Israel leaves Palestinian families in agony over whether sons dead or alive
On Monday, the Israeli army said it shot dead two young Palestinians and wounded another after opening fire on the vehicle they were in near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
It was initially reported the two dead were Basel Basbous and Khaled al-Dabbas, both from the Jalazone camp, with the wounded man Salama Sharaia, from the town of Birzeit.
But late on Monday, Basbous’s family received a call from an eyewitness who was at the Israeli Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, telling them that their son was still alive.
The revelation has left the three families unsure of their sons’ fates, with no official confirmation received from the Israeli army or the Palestinian body liaising with the Israeli side.
"We tried repeatedly to know Basel's fate,” Mohammad Basbous, his brother, told Middle East Eye.
“We called the Israeli civil liaison and the Israeli officer in charge of the area but they refused to respond to our questions."
Unable to confirm what happened, Mohammad says the family was riven by worry and anxiety.
'Basbous is alive'
Late on Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority's Commission of Detainees' Affairs said its lawyer, Karim Ajwa, managed to visit Basel. In a brief statement, the lawyer said "the young man, Basel Basbous, is alive and wounded in the Israeli Shaare Zedek Medical Center".
After pressure from international NGOs, the family obtained a permit to visit Jerusalem and reach the medical centre, Mohammad said.
They were allowed to see him after midnight, after a long wait in the hospital, and confirmed that he was still alive.
The good news for the Basbous family, who were distraught when they thought they'd lost their son when they spoke to MEE after the initial news on Monday, will mean that Salama Sharaia, who was thought to be wounded, is actually the second fatality.
'The family does not yet have clear information about the fate of our son Salama. We do not know if he is dead or injured'
- Nasser Sharaia, Salama's uncle
Amid the conflicting stories, his uncle Nasser Sharaia is still holding on to hope.
"The family does not yet have clear information about the fate of our son Salama. We do not know if he is dead or injured,” Nasser told MEE.
"We went to various levels in the Palestinian Authority to help us get an answer, but the Israeli army refuses to reveal the fate of Salama and the other young men."
Nasser is also demanding that Israeli authorities explain the circumstances of the shooting.
The Israeli army said in its initial statement that the three were shot after attempting to ram soldiers with their car.
The families and eyewitnesses rejected this claim, saying such ramming attacks normally don’t involve more than one person in the car and saying the three young men were returning from their work in Ramallah when they were targeted.
MEE contacted the Israeli army for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Israel, which refuses to deal with the file of the detained bodies, has long been criticised by Palestinians for withholding bodies and information on casualties in the West Bank, a practice which has been increasingly implemented since 2015.
Mohammad and Nasser say it’s a deliberate policy to torment Palestinians.
Hussein Shejaia, coordinator of the national campaign to retrieve dead Palestinians’ bodies, told MEE that Israel’s ambiguity about the fate of Palestinians shot by soldiers is a form of collective punishment.
"This policy makes families obsessed with the fate of their children, with many refusing to accept their death before seeing their bodies and burying them," he said.
According to Shejaia, Israel has withheld the bodies of around 100 Palestinians since 2014.
An additional 254 bodies have been withheld in Israel’s "cemeteries of numbers" since 1967, although the Israeli army admits to the existence of 120 of them in numbered graves, according to the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC).
Returning bodies is often tied to other political negotiations, according to Shejaia, which makes their retrieval a complicated issue. Israel deliberately withholds detainees' information from human rights institutions.
The Israeli shooting on Monday came amid increasing levels of violence in the West Bank not seen in years.
More than 165 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, including 51 in the Gaza Strip and at least 110 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The death toll in the West Bank is the highest recorded in a single year since 2015.
Amani Sarahneh, a Palestinian Prisoners Club spokesperson, said that along with growing Israeli raids in the West Bank, an escalation is taking place in the crackdown against detainees.
"The occupation army severely abuses detainees, especially the wounded and their families, during their raids," Sarahneh told MEE.
She said the Israeli army made it hard for human rights organisations to visit detainees and monitor their conditions, like in the case of Basbous.
As a result, the effectiveness of international human rights institutions in pressuring Israeli authorities has decreased, she added, making it harder for families to know anything about their detainees.