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Shoot First, Laugh After

Israeli violence up-close

It started out as an ordinary afternoon: Mohommed and I were going to a meeting with some of the people of the village of Salem to talk about ISM and other internationals planting trees with them one day next week. Villagers have reported a lot of harassment from the soldiers and settlers in the area. Half-way to our meeting place, a taxi coming from the other direction told us there was a flying checkpoint further along the road, so to expect a bit of a wait. Sure enough, we came to the back of a line of about 20 vehicles, including tractors, lorries and many taxis (shared taxi is the normal mode of transport around here). After waiting for about 15 minutes, we decided to let the taxi go and continue on foot.

We could see the squat ugly shape of the Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) as we walked. It was parked at the crossroads, at the bottom of the settlement and military base roads, so that the traffic was backed up on the other three roads. As we walked down towards the APC there was a load bang: Mohammed said, “There’re shooting the people.” In the confusion of the moment I heard a woman begin to wail, and a man, obviously injured, being carried towards us and quickly bundled into a taxi, along with a number of women (one of whom was holding a tiny baby). The taxi did as quick of a U-turn as it could, then raced up the road in a cloud of dust. I stood staring at a pool of blood not quite comprehending what I had seen. The man who had just been shot was Ahmed Baeri (excuse spelling) from the village of Salem, father of four, the youngest of whom had been born in a Nablus Hospital just the day before. He was bringing his wife and child home that day. He had come to the front of the line and called across the wide space to the soldiers asking them if he could pass with his wife as she was exhausted after the birth. They responded by shooting him in the leg.

The Israeli soldiers behind the open door of their APC then beckoned the next person in line forward. A man climbed down from his tractor and slowly crossed the open space towards them. He had just witnessed a man being shot by these same soldiers, but he had to face them, as did all the others in line: their lives would grind to a halt otherwise. This is a routine day for them, but for me what I had seen was just beginning to sink in: An unarmed man had just been shot, from a distance of over a hundred yards by heavily armed soldiers from behind the doors of their APC. I had heard the shot, I had seen the blood, and I had seen him prostrate in the back of the taxi.

Then it was my turn to walk across and show my ID; I won’t pretend my heart wasn’t pounding. When I got there I found that none of these soldiers looked to be older than 20, maybe 22. Their were grins all over there faces. I asked why they had just shot a man, and they told me “You are lying, we shot nobody, you are a liar!” “Come with me and see the blood,” I said. More laughter. “You should be so ashamed of yourselves, and your Mothers would be so ashamed of you too.” “No, you are wrong, she would be so proud.”

They agreed to let me through but not Mohommed, so I turned back. As I walked away their laughter was ringing in my ears. Even as I write this, I still don’t know the fate of Ahmed.

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