It had been a lovely evening. The kind of night when teenagers all over the world are thinking about nothing more than having a good time and laughing. Mahmoud Badran, 15, from Beit Ur-Tahta, had spent his Monday night with a group of friends taking a dip in the Beit Sira pool.
His cousin Ahmed Shami told reporters it was a happy few hours. “After the iftar (dinner to break Ramadan fast) we went swimming. We often go these days. School’s out, it’s hot and we like staying up until the first thread of light of a new day when we resume fasting and we go to sleep.”
After 1 a.m., Ahmed and Mahmoud accepted a friend’s offer for a ride home. “It all happened in a few moments,” continues Ahmed. “Suddenly Israeli soldiers appeared along the way and began shooting us. They did not ask us to stop, they just shot. Mahmoud was shot. We tried to help him but he died almost immediately. They were terrible moments.”
Ahmed says he will always remember what happened that night, and he will never forget Mahmoud. But will the rest of the world remember this boy, his life stolen, beyond a few hours? Or the other four young Palestinians injured, one seriously hurt, by shots fired by soldiers for no reason? Very few. To news agencies, Mahmoud it is just another Palestinian who joins a long list of names without faces. Western TV news correspondents will not bother to visit Beit Ur-Tahta to report on the agony of parents who watched their child leave the house to go swimming and then were informed of his absurd death.
Their pain does not impress Western public opinion. The tears of a mother with her head covered by headscarf and wearing traditional Palestinian dress do not arouse sympathy. And Mahmoud was killed “by mistake” by Israeli soldiers. He was a fatality, something that happens in the relentless fight against terror that requires a policy of shoot first and ask questions later.
On Tuesday, the military spokesman, after the initial reported that a “terrorist” was killed while throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at an Israeli car (three wounded) on highway 443 — between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which crosses a stretch of the West Bank — a few hours later, he backpedaled after news emerged from Beit Ur-Tahta. He then admitted that Mahmoud Badran was not involved in the stone throwing and announced the opening of an investigation to clarify the circumstances that led the soldiers to shoot.
The boy’s father and mother do not receive much comfort. Only in a few cases has military justice condemned a soldier accused of murdering a Palestinian. The B’Tselem Center for Human Rights, a prestigious Israeli NGO, now under attack from the right, threw in the towel a few weeks ago by announcing it will no longer bring before military courts cases of violence and abuse by soldiers against Palestinians. There is no use, they explained.
A recent case that shows how often crimes go unpunished is the case of Sgt. Elor Azaria. In March, he killed in cold blood a Palestinian bomber, already seriously hurt and immobile on the ground, who had moments before injured an Israeli soldier in Hebron with a knife. Azaria was indicted on a lesser charge of manslaughter and is acclaimed as a hero by a majority of Israelis, who have called for his immediate release. An officer who stated during trial that the sergeant’s intention was to eliminate the wounded Palestinian later received threats of violence for telling the truth in court.
The killing of Mahmoud was met with anger among Palestinians. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) issued stern warnings, binding the boy’s death to recent diplomatic developments. “The death sentence by Israel of the young Mahmoud Badran is Netanyahu’s response to the adoption of the French initiative by the E.U.” for the relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, protested the PNA Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The killing of Badran, it was added, shows “once again that the government led by Benyamin Netanyahu is a government of extremists and settlers, engaged daily in the worst form of state-sponsored terrorism against the Palestinian people.” But those words ring empty for most Palestinians, who blame the PNA for continuing “security cooperation” with the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank.
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