It has been 42 days since Ahmad Erekat was murdered at an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank. His body has yet to be returned to his family.
On June 23, Israeli soldiers shot dead the 27-year-old Erekat, at a checkpoint between Abu Dis (East Jerusalem) and Bethlehem. Erekat was headed there to pick up his sister from a salon where she was getting ready for her wedding later that day. Footage released by the Israeli army shows his car swerving and ramming into an Israeli checkpoint booth and a disoriented Erekat exiting the car with his hands up in the air. He collapsed immediately in a hail of fire. Media reports noted that Erekat was left bleeding on the ground and was denied medical access for over an hour.
Anger erupted on social media when high-profile relatives of the slain Palestinian, including senior PLO official Saeb Erakat and human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, were attacked online by those that sought to justify the murder by claiming that Ahmad was a “terrorist.”
In a video interview with Palestine Square, Dalal Iriqat, also a relative of the murdered Palestinian, and an assistant professor and vice-president at Arab American University in Ramallah, described Ahmad as a “very normal guy.” She was responding to Israeli media spin that alleged Ahmad was about to carry out a suicide-attack.
“The Israeli media machinery [peddle the same] narrative, blaming the victim every time they execute a Palestinian,” Iriqat said. “We are not born terrorists, we are born under occupation. We grow up seeing the cruelty, and the state of terror.”
Iriqat pointed out that although international law had been unable to protect them, the Palestinians remained committed to that framework.
“[It] is our last resort,” she added. “The reality is not very difficult to expose: it’s systematic murder.” Iriqat concluded by saying that this kind of “crime” would “continue to take place” so long as Palestinians were not regarded as human beings.
More than five weeks after Ahmad’s murder, his body is still being held by the Israeli authorities, leaving the family unable to carry out a proper burial or funeral. Withholding the corpses of slain Palestinians for months at a time (and more) is a common practice in Israel, one that was sanctioned by the Israeli high court in 2019.
Israeli violence extends beyond checkpoints. Palestinians are often stopped in the street by Israeli soldiers who taunt them, carry out random body searches, and frequently confiscate their belongings. Not infrequently, such incidents turn fatal. One particularly gruesome case recently was that of the 32-year-old man with autism, Eyad al-Hallaq. Israeli security forces gunned him down on May 30 as he made his way to his special needs school in Jerusalem. Frightened by Israeli police chasing him, he ran and attempted to hide; the police opened fire and killed him, even though his teacher tried to intervene.
His sister, Diana Hallaq, told Palestine Square that at checkpoints, Eyad was like “any Palestinian–at risk of being murdered … He was searched and treated the same way we are, despite having a card in his ID indicating his special condition.”
Eyad was attending a vocational school for special needs students that provided job training with a view to making them independent. He usually left the house with his other sister, Jumana, at 7AM and they parted ways at a certain point with him heading to his school and she to her teaching job. May 30th was a Saturday and Jumana had the day off. She was still asleep when Eyad left the house around 6AM following his usual routine: waking up, making his bed and tidying his room, getting dressed, and taking the garbage out on his way out.
“He was at the Bab al-Sbat area by his school, but I don’t know what happened with Eyad,” Hallaq said. “[The Israelis] aren’t willing to show us the videos or tell us what happened.”
What is known is that Eyad’s teacher ran into him on her way to school after he was shot the first time. She heard Israeli soldiers yell the word ‘mekhabel,’ a term they use to refer to Palestinian assailants.
According to Hallaq, Eyad was drenched in his own blood as he tried to walk away after the soldiers shot him. When the teacher who had caught sight of him intervened, telling the soldiers that he was disabled and not to shoot, Eyad pulled off his face mask (mandated by the COVID-19 emergency) and handed it to his teacher as he pleaded with the soldiers, ‘I’m with her, I’m with her,’ and then he hid in a nearby in a roofless garbage room in a narrow courtyard in Jerusalem’s Old City by the Aqsa mosque where the soldiers followed and shot him multiple times.
The soldiers proceeded to ask the teacher to hand over the weapon that Eyad had given her, but she told them that there was no weapon, he had simply given her his mask and gloves.
Hallaq explained: “Even though she wore a hijab, they stripped her in the street and demanded the weapon that Eyad allegedly gave her.”
According to the family, the soldier who shot Eyad was subjected to one day of house arrest.
Noura Erakat, human rights lawyer and cousin of Ahmad Erekat, commented by saying, “Israel doesn’t prosecute their own. There aren’t even investigations. It’s the same way that the US police operates: if you take down one [officer] you have to take down everyone [in the policing system,] and they know that.”
Erakat went on to explain that Israel enjoys similar impunity internationally. “The United States has shielded [Israel] from any accountability through the use of its veto power at the United Nations Security Council,” Erakat said. “Israel, through its own successful lobbying and politicking, has incapacitated states that might otherwise apply sanctions because of framing anything it does as being in the service of furthering Jewish self-determination. That’s a paralyzing discourse.”
Ahmad Erekat was the 15th Palestinian slain this year. Israeli security forces shot to death over 100 Palestinians in extra-judicial killings in 2019. There has been no accountability for any of the victims.
“We cannot mourn Ahmad. They [took] that away from us,” Erakat added. “Ahmad is one of many; Ahmad is not unique, he is not unique even to our family. But it’s heartbreaking because of the confluence of circumstances, because of his sister’s wedding, because he himself was about to get married, because he was shot dead. Israel kills with impunity and regularity. We have reports [showing] that Israel practices a policy of shoot-first-then-ask-questions.”
Laura Albast contributed to the writing of this story.