A Palestinian shepherd who was a constant presence at protests in the southern West Bank died on Monday two weeks after being struck and critically injured by a tow truck escorted by Israeli police.
Haj Suleiman Hathaleen had attempted to use his body to block the tow truck transporting cars belonging to Palestinians that were confiscated by Israel on the pretext that they weren’t licensed.
Hathaleen’s grandfather was expelled from the Naqab desert in what is now part of southern Israel soon after the declaration of the state in 1948.
Following their expulsion, the Jahalin tribe to which Hathaleen’s family belongs relocated near the Palestinian town of Yatta, south of Hebron.
Residents of the South Hebron Hills frequently protest Israeli measures aimed at pushing them off of their land. Hathaleen regularly participated in demonstrations in the area, which is under full Israeli military control.
Hathaleen, an older man who carried a shepherd’s staff, was a community leader and an iconic presence who constantly put his body on the line at protests, as others from the South Hebron Hills recount.
The man’s family suspects that Hathaleen may have been deliberately injured when he was struck on 5 January. He was well known to Israeli authorities and had been detained multiple times but never charged.
The tow truck driver hit Hathaleen and dragged him for several meters. The police vehicles sped away and the officers provided no assistance.
A Palestinian field researcher working with B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, found “fragments of Suleiman’s skull and a few of his teeth” at the site of his injury, according to the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz.
The police claimed that a “militant mob” attempted to harm the police force, and thus “it was impossible to stop and assist the injured person.”
They took no responsibility for striking Hathaleen.
“Racial discrimination par excellence”
Over the past year, three Palestinians in the area, including a toddler whose skull was fractured, were permanently injured as a result of Israeli police, military and settler violence.
In all three cases, “the Israeli authorities quickly closed the case without prosecuting anyone,” as Ali Awad and Awad Hathaleen write for +972 Magazine.
“The Israeli army, police and settlers all work together and systematically to ethnically cleanse us from our land,” the writers add.
The same relationships are at play throughout historic Palestine, whether in the South Hebron Hills, Sheikh Jarrah or the Naqab desert, where police have violently repressed protests against a Jewish National Fund afforestation project over the past week.
The JNF and the Israel Lands Authority are planting forests in the Naqab “to displace Bedouins, viewed as ‘trespassers,’ from their lands,” according to Adalah, a group that advocates for the rights of Palestinians in Israel.
“This is racial discrimination par excellence,” Adalah added.
In its crackdown on the protests, Israel used drones that dropped tear gas against its citizens for the first time – an “extremely dangerous, disproportionate and unlawful” act, Adalah said.Israeli police have also “endangered the lives” of demonstrators by using other crowd control weapons like rubber-coated bullets. The Israel Lands Authority allocated land belonging to the al-Atrash Bedouin tribe near Sawa to the Jewish National Fund despite registered claims of ownership and its use as agricultural land by Bedouin residents, Adalah said.
The rights group added that Israeli environmental groups object to the tree-planting scheme due to its harm to native habitats.
Since 1948, the Jewish National Fund has planted hundreds of millions of predominantly European conifer trees on the remains of Palestinian villages depopulated in 1948 and 1967 to erase their existence and prevent their residents from returning.
While boasting that its tree planting helps mitigate climate change, in reality the European pines and cypress tree species have fueled forest fires exacerbated by dryer conditions.
Dozens of residents, including children, have been arrested during the Naqab protests, according to Adalah.An array of groups in Israel are calling on the government and the JNF to stop the “provocative” tree planting on disputed lands and to stop the violent police crackdown. Whether through routine harassment like confiscating cars or planting European pine trees on agricultural land, Israel’s policies are aimed at pushing Palestinians off of their land and destroying their way of life. And it’s an aim that Palestinians resist with their bodies and their lives on both sides of the Green Line.