He was the eighth casualty in recent months from the village of Beita
The car lurched from side to side as it ascended the rough dirt road, the wind swirling and howling around it. Israel Defense Forces bulldozers have already started to block this road, but it’s still navigable. When we stopped at the top of the hill, the car was rocking and the doors could barely be opened against the powerful blustery wind. Indeed, this week’s winter storm, dubbed Carmel, also pounded the remote hill the Palestinians call Huti, a rise of olive trees that is across from Mount Sabih, which, to their outrage, is the site of the settler outpost Evyatar. A few hundred meters separate the two hills – between the torn Israeli flag hoisted as a provocation on what the locals call “Jabal al-Sabih” amid the settlers’ buildings, and the flag of Palestine that residents of the village of Beita also hoisted as a provocation, across the way. Two flags tattered by the wind, one opposite the other. The outsize Hanukkah menorah planted by the encroaching settlers is still in place, along with the row of trailer homes and watchtowers.
The soil on the Huti hilltop is saturated with the blood of Palestinian demonstrators, and scorched and sooty from the tires the protesters set ablaze here every Friday. Seven residents of the nearby village of Beita and one from the neighboring village of Yatma have been killed here by Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the seven months that have passed since the longtime activist-settler Daniella Weiss and her friends reestablished Evyatar in May. The site was once an IDF outpost called Tapuhit, built on Beita’s land. Afterward, in 2013, the original outpost of Evyatar was established there without authorization; it was subsequently evacuated and demolished. Today the structures erected by the settlers of the new Evyatar remain in place – the outpost is uninhabited at present, except for some army troops that are guarding there – and the blood continues to be shed.
The last time we came here was in September, to tell the story of the killing of another demonstrator from Beita, Muhammad Khabisa, 28, the father of an 8-month-old daughter. Before that we were here in August, to tell the story of the killing of Imad Duikat, 37, father of a 2-month-old daughter. In July, we were here because of the killing of Shadi Shurafi, a village plumber, who was fixing the valve on a water main out near the highway when he was shot to death by IDF troops. And in June, we visited the neighboring village of Yatma, to tell the story of the killing, during the same series of ongoing demonstrations, of Tareq Snobar, 41, who was a father for just two days of his life before being killed. When he was shot by Israeli soldiers using live fire from about 100 meters away, he was on the way to the hospital to pick up his wife and their newborn son, Omar, to bring them home. He never got there.
That is not the whole roster of those killed in the Evyatar demonstrations. On Friday, December 10, there was an eighth fatality: Jamil Abu Ayyash, a 31-year-old carpenter from Beita, married, no children.
We drove this week with two of Jamil’s brothers, Ayyash, 43, and Rami, 41, to see the place where their brother was cut down. At first they were apprehensive about making the trip, for fear of the army. A few days earlier, when they had driven there with a field researcher for a Palestinian human rights organization, two army jeeps suddenly appeared and blocked their way; the soldiers ordered them to leave.
“Do you have protection for me?” Ayyash asked us and Abdulkarim Sadi, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, who was accompanying us. “We are trying now to avoid trouble, so that we can go on working in Israel,” Rami said. Finally the brothers, both still in mourning, summoned up the courage to go. They showed us where the soldiers had stood and where their brother had been on the hilltop, according to what they were told. Jamil had just gotten to the demonstration when he was shot in the head.
The soldiers and their victim were a few hundred meters apart. The bullet penetrated Jamil’s forehead, created a narrow entry wound and exited from the back of his neck, creating a much more serious wound – a sign the bullet had exploded inside and decimated his brain. And yet he was still breathing when he was evacuated by an ambulance, which rushed him to Rafadiya Hospital in Nablus. At the time, his brother Ayyash, who lives in one of the last houses in the village, near the road leading up to the site of the demonstrations, was in his backyard, washing his car, together with his 2-year-old daughter, Sarah. The little girl, he relates, becomes upset at the wailing of sirens and they both got worried by the sight of the ambulance racing down the hill – and then someone in the vehicle gestured to him to follow them fast. Leaving Sarah behind, he sped in his car to Rafadiya, where he learned that the man who was dying of injuries in the ambulance was his brother Jamil. Another brother, Rami, in the nearby village of Huwara at the time, was summoned urgently to the hospital in Nablus. He also informed their parents, and they joined their sons.
A boy is doing his homework on a table in the yard of his family’s home, in the biting cold. The house is at the edge of Beita, which lies south of Nablus. Jamal Abu Ayyash, the bereaved father, a 67-year-old farmer, is sitting in a corner of a room, his face grim, wearing a coat, a wool hat and several layers of clothes. In honor of the guests they turn on the small electric heater, which does little to stave off the cold. We very rarely see Palestinian homes with any heating systems. The bereaved mother, Hadara, 66, is wrapped in black, her face etched with agony. The couple had two daughters and four sons – until Jamil’s death. Ala, newly widowed, is not here.
Jamil, a carpenter, worked in a large furniture-making workshop at the foot of the hill on which he was killed. Because he was the only one of the brothers who didn’t work in Israel, he went more often to the Friday demonstrations, while his brothers weren’t always in the village. But Jamil, too, wasn’t a regular at the demonstrations. The village’s previous fatal casualty, Muhammad Khabisa, was a member of the same hamula (clan), the Khabisa clan, but the two victims didn’t known each other.
Jamal Abu Ayyash owns 20 dunams (5 acres) of farmland on the hill where Evyatar stands. The land was expropriated in the early 1980s for the establishment of the Tapuhit outpost, never to be returned, of course. From where we are now standing across the way, the brothers show us the spot on Jabal al-Sabih where their property is.
On what would be the last day of his life, Jamil got up relatively late and went downstairs to his parents’ ground-floor apartment, as he did every morning. He then went into the village center to buy hummus and ful for breakfast, and at midday attended prayers in the mosque. He didn’t tell his parents that he intended to proceed to the demonstration, but taking part in the Friday protests is almost routine for most of the villagers.
It was after 3 P.M. when Jamil was shot. Eyewitnesses told his family that he was standing on an elevated rock face, which made him an easy target for the soldiers. His wife, Ala, learned that he had been wounded on Facebook; the brothers and parents waited for news at the hospital. The efforts to revive Jamil went on until around 5 P.M., and then the physicians informed the family of his death. He was buried in the village cemetery that same evening.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit initially denied – on the day of the incident – that the soldiers had used live fire and it made do with the generic announcement: “The claim about a Palestinian who was killed is known.”
This week the spokesperson’s unit gave this response to a query from Haaretz: “On December 10, 2021, a violent disturbance took place adjacent to Evyatar Hill with the participation of hundreds of Palestinians who threw stones and rolled burning tires toward IDF and Border Police forces. Due to the event, a Military Police investigation was launched; upon its conclusion, its findings will be forwarded to the military prosecution. Understandably, no details can be provided about an investigation in progress.”
This past Sunday, the bereaved brother Rami arrived for work on the construction of the light rail in Ramat Gan. He left home at 3 A.M., as usual, and arrived at 6, only to hear from the Druze foreman that he had been fired. Just like that, with no explanation. He told us he has no idea whether this has anything to do with the death of his brother. He asked no questions and returned home, mortified.
On the way back from the hill where Jamil was killed, during our visit on Monday, as we drove down the dirt road toward the village, two young people, their faces unmasked, sprang out from behind the olive trees, a few meters away. One of them picked up a rock and aimed it at us. He was apparently intending to hurl it at our car, with its Israeli plates, from point-blank range. Then at the last minute he and his friend noticed the two bereaved brothers with us in the car – the pair rushed out of the vehicle to stop them. The rock fell to the ground and the youth smiled in embarrassment.
We were told that they were from the “Guards of the Hill,” an activist group established by young people in Beita.
As we drove away, we spied a pile of dozens of used tires, waiting by the roadside for the next demonstration.