Why was 17-year-old Muhammad killed?

A Palestinian teen was on his way to the bakery to buy a cake for his birthday party. A border policewoman who shot him to death claims he held a toy gun to another soldier’s head. 

By Noam R.

Muhammad Ziad Awad Salaymah from Hebron celebrated his 17th birthday yesterday. His mother sent him to buy a cake for the planned party, and when he left his home on his way to the bakery he was stopped at an army checkpoint, where he was shot to death by an officer from the Border Police unit. These are the facts. From here, each side has a different version.

The border policewoman, whose name was published yesterday and is censored today, claims Muhammad took a pistol out of his pocket, grabbed one of the soldiers standing next to her and put the gun to his head. Without hesitation, she shot him while he was still holding the soldier. First a single shot, then another one, and only in the third shot did Muhammad let go of the soldier and the gun. As his dead body lay on the ground, it turned out the weapon was a toy gun – one which none of those who knew Muhammad had ever seen.

A Palestinian doctor who happened to be in the area heard the shots (witnesses claim there were six of them) and ran towards the Ibrahimi Mosque, where he saw a Palestinian woman arguing with the soldiers. The woman asked them to let her approach the wounded teenager. By the time the doctor was allowed to reach Muhammad, it was too late. Citizens who arrived on the scene, among them a volunteer from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, reported that police officers took their cameras or deleted their photos without explaining why.

Those who knew Muhammad said that he was hard of hearing, which probably made it difficult for him to follow the instructions of the soldiers at the checkpoint, and that in any case, he couldn’t have done what the army claimed he did. Not yesterday, and not at any other time before.

In the hours that followed, the police arrested Muhammad’s younger brother, and his father was hospitalized in fair condition. Five children between the ages of 8 and 14 were arrested, and five others injured.

Here is Muhammad Ziad Awad Salaymah at a party held for him at school, on the morning of his death.

Why was 17-year-old Muhammad killed?
Muhammad Ziad Awad Salaymah, a 17-year-old Palestinian shot to death at an army checkpoint in Hebron

I don’t know what happened at the checkpoint in Hebron and I don’t intend to judge any of the people involved. I can just say that the story of the Border Police officer sounds strange, to say the least. Luckily, the checkpoints in Hebron are monitored by Israeli security cameras, and I am sure that if her story is true, the IDF will release the video, showing a 17-year-old teen taking out a toy gun and holding it to the head of a soldier while the Border Police officer managed to shoot his body – not his head – no less than three times, despite the fact that according to her version, Muhammad’s body was hidden behind the captive soldier.

The full name of the Border Police officer, and her picture – standing smiling in full army vest – was published yesterday in the media. Today, her name is censored and her pictured is blurred. It’s too late, of course. By now social media is full of calls for revenge, and the PR trick by Israel could cost the young girl and her family dearly. With all those calls to put her on trial for war crimes, she may have to think twice before going on vacation to Europe.

A video showing the minutes after Muhammad was shot. The clip was taken by a B’Tselem volunteer.

In the last few days, Israeli politicians have used every opportunity to appear as militaristic as possible. Even Shaul Mofaz has emerged from his obscurity and called to loosen the firing regulations, as did the brave soldier Eli Yishai. Just this week there were two incidents in which soldiers decided not to open fire at protesters – one in Kaddum and the other in Hebron – and the army came under harsh criticism for it. I am sure that calls like “cowards” and “shame on the army,” along with the militaristic public atmosphere played their part in officer N.’s decision to kill Muhammad.

There is no doubt that it was N. who pulled the trigger and shot the bullets that took the life of Muhammad Salaymah. But it’s not she alone who is responsible for his death. The fact that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Hebron area are being run by kids in uniform is the real crime. Officer N. has a commander, and her commander has a commander, and so on, all the way up to the prime minister, and every single one of them bears the responsibility for the death of a hearing impaired teen who celebrated his 17th birthday yesterday. The occupation has made us blind to the suffering of life under oppression, under daily humiliations at the checkpoints. The price which is becoming clear today – the one which the family of Muhammad has paid and that N. will carry with her all her life – is not something we can bear much longer. When the policies of Netanyahu and Lieberman lead to another Intifada, it will be too late. When a young boy is shot at a checkpoint on his way to buy a cake for his birthday, it is already too late. This occupation must end.

Noam R. is an Israeli blogger. This post was originally published on his blog, and it is translated and reposted here with the author’s permission.