On 15 January, the Israeli army opened fire on a 16-year-old boy in the occupied West Bank village of Budrus just after 10am.
Samir Awad was shot four times in his legs, chest and head. The soldiers were hidden from view in trenches near Israel’s wall before shooting him the first time. As Samir tried to run away, he was shot again and again.
Ayed Morrar, a leader of the popular resistance against the wall that erupted in the village in 2003, condemned the shooting as an “assassination.”
“The soldiers had set up two ambushes for Samir, and were hidden well,” Morrar told The Electronic Intifada. “They suddenly reappeared, grabbed him, but Samir managed to get away for a few meters before he was shot by live ammunition in his legs. The soldiers in the other trench then shot him in the back and head. This was an assassination; their intention was to kill, not to capture or arrest him.”
Morrar dismissed claims that Samir was trying to “infiltrate” Israel by somehow going through the wall.
“The apartheid wall,” he stated, “by virtue of it stealing land and uprooting trees, is a cancer, a symbol of the occupation. It’s also become the center point for protests, and for youth to throw rocks at. This was a child celebrating the end of his final exams.”
Both the girls and boys’ secondary high schools are located near the wall. Schoolchildren have felt regularly threatened because of their proximity to the Israeli military, and even if the army weren’t present, the children have had difficulties concentrating on their schoolwork, causing some to drop out instead.
“We wanted to distort the construction of the wall away from Palestinian land. We couldn’t stop the wall, but we managed to change its route. In our village, eight soldiers are stationed on a permanent basis to guard it,” Morrar said.
A great cost
The small victory of pushing the wall off of Budrus’ land, which Morrar recognized as challenging the occupation, but not getting rid of it, came at a great cost to the village.
“Since 2003 up until now, 150 people from Budrus have been imprisoned and the overwhelming majority of them — I’d say around 90 percent — are children, 18 years [old] and younger,” he said. “Two hundred people have been injured, seven with live ammunition. Two people, including Samir, have been killed.”
The first victim was Hussein Aliyeh, who was 17 years old when he was shot in 2004 during a protest in the nearby village of Beitunia. He was targeted and shot at from a distance of seven meters from an Israeli jeep.
“Just like Samir’s death, it was pure assassination,” Morrar stated.
Just a few days after Samir’s death, the Israeli army shot another West Bank youth, Saleh al-Amareen, in the head with what doctors suspect was a “dumdum” bullet, which explodes on impact, in violation of international law. Saleh, who was shot in Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem, where protests against the army had been occurring throughout the week, died in Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem a few days later.
According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, the army’s use of “non-lethal” crowd control measures — including live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters fired directly at protesters — have claimed the lives of at least 46 Palestinians since the year 2005 (“Crowd control: Israel’s use of crowd control weapons in the West Bank,” December 2012 [PDF]).
Loved the land
At the Awad family home, just like other houses in the village, photos and posters of Samir made by different political parties are plastered outside on the walls. Samir Awad did not look like he was 16 years old. He had a baby face, and looked more like a boy of 12.
His mother, 41-year-old Sadqiya, was wearing all black and had fatigue etched on her face.
“He was completely accident prone,” she said of Samir. “He went through nine accidents throughout his life, from getting burned to almost drowning to injuring himself. In the end, there wasn’t a tenth accident. It was his martyrdom.”
Samir was the eleventh child of fifteen. His older siblings, who couldn’t bring themselves to discipline him whenever he would play outside instead of doing his homework, especially loved him.
“Samir was always so good-natured and humorous, the joker in the family. He loved the land with a passion, and would never miss a chance to plant seeds or harvest the crops,” Sadqiya said.
The recurring argument he had with his mother was always about school and the need for him to concentrate more in order to get good grades. He didn’t see the point of school, and preferred to play football — which he was very good at, considering the number of medals and plaques given to him from regional sports clubs.
“None of my sons graduated from high school, and I desperately wanted Samir to break that mould. But he always told me that working on the land was much better, and that he’ll bring me a better shihadeh than a high school diploma.” Shihadeh in Arabic means diploma, and also martyrdom.
Two days before he was shot, Samir fell asleep with his head in his mother’s lap. She recounted that as she began stroking his hair, he opened his eyes and told her that he had never felt more at peace than at that moment.
“I felt that maybe I should show more affection to him, and I sensed that he needed that,” Sadqiya explained, her voice wavering before composing herself. “I felt guilty because all my children came after each other and there wasn’t time to spoil or give them that special tenderness.”
The night before, she said she woke up with a foreboding feeling. Intuitively, she knew that something bad would happen to one of her children, but she kept her fears to herself. She tiptoed to where Samir was sleeping, at 2am, and watched him for a few minutes, overcome with a sudden urge to hug him.
“But I went back to my room,” she whispered. “I didn’t want his older siblings to think I was acting crazy.”
“I knew he was dead”
Samir usually didn’t have breakfast, but on the morning just before he went off to school to take his last exam in the semester, he sat down and ate with one of his brothers.
“They didn’t fight as they ate,” she said. “That was unusual. After he drank his tea he told me that was the sweetest drink he had ever had.”
His father wouldn’t let Samir go near the wall, although he left it up to his oldest son to make sure that rule was enforced.
Malik Naim Murar, Samir’s best friend, said that one of their favorite pastimes was going to the fields where they would build a small fire to make tea.
“After we took our last exam, Samir wanted to go down to the wall,” Malik said. “I told him not to go, but he insisted. He just wanted to get closer. I told him that I have a small errand to run and that I’ll be back soon, but he didn’t wait for me.”
“Mahmoud, my 11-year-old son, came running to me with the news that Samir was shot in the legs by the Israeli army,” Sadqiya recounted. “I replied, God rest his soul. I knew my premonition was true. Together with my sons Basel and Jibril, we ran to where Samir was.
“I was the first one to reach him. I saw the hole in his forehead, the blood dripping down his face. The soldiers had ripped his shirt open, and were trying to revive him, with one repeatedly slapping Samir’s face. His chest was also drenched in blood. I pushed the soldiers out of the way. I talked to him once, and there was no response from him. He wasn’t blinking. I knew Samir was dead.
“I got up and pushed one of the soldiers back so hard that his gun strap fell from his shoulder to his arm. I threw rocks at them too. I don’t remember what I did after that.”
Aisha, Samir’s sister, quietly interjected, “You began screaming and beating yourself.”
Aisha is two years older than Samir, and was the closest to him. They would always tease and fight and annoy each other. Now Aisha has a new ritual: she speaks to Samir’s poster that is hung outside on one wall every night, from 10pm until 1am.
“Oh how precious a child is. I try to remember a time that he made me angry, if he ever raised his voice at me, but he never did. He was such a bright boy. What else do I want from this world? Samir is gone. I just want God’s mercy,” said Sadqiya.
She turned to Malik, who had been sitting silently throughout the interview. “Don’t forget me, Malik.” Her voice broke and she began to cry silently. “Keep visiting me, you’re another one of my sons. He loved you so much, you were his best friend.”
Linah Alsaafin is a graduate of Birzeit University and a writer based in Ramallah, West Bank.