While War Rages in Gaza, Israeli Troops and Settlers Grow Trigger Happy in Ramallah

12:00 Dec 2 2023 Ramallah (رام الله) district

Thirty-one Palestinians have been killed in the Ramallah area by soldiers and, in some cases, by settlers as well, since October 7

by Gideon Levy and Alex Levac for Haaretz
Dec 2, 2023

The traffic jams in the center of Ramallah are on a Tel Aviv scale. Likewise, the crowds in the stores, restaurants and gyms. But not far away is another traffic jam – of a kind you won’t see in Tel Aviv: the ever-present, kilometers-long logjam of cars snaking toward the Qalandiyah checkpoint, en route to Jerusalem. It’s always congested, but since October 7, the situation has become much worse.

Israel blocked most of the entrances and exits from the unofficial Palestinian capital when the war began, including the northern entrance to the city (the District Coordination Office checkpoint). So everyone who is authorized and who seeks to enter or leave Ramallah these days – generally, East Jerusalemites wanting to go home – must do so via the Qalandiyah checkpoint, one of the most miserable places in the West Bank, with its depressing developing world feeling, abutting a modern cityscape.

The war isn’t felt in the center of Ramallah – try and find a parking space – but in its periphery it is very much present. The list of blocked thoroughfares and of villages whose access roads are now locked with imposing yellow iron gates is very long, and thus the trips local folk must make to work, school and shops, and to visit families have also become arduous.

But the most serious problem is not that the roads surrounding Ramallah have been closed off to Palestinians, or the fact that Palestinian workers have been banned from entering Israel – it’s that in this part of the West Bank many people have been killed since the war broke out on October 7 – far more than usual. According to data collected by Iyad Hadad, the regional field researcher for the B’Tselem Israeli human rights organization, 31 people have been killed here in less than two months. And in contrast to the Tul Karm area, which we wrote about here last week, where most of those killed were armed, here, in and around Ramallah, none of the victims was armed and none were active in resistance organizations.

Hadad’s estimate is that six of the dead were probably killed by settlers, or by settlers and soldiers together. The most recent case was last Saturday evening, when the body of a Palestinian was found next to the settlement of Psagot in circumstances that have yet to be fully clarified. In his office in El Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah, Hadad has a thick folder documenting the investigations he is conducting of every case of killing since the war erupted in the Gaza Strip. The folder just keeps getting thicker.

The Ramallah region, like the entire West Bank, is bleeding profusely under the cover of war in Gaza and far from outsiders’ eyes. The fact that there are a great many settlements and settler outposts in the area only heightens the violence further. And here, too, like everywhere in the West Bank, the soldiers’ fingers on the trigger seem far lighter since October 7. In war as in war.

On the evening of October 12, five days after the Hamas attack in the south, Randa Ajaji, 40, a mother of seven children, was traveling with her husband and two of her children, the younger one just 18 months old, in the family car. Outside the village of Silwad they saw an improvised checkpoint, where soldiers were stopping cars headed in the opposite direction. Many such surprise checkpoints are springing up in the West Bank today.

After they drove a few more meters, the family saw figures signaling them to stop with a flashlight. Certain that these were also soldiers, they slowed down almost to a standstill. They then saw that the figures were civilians, and figured that they were settlers. At once they started driving again, but their car came under fire. First the older boy was wounded, in the leg. The father sped toward the clinic in Silwad, where he discovered, to his horror, that Randa, who had been sitting in the back with the toddler, had been shot and killed, reportedly by soldiers. She was pronounced dead in the clinic.

For his part, Hadad says there was no apparent reason for the majority of the killings he has investigated recently. Another incident occurred on October 8, the day after the massacre in the south. Yasser Kasba, an 18-year-old resident of the Qalandiyah refugee camp, threw a makeshift Molotov cocktail at the fortified concrete tower manned by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, at the nearby checkpoint. The bottle shattered, smoke curling upward, but no damage was caused. As Kasba fled he was shot in the back by soldiers in the tower. He collapsed, bleeding.

The shooting was broadcast live by the American Arabic-language satellite TV channel Alhurra, which also filmed Kasba as he was carried to a car by friends. He died very soon afterward. Later that same day, an incredible scene unfolded. It was 9:15 P.M. and cars were passing by across the road from Border Police personnel stationed at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, who were standing on the sidewalk. For no apparent reason, the troops sprayed one of the passing vehicles with dozens of bullets – and then reprised that act with the next car. Both cars continued traveling until they slammed into the separation barrier. In the first car was Mohammed Hamaid, 25, from Beit Anan; in the other, Amjad Hdeir, 36. Both were killed, and Hdeir’s brother, who was sitting next to him, was wounded.

The Israel Police sent this statement: “Following a report that an Israeli vehicle had mistakenly entered Qalandiyah and a lynching was being perpetrated on its passengers, Border Police arrived to rescue them. During the fighters’ activity a violent disturbance erupted, during which explosive devices and Molotov cocktails were thrown and shots were fired. In addition two vehicles began speeding toward the fighters in an attempt to run them over, at which point Border Police officers opened fire at the suspects and neutralized them.”

Another incident: on October 29 at 2:30 A.M., in the town of Beit Rima. Social media had been warning about an Israeli invasion, and an army force indeed arrived in three vehicles, from the direction of Nabi Saleh. A group of 15 to 20 young people took to the streets to meet the troops with stones. One jeep started to move forward and the Palestinians thought the force was leaving. What they didn’t know was that another group of soldiers was lurking nearby, in an ambush, under the cover of darkness, near the skeleton of an unfinished building.

The young people came under heavy fire from the group of soldiers and 12 were hit. One – Nasser Barghouti, 29 – was killed, three were wounded seriously and four more lightly wounded.

On the morning of November 9, the army arrived to make arrests in the Al-Amari refugee camp, outside Ramallah. Snipers were scattered on rooftops and shot at virtually anyone who was outside, according to B’Tselem’s Hadad; a number of residents were hurt as they left their homes for work or to shop. A woman who went out to buy bread was shot in the leg. Mohand Jad al-Haq, who was standing with a group of workers in the street, wanted to look at what was going on and was shot and killed. Another seven wounded residents were left behind by the troops as they departed town.

his week we also visited the town of Beitunia, on Ramallah’s western outskirts. An apartment building with an elevator, a bourgeois home on the third floor. This is the residence of 15-year-old Suhaib Sus, a 10th-grader and the son of Iyad Sus, a senior official in the Palestinian water company, 48, and of his wife, Saida, a 45-year-old homemaker. The couple has three other children. Early on Friday, October 20, a large army force, traveling in some 15 vehicles, made its way from the nearby Ofer facility toward Ramallah. They initially passed through Beitunia at 4 A.M., made arrests in Ramallah and returned to Ofer. At 9 A.M. they returned for round No. 2.

Open gallery view
Suhaib Sus.
Credit: Courtesy of the family
Posts on social media in Beitunia said that the troops had returned and Suhaib left home to see what was happening. He and a few friends waited for the soldiers’ arrival some 40 minutes later, and threw stones at the first vehicle in the convoy. A video clip shot by a bystander shows a soldier opening the door of a jeep and shooting the teenager, who then ran about 100 meters with two other young people, clutched the right side of his chest and collapsed on his back, bleeding profusely.

Some minutes beforehand, his father, Iyad, read on social media that Suhaib had asked where the soldiers were. With a sense of foreboding he phoned his son a few times but got no answer. Shortly thereafter Iyad heard shots and then, horrifically, he saw an image on Telegram of his son lying in the street, oozing blood.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated this week, in response to a query from Haaretz: “On October 20, forces of the IDF operated to arrest a wanted individual in the village of Ein Mesbah. As the troops were leaving, via the village of Beitunia, a violent disturbance erupted. The force responded with crowd-dispersal measures and by firing, in order to end the disturbance. A hit was observed. We are aware of the allegation of the death of a Palestinian during the event. The circumstances of the case are currently being clarified.”

Iyad hurried down to the street; a neighbor had called to say that Suhaib had been wounded lightly. The son had been evacuated to the local clinic and from there to a hospital in Ramallah, where he was undergoing the first of two operations when his father arrived. Toward evening he died from his wounds.

He was a quiet, introverted boy who liked to help others, his father tells us. After he was killed, his friends refused to return to school, and only when social workers were called in to talk to them did they agree to go back – two weeks after the incident.
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