Rami Was on His Way to Buy Crayons for His Kid When Israeli Police Gunned Him Down

21:30 Feb 13 2023 Shu'fat (Shuafat, شعفاط‎ ) refugee camp

Mahmoud Hamuda with his wounded son Rami, at home in East Jerusalem this week. Agony that is hard to describe in words. Credit: Alex Levac Published by Haaretz

Rami Hamuda with his mother, Nadra, at home in East Jerusalem. Credit: Alex Levac Published by Haaretz

Rami Hamuda went out to buy crayons for his daughter in the Shoafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. Israeli police fired dozens of rounds at his car without warning, seriously wounding him

by Gideon Levy and Alex Levac for Haaretz
March 18, 2023

Rami Hamuda bursts into heartrending tears. Rami Hamuda is groaning from pain. Rami Hamuda erupts in rage and threatens to throw an ashtray at his father. Rami Hamuda falls silent and stares into space. Rami Hamuda covers his face with his hands. Rami Hamuda recounts in a whisper what happened to him. Nadra, his mother, caresses him softly. His insulin syringe is next to him.

Rami Hamuda is lying on an iron-frame bed in the yard of his house, a shell of a man. Skin, bones, pallid face, stomach sewed up lengthwise and widthwise, adorning him with a crucifix of stitches. His thin legs are unable carry him, one of them is injured. The expression on his face shifts between suffering and rage, despair and helplessness, frustration and pain. His agony is hard to describe in words.

After about a month of cruel detention, long and complicated operations, and moments during which he hung between life and death, he returned home last week. His suffering is far from over, however. Border Police and regular police officers pumped dozens of bullets into his car, four of which hit him and tore him apart inside. The police claimed afterward that Hamuda had tried to run them over, that there had been a “ramming attack.” However, according to all the signs and available testimony, the officers shot him without any reason. The fact is that after about a month, the “terrorist” from the “ramming attack” was released from custody, almost unconditionally.

The Kerem Louis neighborhood in East Jerusalem – no one knows the origin of the name – borders the Shoafat refugee camp and the separation barrier. The Shoafat camp is probably the most abject and shameful slum in either Israel or the occupied territories. What we saw in the camp this week, as passed through it on the way to Hamuda’s home, almost evokes Kolkata.

The Hamuda family’s compound is situated at the foot of the separation wall, part of the reality of the occupied territories in the area of sovereign Jerusalem, even if it’s actually across the wall. The father, Mahmoud Hamuda, 57, was employed for 25 years as a mechanic at the UMI Garage in West Jerusalem’s Talpiot industrial zone, until a slipped disc forced him to retire. His Hebrew is fluent.

Rami, who also speaks the language well, is 36, married and the father of three children, but right now he is lying in the tiled yard outside. He chain-smokes and barely eats.

Some 28 years ago, Rami fell ill with type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes), and he has been battling the disease ever since. In recent years it got the better of him: He had to stop working almost completely. He had worked for 14 years as an electrician for the electrical contractor Itzik Ben Hamo, who has since died. Most of his friends, he says, are Israeli Jews – he rattles off a long list of owners of Jerusalem mansions in which he has installed wiring, and also, he adds, in the magistrate’s court in Beit Shemesh.

During the past few years, Rami has subsisted on a National Insurance disability allowance. Now he has been deprived of the allowance, because of his recent incarceration; his father is already launching a struggle to get it restored, among the other trials he and the family are having to endure. Rami had never been arrested before, nor was he ever even questioned by the authorities about anything – he has always been against terrorism, his father says.

A month ago, on February 13, Rami spent most of the day at home. On that day, a 13-year-old boy from the Shoafat camp stabbed a member of the Border Police on a bus, wounding him, and then a civilian security guard fired a shot, which accidentally hit and killed the police officer.

That evening, large police forces entered the camp in order to arrest the parents of the young stabber. At the same time, Rimas, Rami’s 7-year-old daughter, asked him to buy her supplies for school. She, like Rami’s other two children, is very well groomed. Her father hurried off to run the errand. “It’s all because of her,” the grandfather chuckles lovingly when Rimas crosses the yard.

Rami left the house at 9:30 P.M., driving his 2004 Ford Connect, the family’s commercial van, which was packed with electrical equipment. He drove to the camp, which is a few minutes away, to buy his daughter crayons and drawing paper.

He proceeded slowly along the main road of Shoafat – it’s not possible to drive fast in this dense area – without knowing that there were police forces in the camp, he notes. He didn’t see the officers, who were standing by the roadside in the dimness of the stairs that descend from the road to a nearby alley. Nor did he hear a call to stop.

“If I had seen a policeman directing me to stop, wouldn’t I have stopped?” he whispers, adding, “You know, I had all of the car’s documents with me. I have never thrown a stone in my life.” His father, Mahmoud, adds that Rami left the house in his slippers – “and no one goes out to carry out an attack in slippers.”

Eyewitnesses told Amer Aruri, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, that the police opened fire for no reason and that there had been no clashes on the street before Rami drove through it. The unrest started only after Rami was shot.

The volley of bullets descended thick and fast. “Rain, a rain of bullets,” Rami’s father says now. The officers fired dozens of rounds at the car. Aruri estimates that the shooters were about 30 meters away. Photographs of the vehicle before it was impounded by the police show it perforated, its windows smashed. Four of those bullets slammed into Rami, one in the leg and three in his lower and upper abdomen. He writhed in terror and pain in the vehicle, which came to a stop. Afterward he managed somehow to get out, fearing that the shooting would continue.

A passing car took him in. The police shot at it, too, but no one was hurt. Rami had already lost a great deal of blood and was mumbling the verses from the Koran that Muslims recite before their death. He was certain his end was near.

When the police questioned him in the hospital, they claimed that they had signaled him to stop with a flashlight. Rami replied that he didn’t realize that it was the police trying to flag him down with the flashlight, and added that he hadn’t seen the officers positioned by the roadside.

A spokesperson for the Israel Police this week stated in response to a query from Haaretz: “During activity by the Border Police in Shoafat R.C. [refugee camp] about a month ago, in the wake of a stabbing attack that evening in which a Border Police fighter fell, violent disturbances began, with attempts to attack the fighters. At one stage a vehicle sped toward them and did not heed their call to stop. In response, the fighters, who felt that they were in danger, shot at [the vehicle]. The suspect who was driving the car was evacuated to receive medical treatment. In the wake of the incident, an investigation was launched, which is still ongoing, and the incident was also conveyed, according to the standard procedure, for examination, to the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers.”

The car took Rami to the clinic of the Clalit HMO in the refugee camp. A Red Crescent ambulance was summoned. Rami’s father also arrived at the clinic, distraught at the sight of his badly wounded son. He entered the ambulance, which tried to rush Rami to Hadassah Medical Center on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, but it was stopped by a police unit at the Anatot junction.

The officers ordered the ambulance driver to turn off his engine and give them the key. The driver explained that there was a seriously wounded person inside. Rami had lost consciousness. A police officer got into the ambulance, shackled the wounded man’s hands and feet, and ordered the driver to proceed to Hadassah Medical Center in the Ein Karem neighborhood of West Jerusalem, on the other side of the city. Patrol cars escorted the ambulance in the front and the back; the police officer sat in the Palestinian ambulance.

In the plaza by the entrance to thehospital, relates Mahmoud, who was in the ambulance with his son, the vehicle was ordered to stop and he was pulled out and thrown to the ground by a policeman, who also kicked him, he says. “What are you people, Hamas or [Islamic] Jihad?” the police officer screamed at him. They also grabbed Rami, laid him on the ground and tore his clothes, stripping him; a police officer placed a foot on him to keep him from moving.

Only after this did they allow the paramedic to take him to ER, completely naked. “You son of a bitch, you terrorist,” people shouted at Rami and his father. In ER, the father lost consciousness, and when he woke up, in the evening, he was told that Rami was in the operating room four floors below ground level.

His surgery continued until the predawn hours. A physician who emerged from the operating room informed the father that the surgeons had been compelled to remove part of Rami’s liver, his gall bladder and a section of his intestines.

Mahmoud was not allowed to see his son again. The following day, after the family’s lawyer petitioned the court, the parents were permitted to see their son through a window for a few minutes. Rami was unconscious, handcuffed and shackled. The day after that, he underwent additional surgery, and then once more the following day. Nonetheless, his condition deteriorated. When the parents asked to see their son again, if only for a moment, a police officer told them, “Even if you have all the permits, we won’t let you see him.”

A few days later, once he his condition began to stabilize, Rami was transferred to the Israel Prison Service hospital in Ramle. After a few more days, he was brought for a remand hearing in the court located in the Russian Compound, in central Jerusalem, where his parents saw him. He could barely stand up. On February 26, a magistrate’s court judge, Amir Shaked, ordered him to be released until March 7 on his father’s recognizance, after the family deposited a sum of 1,000 shekels ($276), and provided a third-party bond of 10,000 shekels.

Rami returned home on March 5. His father says he saw only bones, “as though my son has no flesh.” In the house his condition quickly deteriorated, and the family took him back to Hadassah, where he was hospitalized for another 10 days. He returned home again this week. In one of his fits of rage since then, he broke the television set in the house. Mahmoud says Rami never before behaved that way. When we left, he covered his face with his hands again and remained like that on the iron bed, a skeleton of a man.
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