Driving to work with his son, Ahmed Kahla was stopped at an army checkpoint, where he was shot dead. The army claimed he tried to grab a soldier’s weapon. His son insists that he was slain for no reason.
The following report appeared this past Monday in Yedioth Ahronoth: “IDF fighters yesterday morning shot to death a Palestinian armed with a knife who tried to snatch a weapon from one of the members of the force… The terrorist, who was shot to death… , [was a] resident of the village of Rammun.”
Yet another terrorist attack scuttled by the intrepid “fighters of the checkpoints.”
The IDF, which first reported that the man threw stones at the soldiers and approached them with a knife, hurried to revise its own groundless account, dropping allegations of stone throwing and possession of a knife at the scene, and presented a new version: about an attempt to grab a weapon. For that, no evidence is needed, not a knife and not a stone, and it certainly justifies shooting to kill.
The fact that the man, a construction worker from a tranquil and affluent village in the West Bank, whom IDF soldiers killed with two shots to the neck, was on his way to work, as every morning, with his eldest son; and that, according to eyewitnesses, he was in the front of the line of cars at a checkpoint when the troops deployed there brought the traffic to a complete standstill, at a time of the morning when everyone is in a hurry to get to work – none of that prevented the immediate effort to justify a needless and ostensibly criminal killing, a few meters from the man’s son.
A photograph of the body on the road, clothes full of blood that also trickled down the slope, a plastic tube stuffed into the mouth and neck, which was bandaged in a desperate and hopeless attempt to staunch the bleeding, is shocking. Equally shocking is the testimony of the family, not least that of the teenage son who accompanied his father on the drive to his death, and insists that he did nothing wrong. Indeed, his account sounds far more credible than that of the army and its mouthpiece.
We visited Rammun on Monday, the day after Ahmed Kahla was killed, and then buried in the village’s soil. Rammun is a relatively small, well-to-do community in the Ramallah Governate – a neighbor of the even more affluent Christian village of Taibeh – with a population of 3,500 and dozens of empty mansions. Some 10,000 Rammun natives live in the United States, about 4,000 in California, 3,000 in Michigan and the rest scattered across the country.
The settlement of Rimonim is on the other side of the road. We are told that during the past few days, Nahi, one of the settlers whom villagers know well, has been preventing their herds of sheep from grazing on their land there. He claims the land belongs to him and chases them off. The patriarch of the extended Kahla family, Abu Hani, who died at a ripe old age three years ago, served as Rimonim’s maintenance man for some 20 years. He was also the last resident of Rammun to work in the settlement.
The women of Rammun have streamed into the home of the bereaved family; the car the deceased had driven is now parked out in front. For their part, the village’s men have gathered in a diwan, near the local mosque. Everyone is in mourning in this special room, when we arrive. Those paying their condolences are offered the usual dates and bitter coffee. Affixed to the walls of the diwan are lists of names of villagers who have been killed since the start of the occupation and the date on which they fell. Until this past week, they numbered eight residents, the first of them in 1967 and the last in 2014. Kahla’s name has yet to be added; for now his photo is hanging on the wall.
Kahla, who was 45, was married to Zahaya, 43. They have four children: two sons – Qusay, 18, and Hassan, 7 – and two daughters, Doha, 17, and Jena, 13. Kahla’s younger brother, Zeid, a taxi driver on the Ramallah-Silwad line, looks stunned. Almost in a whisper he and others present relate what the family knows about the incident from eyewitnesses and mainly from Qusay, who was the one with his father when he was killed, and who has holed himself up at home in a state of shock, refusing to talk to anyone.
Ahmed and Qusay left home around 7:30 A.M. on Sunday, January 15, on the way to where they were working in the village of Deir Sudan, not far from the new Palestinian city of Rawabi. Qusay graduated high school last year and is thinking about getting a degree in computer studies. Until the start of the next academic year, he had been helping his father at work. Ahmed drove his Hyundai SUV, his son sat by his side.
Under the bridge between Silwad and Yabrud, north of Rammun, they spotted a surprise IDF checkpoint. It was shortly after 8 A.M. Qusay later told the family that his father was forced to stop and a long line of vehicles began to form behind them: The soldiers had blocked all traffic on the road, in both directions. It seemed to be a show of control, morning abuse of the sort soldiers sometimes perpetrate. There are incidents where Palestinian drivers see the troops playing around with their cellphones while people waiting in endless lines of cars seethe with anger. On that morning, too, drivers were angered and some of them started to honk and honk, the only expression of protest that’s tolerated around here. No one dared get out of their car. Qusay recalled that they couldn’t see the end of the line in either direction.
Suddenly a soldier threw a stun grenade at their car. Qusay said his father started to shout at the soldiers. In response, three of them approached the car, two on Qusay’s side, the other on the driver’s side. One of them pepper-sprayed Qusay, temporarily blinding him. The soldiers pulled him roughly out of the SUV, his eyes shut and burning, dragged him a few meters and threw him on the roadside.
His distraught father got out of the vehicle, shouting all the while. The soldiers made Qusay, who still could not see anything, lie on his stomach; they ordered him to cross his hands behind his back but did not cuff him. Suddenly he heard shots. Moments later he heard the wail of a siren – an ambulance – and shouting, apparently from other drivers in the line.
According to what eyewitnesses told the family, Ahmed leaped out the car, fearful for his son’s safety after seeing him pepper-sprayed and hauled off. At this point, a soldier approached the father and shot him twice in the neck. He collapsed to the ground, bleeding profusely. The soldiers quickly got into their jeep and sped off, kill-and-run. A Palestinian ambulance that had been summoned by drivers arrived and tended to Ahmed. Resuscitation attempts were useless; he had probably died instantly.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit this week stated in response to a query from Haaretz: “An IDF force spotted a suspicious vehicle near the village of Silwad in the territory of the Binyamin brigade. The suspects refused to stop for a security check as required, the force responded with demonstration dispersal means, and a violent confrontation erupted at the site. During the confrontation the suspect tried to grab the weapon of one of the fighters. The force responded with fire aimed at the suspect and a hit was discerned. The incident is being investigated.”
Ahmed was taken to the government hospital in Ramallah, where he was pronounced dead. Qusay was driven in a private car to the clinic in nearby Silwad, where efforts were made to calm him down. He didn’t yet know what had happened to his father, but insisted on going to the hospital in Ramallah to see him, and was taken there.
Zeid, Ahmed’s brother, who was in Ramallah at the time, saw a message in his taxi driver’s WhatsApp group not long after the shooting to the effect that soldiers had shot someone under the bridge near Silwad. Immediately afterward, the horrific image of Ahmed appeared in the social media. Zeid rushed to the hospital, as did Ahmed’s wife and their children, even little Hassan.
Qusay, then, took refuge in his home. “What do you expect?” his relatives in the diwan asked. For his part, Zeid noted that Ahmed’s dream was to see his children go to university, and he worked from morning til night to make that possible. “I don’t want them to come home like me in the evening, with dirty clothes from work,” Ahmed often said.
Three of the deceased’s brothers and a nephew flew in from the United States early this week to take part in the mourning rituals. The conversation in the diwan was joined by Ahmed’s older brother, Hani, who lives in Rammun. He’s 65 and deaf. Wearing a keffiyeh and a cloak, he expressed his feelings by means of agitated sign language. His brother translated: “Why did they kill him? Are they crazy? He wanted to talk to them, not to attack them. Why did they kill him?”
Hani relates that whenever he sees soldiers he raises his hands in the air, to be on the safe side.