Killed on his birthday: Family grieves Palestinian boy shot by Israeli forces
When she prepared the traditional Palestinian dish of maqlouba at the weekend for her son Ali Abu Alia, his mother had little idea then that he would not return home to eat it.
Ali, 15, was shot and killed by Israeli forces after receiving a live bullet in the abdomen. His mother Nihad, 40, still opens his school bag and checks his books and pencils every day.
'He was planning to buy a cake and celebrate his birthday with his friends on Friday evening'
- Nihad, mother of Ali Abu Alia
On Saturday 4 December, Ali took part in a weekly demonstration against Israeli settlements in his village al-Mughayer, in the north east of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
He was standing among the crowds when an Israeli soldier shot him in the abdomen, killing him on his 15th birthday.
"I made him maqlouba, his favourite dish that he used to ask for every Friday. We waited for him to come back [in order to eat it together], but he did not return home and we never ate it," his mother, Nihad, told Middle East Eye.
On the same day he was killed, Ali was planning to throw a small party after the demonstrations to celebrate his birthday with his friends.
"On the night before [his killing], he told me ‘get prepared for my birthday tomorrow’. He was planning to buy a cake and celebrate his birthday with his friends on Friday evening,” she said.
“He was martyred on his birthday, deprived of growing up or realising his dreams.”
Ali, who was a member of his school’s football team, was "obsessed with football" since he was a toddler.
"Last Friday, he participated in a game with his team in Ramallah, but he came back disappointed because the teams drew,” his mother said. "He was dreaming of becoming a famous football player."
Nihad, who suffers pain in her feet, says that Ali used to help her put on ointment and massage her feet to relieve the pain.
“He was my right-hand child, he always obeyed me and helped me out. No one is like Ali; he was playful and joyful all the time, which made everyone love him,” she continued.
According to his family, Ali was always subject to Israeli settlers’ attacks, because he used to wander in the village a lot, to graze his family’s animals as a source of living.
Around 3,500 Palestinians live in the al-Mughayer village, many of them clash with Israeli settlers almost on a daily basis, since the village is surrounded by Israeli settlements and military camps.
For the past three years, the confrontations escalated, especially after Israeli settlers tried to establish new settlement outposts in the village.
His last day
On his birthday, Ali woke up at five in the morning to help his grandfather graze their animals, but he left him a few hours later to join his neighbours and take part in the anti-settlement demonstrations in the Ras al-Teen area, between the villages of al-Mughayer and Kafr Malik.
Ali’s brother, Bassam, 17, says that he saw him approaching the confrontations, so he warned him and asked him twice to stand away from the soldiers.
“I was afraid [he would get hurt], and forced him to stay away. I made sure he was standing at least 160 metres away from the confrontations,” Bassam told MEE.
“I saw him watching the event with his hands in his pockets. About half an hour later, his friend told me that he got injured.”
A few minutes before he was shot, Ali told his friends that he did not expect that Israeli soldiers would target him “because I am a little child”.
It did not take long before Ali’s father, Ayman, 42, knew that his son was injured.
“The villagers first told me that Ali was shot with a rubber bullet to comfort me, but when I learned that he was transferred to the hospital, I knew that his injury was serious,” Ayman said.
Ali underwent three hours of surgery, where the doctors attempted to stop the internal bleeding caused by the bullet.
“They broke my heart by killing my child, I cannot get his face out of my head,” his father continued. “His voice always resonates in my mind, I see him wherever I look.”
Losing another child
A week before Ali was killed, his brother, Bassam, was injured during the same weekly demonstrations with a rubber-coated metal bullet to his hand.
A few weeks earlier, he was also injured by shrapnel of live bullets in the same foot where a two-two bullet, fired with a 10/22 Ruger rifle, is still lodged since last year.
According to the Israeli B’tselem group, the use of this weapon has elicited controversy even within the Israeli military, as they can be lethal and inflict serious injuries.
“It is true that I have got injured multiple times, but I am just like the other villagers, I go to defend the lands of our village,” Bassam told MEE. “We cannot stand there and watch settlers continuing to steal what is left of our lands.''
In December 2010, Ali’s parents lost their first child, Wessam, 10, after he was diagnosed with cancer. But they “did not expect to lose another child”.
“When Bassam got injured last week, I cried a lot and was terrified [I would lose him], I did not expect to lose one of them forever, and that it would be Ali.”
Ali’s grandmother, Khaireya, 75, told MEE that her grandson accompanied her most of the day to help her graze the animals.
“He used to help me feed the sheep and milk them. He left our home as a flower, and came back as a martyr,” she said.
“Ali and his grandfather were routinely attacked by [Israeli] settlers who prevented them from reaching their land,” she recalled.
“We always live in a state of fear of the settlers who point their weapons at us and threaten us. They even tried to throw our children in wells we use to graze the sheep.”
The Israeli authorities confiscated a large part of the lands of the Abu Alia family, while the rest of their land remains hard to reach because of the settlers’ attacks.
"We grow barley to feed our sheep, but the settlers always harvest and steal it. They seized four wells that belonged to our family and prevented us from using them,” she continued.
“They do all that under the protection of the [Israeli] army, while there is no one to protect us.”