear her wound was fatal. Her father began looking for ways to move her to an Israeli hospital. While doing so, he was informed by the Palestinian District Coordinating Office (DCO) that the IDF claims Samah was shot by mistake.

According to Abed, the IDF refused to move Samah to an Israeli hospital in a helicopter, so hours after the operation she was hurried back to Hawara checkpoint in a Palestinian ambulance. From there she was taken to Beilinson Hospital, where immediately following a CT scan, she underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from her body.

After six days, Samah began showing signs of life, but did not regain consciousness. Her mother, H. and her father were at her side. Beilinson Hospital provided her and her family with exemplary treatment for 22 days. On December 16th, 2015 she took her final breath.

Why did the soldiers shoot Samah? We don’t know. At around the same time soldiers also shot and killed Khalil Sabah Hashash, an 18 year old from Askar refugee camp, near Hawara checkpoint. Hashash was shot multiple times, the bullets hitting him in his chest and thighs; the soldiers claimed he was attempting to carry out a stabbing attack.

It may be that the shooting of Samah was accidental, as the Israeli DCO later claimed — perhaps it was done in an attempt to hit Hashash. But if so, the shooting raises many questions. It is also possible that the soldiers opened fire on purpose; they claimed, after all, that Samah “had a knife.” We do not and cannot know what actually happened — that’s why an internal army investigation is needed.

Our attorney sent a letter to the military prosecution, attempting to find out whether such an investigation was indeed opened, and if so what its status is; we have recently received the reply that the prosecution did not think the case merited an investigation. We have appealed the decision and will update.

Even were an investigation to be opened, our accumulated experience does not bode well for the chance Samah’s family will get an answer as to what happened on that day. The military prosecutor will act exceedingly slowly, taking a few months to find out which forces were on the scene, and then doubtlessly will begin to interview officers — no rush here. Several months will pass between each investigative action. And then, the case will either be closed for lack of evidence (and good luck finding any, two years after the incident), or evidence will be found, but then it will turn out the soldiers involved are no longer under the jurisdiction of military law.

And under those mountains of paper – using the excuses of the prosecutors and the slumber of the investigators, whose purpose is to protect a soldier — who at best lost his mental faculties and at worse committed a grave crime — is 18-year-old child Samah Abd Al-Muman Ahmed Abdullah, who left home for her studies, and none of her dreams will ever come true.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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