Said Yousef Mohammad Odeh, 16, was shot to death by an Israeli soldier on May 5. | Defense for Children International - Palestine

West Bank child killings investigator battles horror

The shots rang out from the soldier's rifle, and the first bullet entered Said's upper right shoulder. The second shot tore through his pelvis.

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Ayed Abu Eqtaish
First-person source
Ayed Abu Eqtaish is the Accountability Program Director for Defence for Children International – Palestine and has worked for the organization since 1999. 

Ayed lives and works in Ramallah, West Bank. 

Ayed’s family is from a village called Imwas, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 1967. His family was expelled that year. 

Ayed was born in a nearby village called Bayt Liqya, West Bank where his family settled for one year while they hoped to return to Imwas. 

His brother was a child fatality as a result of the Israeli occupation. 

Israel converted the town of Imwas and the surrounding area into a recreational park called Ayalon Canada Park, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund of Canada. 

Ayed graduated with a BA in  Social Work in 1993 and holds a master’s degree in Advanced Studies in Children’s Rights from the Fribourg University in Switzerland.

Defense for Children International – Palestine operates mostly in the West Bank, but also in Gaza, where they have two field workers. They also operate in East Jerusalem.
Background
Civilians in Israel/Palestine have been killed, injured, and displaced over territorial control in the world’s longest period of state violence.

The latest flare-up in Israel/Palestine began when Palestinian families were evicted from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah on May 2. 

The United Nations estimates that between May 2 and May 21, 242 Palestinians, including 66 children and 38 women were killed. 

The UN estimates over 1,900 Palestinians were injured. 

During the same time period, the UN believes there were at least 12 Israeli fatalities, including two children. Hundreds of injuries have been reported to the UN from Israel.

Damascus Gate, referenced in the story, was built in 1537 and now sits on the border with the West Bank, since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1968.

Over 70 Palestinians face eviction from their homes in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheik Jarrah. 

Their case has been before the Israeli Supreme Court since early May and faces a decision in June.

The plan to evict Palestinians and replace them with Israel sympathizers from around the world is emblematic of the Palestinian displacement that’s violently occurred over the past 70 years.

RAMALLAH, West Bank – On May 13, 2021, Rashid Mohammad Rashid Abu Arra, a 16-year-old boy in Aqaba, West Bank, was shot to death by an Israeli soldier.

The shots rang out from the soldier’s rifle, and the first bullet entered Rashid’s upper back. The second shot tore through his midsection. The bullets exited through the front of his body, indicating he’d been shot in the back.

Bleeding from gunshot wounds, Rashid ran to his father’s vegetable shop and collapsed.

He was driven to Tubas hospital with his parents where doctors tried to resuscitate him for 20 minutes.

Rashid was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after.

When a child dies in Palestine, it is my job to investigate what happened. The Defence for Children International field team brought me in, as eyewitness accounts contradicted each other.

A child unloading produce

The victim’s father said he was with his child unloading produce from their vegetable shop to sell in town when his son was killed.

Another eyewitness report from the boy’s friend indicated the two boys were throwing rocks at four Israeli military jeeps when a soldier in the vehicle fired at them, killing Rashid.

When we presented the information from the second report to the father, he told us he left Rashid outside the shop with his friend at the time of his boy’s death.

My investigation concluded that the story of the boys throwing stones was the most logical.

In the past, we would file complaints in an Israeli court when Palestinian children were killed by the police or by settlers. Those complaints too often fell on deaf ears.

Public advocacy

Now, our documentation of child fatalities is only for public advocacy.

The maximum sentence for throwing rocks at soldiers is 20 years in the Israeli military judicial system.

However, in this case, Rashid got an immediate death penalty.

I have to ensure all the facts of child fatalities in Palestine are verified and scrutinized before publicly disclosing how many or in what way children are killed.

If we feel the eyewitness sources are overreacting or exaggerating, we mark the information as unreliable.

Objectivity is our capital, and we never sacrifice our credibility for information.

We compare our data with the Israeli humanitarian organization B’Tselem to see if there’s any disparity and why that might be.

The emotional toll

This job takes an emotional toll on me.

It crushes my heart when I’m investigating the deaths of an entire family, discovering what they were doing in the moments before, during an Israeli military strike.

Eyewitness accounts reveal who these people were, what they liked, and how they lived their lives.

It’s like I knew them, but only after they died.

After processing the eyewitness accounts — the questionnaire and final report of a child being killed, attacked, or imprisoned — I erase all the details from my mind.

I couldn’t tell you what report I finished processing yesterday.

This selective memory technique is how I cope with my work.

It’s the only way I know how to keep working, counting the dead, without being severely affected.

Processing paperwork

This month alone, I processed reports on the deaths of 74 child fatalities.

Now that I’m the Accountability Program Director, I don’t do as much fieldwork as I used to.

On my most recent assignment, I met families of imprisoned children.

Defence for Children International represents kids in Israeli military court, and I communicate between the lawyer, the families, and the children.

Almost all the cases were for throwing stones, though a few included Molotov cocktails.

The families ask me how long a sentence their children will serve.

Most of the children get four to six months in jail for throwing stones.

Help to defend children

When a Palestinian child gets arrested, their families get ahold of us to help defend them.

The lawyer and I inform the child of their rights and help coach them to not self-incriminate if they’re not guilty and not contradict evidence if they are guilty.

We tell the accused child that the Israeli interrogator will try to befriend them and say they will be released if they answer the interrogator’s line of questioning, which is always a false promise.

Our lawyers always ask to have the child released from prison during the court proceedings, but those requests are almost always denied.

Most people from outside of the West Bank could never imagine what daily life is like here.

If I told someone from the Netherlands that I live in Ramallah, just a few kilometers from Jerusalem, but I’m not allowed to visit Jerusalem, it would be beyond their understanding.

They can travel freely throughout all of Europe.

Palestinians are discriminated against

I want people worldwide to know Palestinians are discriminated against in the occupied territories, even when they’re Israeli citizens living in Israel.

I believe that the death and destruction we saw from May 10 to May 20, 2021 in Israel/Palestine is like chickens coming home to roost.

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William Koblensky Varela has worked as a journalist in Toronto, Lisbon, and Waterloo, Ontario.

He’s covered community news, finance, North American politics, and viral media.

Will’s most recent experience was running a newsroom and publication house at the University of Waterloo and is now focusing on investigations for Orato.

Reach him here: [email protected]