The grandfather and uncle of Abdullah Ghuneimat stand next to the scene of his death where posters now hang, June 18, 2015. (MaanImages/Emily Mulder)
KUFR MALIK, Ramallah (Ma'an) -- “We were sitting in the house when we heard guns being fired…we thought, ‘the army is here.’ The army always comes, but we didn’t know what it was this time.”
Abu Iyad is gathered with his family on the second floor of their home in the occupied West Bank town of Kufr Malik, recounting how his son was killed by Israeli forces meters from their home just days before.
Abdullah Iyad Ghuneimat was returning at dawn from work at a nearby poultry farm on June 14 when he was shot by Israeli forces, run over, and left under a military vehicle for nearly three hours before he died, witnesses say.
The army vehicle struck Abdullah before it hit a rut in the pavement and overturned on top of him, slamming the 21-year-old into a wall on the other side of the narrow road that leads down to his family home and trapping him underneath.
“Around 4 a.m., our neighbor came down and told us a military car had been flipped over….she said they could see someone underneath but didn’t know who it was,” Abu Iyad told Ma’an.
Members of the Ghuneimat family, unaware the crushed man was Abdullah, rushed to the scene but were prevented from reaching the dying man by Israeli forces who shot live fire into the air, threw sound bombs, and aimed tear gas at those who approached.
The soldiers refused to allow the removal of the vehicle until around 6:30 a.m., when the muezzin of a nearby village mosque announced over the loudspeaker that there had been a martyr.
Dozens of residents from across the village subsequently arrived on the scene, at which point Israeli forces stepped back and allowed residents to remove the jeep with a bulldozer.
“When I heard that they pulled the car off, I went up,” Abdullah’s mother said.
She had already returned three times to check the scene prior, arguing to be allowed in, but to no avail.
“I heard it was a young man but I didn’t know who it was. When I went up, I saw it was my son.”
Shortly after he was killed by Israeli forces, a poster of Abdullah Iyad Ghuneimat, 21, joined others plastered on the wall in the village center of Kufr Malik outside of Ramallah on June 18, 2015. (MaanImages/ Emily Mulder)
Two stories, one death
After Abdullah’s death, the Israeli army stated that the incident had been an accident.
An army spokeswoman told Ma’an at the time that Abdullah had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the military vehicle during “army activities,” causing the driver to swerve, lose control, and hit him on the side of the road.
While the Ghuneimat family said they were aware a Molotov cocktail had been thrown, they allege that it was thrown from a roof, not from street level where Abdullah was walking.
Bullets seen by witnesses in Abdullah’s body, compounded by Israeli forces preventing the military vehicle from being removed when there was a possibility he had still been alive, have left Kufr Malik residents and Abdullah’s family to believe his death was deliberate.
Abdullah had been targeted by Israeli forces before, detained and put in Israeli prison for two years for throwing stones.
“There were bullets in his body already,” Adbullah’s mother told Ma’an. “They shot him, and then they killed him. It wasn’t an accident.”
“If it was a car accident, why would they let him stay under the car for hours?” The grandfather agreed.
The Ghuneimat family told Ma’an that the road running through Kufr Malik doesn’t lead anywhere, and there is no reason for the military vehicles to be passing through the village.
But they do pass through, and they pass through often.
'Show of force'
The landscape surrounding Kufr Malik is spotted with Israeli military outposts, from which forces regularly conduct raids in Kufr Malik and surrounding villages.
“In the course of an average week, the army comes into the village one, two, three times to arrest people and provoke residents, with no purpose,” Abdullah’s grandfather says.
Ex-Israeli soldiers have, however, explained
what the purpose is.
Raids and resulting clashes like those described by Abdullah’s family are a part of longstanding Israeli military strategy to “demonstrate presence” within Palestinian civilian areas, they say, aimed to cultivate fear among residents.
Abdullah’s grandfather explained to Ma’an that every two years a new captain arrives at the military outpost closest to the village makes a point of showing his strength in Kufr Malik, adding that a new captain had recently been stationed there, identifying him as “Captain Raouf.”
“I think it [Abdullah’s death] was just show of force. They have been doing this since 1967,” the grandfather said.
The Israeli army spokesperson did not have comment regarding the nearby outpost or military activity in Kufr Malik.
The language of military investigation
A list of Kufr Malik residents killed by Israeli forces stands etched into stone in the village center. (MaanImages/ Emily Mulder)
The contradictions between the Israeli military and Abdullah’s family regarding the details of his death are situated within nearly 50 years of military occupation, and nearly 50 years of conflicting accounts of death.Israeli authorities
and rights organizations
alike allege that the legal structure set up following the 1967 takeover of the West Bank and East Jerusalem was formed with the intent of maintaining power over local residents, rather than protecting the lives of those living under it.
The military law framework established sanctions and legitimizes a prolonged military occupation, they argue, not a system of justice that legal systems are meant to provide residents living under them.
In lieu of this, when asked about the possibility of a fair and just Israeli police investigation, Abdullah’s father and grandfather outwardly scoffed, while the grieving mother, tears running down her face, muttered a meek "God willing."
After analyzing hundreds of such investigations, Israeli human rights organizations asserted
that the “Israeli military law enforcement system is a complete failure,” incapable of effectively investigating possible violations by Israeli forces while neglecting to promote accountability among the forces for their actions.
B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli told Ma’an that military police investigations generally don’t visit the scenes of an incident, and are often drawn out, “one of the many problems they suffer from.”
When asked about the investigation into Adbullah’s death, an Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that the investigation had been opened to "examine the circumstances of the incident,” but was unable to give further details as the investigation was “ongoing.”
The family chose not to transfer Abdullah’s body for an autopsy after his death, said Saber al-Alul, head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Dis, who adamantly told Ma’an he wished they had.
“Especially for people killed by Israel [martyrs], autopsies should be part of our culture. It [the autopsy] reveals the truth and documents it,” he told Ma’an.
Al-Alul’s urging comes as Abdullah was the thirteenth Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces in the West bank since the start of 2015, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, while thousands have been killed since the start of military occupation in 1967.
For each Palestinian who loses a family member, two stories of death emerge: one of the family, and one of a tainted investigation.
As for the story of Abdullah Ghuneimat, his death and subsequent Israeli police investigation will likely hold lasting impacts beyond the conflicting accounts liable to play out as the investigation furthers.
“It’s not just me that’s affected by what happened,” Abdullah’s mother said.
“People liked him. It’s not just me…everyone around me is affected, the entire village is affected.”
Posters of Abdullah Ghuneimat hang on the wall in the center of Kufr Malik, where Fatah and Palestinian flags hang and graffiti marking allegiance to Fatah is splayed on the walls. (MaanImages/ Emily Mulder)