Israeli forces kill young Palestinian en route to his sister's wedding
It was just hours before her wedding, and Eman Erekat was having the finishing touches done to her hair and makeup at a salon in Bethlehem when her mother's phone rang.
Her mother answered, expecting to hear her son letting them know he was outside and ready to take them home. Instead, she listened as the voice on the other end relayed the devasting news: her son had been killed.
While on his way to pick up his mother and sister, Ahmad, 27, had been shot and killed by Israeli forces at the "Container" military checkpoint between Bethlehem and the Erekats' family home in the town of Abu Dis outside of East Jerusalem.
Israeli police claimed in a statement that Ahmad had attempted to ram armed Israeli officers stationed at the checkpoint when he was shot. One female soldier was reportedly lightly injured and evacuated to a hospital in Jerusalem.
'This young man was killed in cold blood. Tonight was his sister's wedding'
- Saeb Erekat, PLO Secretary General and relative of Ahmad
But his family said they couldn't fathom the idea of Ahmad ever committing such an attack, let alone on his sister's wedding day.
"When we heard the news we didn't believe it. Until now we are in shock," Emad Erekat, Ahmad's cousin, told Middle East Eye. "Ahmad would never, ever plan to attack the soldiers as they are claiming."
The more logical explanation for Ahmad's car veering off the road, the family said, was that Ahmad was clearly in a rush, and might have had a minor accident or lost control of his car, which the soldiers mistook for an attack.
"He was pressed for time to pick up his sisters, the flowers, and all these other things from Bethlehem," Emad said, adding that Ahmad was driving a Palestinian-plated rental car, which he specifically rented to run errands on the day of the wedding.
"We are one hundred percent sure he would never do this. Why would he do this on his sister's wedding day?" Emad asked.
'Shot him without even thinking'
In Abu Dis, hundreds of family and friends gathered around the Erekats' home to mourn the death of Ahmad who, according to his family, was engaged and set to get married to his fiancee just next month.
"Everyone here can't believe it, people are in shock," Emad said. "His sister Eman fainted when she heard the news. She can't even speak, she's in a state of total shock."
"This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life, but now it's turned into her brother's funeral," she said.
Ahmad's cousin Noura Erekat, a human rights attorney and assistant professor at New Jersey's Rutgers University, shared her thoughts in a series of emotional posts to Twitter later on Tuesday.
"You lie. You kill. You lie. This is my baby cousin," she said.
"The only terrorists are the cowards who shot to kill a beautiful young man and blamed him for it."
Eyewitnesses at the scene reportedly told Ma'an News Agency that "what happened at 'the Container' was not an attempt to run over [the soldiers], but rather the car crashed into the edge of the median where the soldiers are stationed, prompting the Israeli occupation forces to shoot at the car."
"We didn’t see what happened, but we think Ahmad must have lost control of the car for a second, and so the soldiers just shot him without even thinking twice," Emad said.
Local Palestinian media outlets reported that Ahmad was left lying on the ground for a significant period of time and received no medical attention from the soldiers. By the time Israeli ambulances arrived, reports said, Ahmad was already dead.
'They left him to die'
A video circulating on social media, purportedly taken by an eyewitness to the incident, shows an injured Ahmad lying on the ground, curled into a fetal position, with a trail of blood flowing from his body.
A female soldier can be seen walking back and forth past Ahmad with her gun at the ready, while a line of Palestinian cars waiting to cross the checkpoint builds up behind his car.
The man filming the video can be heard saying "It's 3:50 pm, at 'the Container,' a young man was martyred right now. They shot him right here in front of us. May he rest in peace."
'If you're Palestinian, any wrong move at a checkpoint can get you killed'
- Khuthifa Jamus, a friend of Ahmad Erekat's
The man continues on, saying "they left him [lying] on the ground until he died".
The killing of Ahmad is far from the first of its kind. In the past few years, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed during alleged stabbings and car-rammings at checkpoints across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In several cases, the families of Palestinian victims along with witnesses have argued that the alleged "attackers" were shot after minor traffic accidents were mistaken for attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers.
"So many people have been killed at this checkpoint," Khuthifa Jamus, a friend of Erekat's told MEE. "If you're Palestinian, any wrong move at a checkpoint can get you killed."
"They kill us in cold blood and then say that they were just defending themselves," Jamus continued.
'Killed in cold blood'
Israeli soldiers have long been accused by activists and rights groups of excessive force against Palestinians who posed no immediate threat to the lives of the soldiers at the time they were killed.
Most recently, Israeli police shot and killed Eyad al-Halak, a Palestinian man with autism, in East Jerusalem while he was running away from the officers. Al-Halak was unarmed, and his killing sparked widespread outrage across Palestine and beyond, with many likening his death to the police killing of George Floyd in the US.
"This young man was killed in cold blood. Tonight was his sister's wedding," secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement on Tuesday.
"What the occupation army (Israeli military) claims, that he was trying to run someone over, is a lie," Erekat, a relative of Ahmad, said.
The killing of Ahmad comes amid an increased presence of Israeli soldiers throughout the occupied territories as Israel gears up for annexation.
With Israeli military generals predicting an uptick in violence as a result of Israeli’s policies, many soldiers are on heightened alert for alleged attacks from Palestinians.
"Even if Ahmad was committing an attack, which he wasn’t, the problem is that the soldiers and these checkpoints shouldn’t be here in the first place," an emotional Jamus said. "This is the fault of the occupation, for being here, and for killing us for no reason, time and time again."