The killing of an autistic Palestinian girl underscores Israel’s use of deadly force
- Tom Bateman
- BBC News, Jerusalem
Fella al-Masalmeh was buried on her sixteenth birthday in a cement sealed tomb surrounded by a single bouquet of flowers.
Her family had planned to prepare a party for her that day, but instead said goodbye to their “amazing and beautiful” daughter, who lived with autism and grew up in poverty.
A day before her birthday, Fella was shot dead by Israeli soldiers who fired multiple shots at the car she was traveling in.
The army said the car, driven by a 26-year-old Palestinian man, did not respond to requests to stop and drove towards the soldiers, which eyewitnesses and Fella’s family denied. The army later said the driver was drunk.
The case has once again highlighted Israel’s use of deadly force in what the United Nations has described as the bloodiest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2005, following a series of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
The UN envoy to the region, Thor Wiensland, said he was “appalled” by her death and called for an immediate and thorough investigation.
Fella grew up in a rural village in the southern West Bank. But after her parents separated, she lived with her mother, Ghalia, who worked as a cleaner in a hospital in the city of Beitunia.
“She meant everything to me,” Ghalia told the BBC, referring to the disability that led her daughter to study independently.
In the days leading up to her sixteenth birthday, Fella called her older sister Dalia and asked her to prepare a party at the family home in the village.
“Fella wanted to go out and buy some things, but she didn’t know the day from the night,” says Dalia. “My mother locked the door because she was afraid for her. But Fella took the spare key and left the key in the house .When she came out, we called the police.” [الفلسطينية] to look for it.”
It’s unclear how Fella became involved with the man driving the car in which she was killed. Her family say he drove her home in the early hours of Monday morning.
This is part of the story locals are reluctant to tell given the social taboos surrounding the possibility of an exploitative or illicit relationship and drinking. But it does point to the possibility of another tragedy for Fella; This frail 15 year old girl who was reported missing by family at home.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army conducted a series of military raids in the occupied West Bank, including Beitunia, where soldiers allegedly detained a “wanted suspect.”
Video captured by the local surveillance camera shows several heavily armed Israeli soldiers and a military jeep stopping on a hilltop on one of the city’s main streets while the raid was taking place nearby.
In footage that appeared in the silent video, a car pulled into the frame and two soldiers can be seen down a side street shooting at the passenger, believed to be Fella, sitting next to him.
It appears at least two shots were fired after the car stopped. The video doesn’t show what happened in the moments before, and images of the damage to the car suggest soldiers stationed elsewhere also fired on it.
The Israeli army says the soldiers saw a “suspicious vehicle” coming their way and ordered it to stop, noting that the matter lasted “a few seconds”. But the army says the car then drove towards the soldiers, who “returned the favor”. As it turned out later, the driver was under the influence of alcohol.
Anas Hassouna, 26, was seriously injured, arrested by Israeli forces and taken to hospital.
The BBC spoke to three eyewitnesses who lived in an apartment building overlooking the scene, and they all said they saw no attempt to run over the soldiers.
“The driver didn’t attack anyone, he was surprised by them,” said a local resident, who gave his name as Qusay and asked that his full name not be released for fear of losing permission to pass through military checkpoints to get in to work in Israel.
He added: “The car drove by and it was raining and there was thunder and lightning so the driver closed the windows and may not have heard them.”
More than 130 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem this year. The largest percentage were among the militants who were shot dead by Israeli forces, often during gun battles during arrest raids.
Other fatalities include teenagers shot dead after throwing rocks or petrol bombs, unarmed civilians and bystanders, anti-settlement protesters and people shot in attacks including stabbings and ramming cars.
The Israeli army conducts searches and arrests in the occupied territories almost every night following a wave of armed violence by Palestinians against Israelis. These attacks have killed more than 25 people since last March, making this year the deadliest for Israelis since 2015.
On Tuesday, three people were killed near the West Bank settlement of Ariel in a ramming and knife attack by a Palestinian who was shot dead by Israeli forces.
The IDF said it would continue operations in the West Bank to protect civilians from the threat of terrorism.
According to Defense for Children International-Palestine, the case of Fella Al-Musalmeh underscores the lack of an adequate accountability system for Palestinians under Israeli military occupation.
“This is the atmosphere in which Palestinian children live,” says the leader of the movement, Khaled Quzmar. “According to our documents, there was no danger from this girl and the car she was in. You had no right to attack her .”
At her funeral in Beit Awa village, hundreds of men attended her funeral procession while women went to the family home to comfort their relatives.
Fella’s aunt, Samira Mallouh, said that Fella was an innocent child, noting that she came to her house earlier and “told me that she loved my children very much”.
She added: “Fella was a wonderful and beautiful child. She was poor, but she always surprised you with her beauty.”
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