Israel sues Palestinian family for damage to vehicle that killed son


Ghneimat family sued for $28,000 to fix vehicle which ran over and killed 21-year-old Abdullah

Zeenat Ghneimat holds a large pendant she wears, printed with a photo of her son Abdullah (MEE/Akram al-Wara)
Yumna Patel's picture
Last update: 
Wednesday 14 February 2018 15:33 UTC

KAFR MALIK, Occupied West Bank - Iyad Ghneimat's remembers the day her oldest son, Abdullah, was shot, run over, and left to die under an Israeli military vehicle near his home in Kafr Malik, northwest of Ramallah.

Nearly three years later, in January of this year, the Ghneimat family was sent a bill for $28,000 for damage caused to the vehicle.

Sitting in a living room decorated with dozens of pictures of Abdullah and posters commemorating him as a martyr, Iyad recounts the events of that June 2015 morning as if it were yesterday.

We pleaded with the soldiers... if it was one of theirs trapped under the vehicle, they would have got them out in minutes

- Iyad Ghneimat

It was about 4am and Abdullah, 21, was returning from work at a nearby chicken farm, as Israeli forces were conducting what they described at the time as "military activities".

"The neighbours came to tell us that an Israeli vehicle had flipped over and a young man was stuck underneath, but we didn't know who it was," Iyad told Middle East Eye as he held his youngest son, Abdullah's namesake, who was born a year and a half after his brother was killed.

Iyad, several of his family members and neighbours rushed to the scene, still not knowing who was trapped. "We tried for more than three hours to free him, but every time we got close the soldiers would fire live bullets into the air and sound bombs and tear gas at anyone who approached.

"We pleaded with the soldiers, telling them that if it was one of theirs trapped under the vehicle, they would have sent a helicopter and ambulances and got them out in minutes."

Israel soldiers move the vehicle that killed Abdullah Ghneimat in Kafr Malik (AFP)

It was only after the muezzin of the village mosque called out over the loudspeaker that the martyr was Abdullah Ghneimat that Israeli forces allowed Iyad's uncle to use his bulldozer to lift the vehicle, allowing residents to free the body.

It was then that Iyad saw his eldest son's body for himself - his head smashed and legs mutilated, and blood everywhere.

"The army and Israeli media first said that it was an 'accident'," Iyad said, "but later they claimed that Abdullah threw a petrol bomb at them, leading them to shoot him and lose control of the jeep."

For them, a vehicle is more important than the life of a Palestinian

- Zenaat Ghneimat

Iyad and his wife, Zenaat, insisted the petrol bomb was hurled from a rooftop where young men had been throwing stones at soldiers to push them out of the village that night - not from street level, where Abdullah was.

"Whether it was an accident or not, they did not just run Abdullah over, but they watched as we saw him bleed for hours, and left him to die," Zeenat said, clutching onto a pendant with a picture of Abdullah's face printed in black and white.

"Now, they have the audacity to tell us we should pay for the damaged vehicle? For them, a vehicle is more important than the life of a Palestinian.

"I told our lawyer, she can tell the Israelis that we will pay for their vehicle if they bring me my son back."

Graffiti depicting Abdullah Ghneimat as a 'hero martyr' is painted on walls, shops, and home exteriors across the village of Kfar Malik (MEE/Yumna Patel)

Seeking justice

About six months after their son's death, Iyad and Zenaat employed a lawyer and filed a suit against the Israeli soldiers who were driving the vehicle.

"At first, we tried to make our peace with it, that maybe it was just an accident," Iyad said. "But after seeing how many Palestinians were killed in cold blood when the violence started in October 2015, we thought 'no', Abdullah was killed deliberately."

After witnessing dozens of Palestinian men and women around Abdullah's age being shot and killed by Israeli forces in a series of alleged attempted attacks against Israeli soldiers, Iyad and Zenaat were determined to seek justice for their son.

"We didn't do it for money, you know, we didn't even ask for a single shekel," Iyad said. "We just want to send those soldiers to jail, so that what happened to Abdullah will not happen to any other Palestinian."

Iyad Ghneimat, 45, points to the spot where his son Abdullah, 21, was crushed by an Israeli military vehicle (MEE/Akram al-Wara)

Despite his unwavering sense of resolve, when asked if he had any hope for a fair trial, Iyad hesitated and let out a sigh.

"You know, not once in their existence have the Israeli courts given a fair and just trial to any Palestinian," he said.

"They kill our children, destroy our homes, and steal our land; we would be lying to ourselves if we say there was a real chance for justice."

For years, human rights organisations have supported sentiments such as Iyad's with countless reports and condemnations of Israel's excessive use of force against Palestinians, and the failure of the Israeli government to protect the lives of the Palestinians living under occupation.

They kill our children, destroy our homes, and steal our land

- Iyad Ghneimat

In 2014, Israeli human rights organisations B'Tselem and Yesh Din released a joint report saying that the Israeli "military law enforcement system is a complete failure."

"The figures show that the Israeli authorities are unwilling to investigate human rights violations committed by security forces against Palestinians," the report noted.

It highlighted that between 2010-2013, 2.2 percent of investigations opened into suspected criminal offences committed by soldiers against Palestinians and their property ended with indictments.

Israel's version of events in dozens of cases has been disputed by witnesses and rights groups who have denounced what they have termed a "shoot-to-kill" policy against Palestinians, many of whom did not constitute a direct threat at the time of their death, or who could have been subdued in a non-lethal manner.

Zenaat Ghneimat, 42, holds Abdullah, 14 months, in their family living room (MEE/Akram al-Wara)

'This is punishment'

When Iyad and his family were slapped with the countersuit demanding $28,000 in damages, while insulted, they were not in the least surprised.

"It is a known fact, that when you try to hold the occupation accountable for its crimes they will punish you even more, like how they are trying to punish us with this fine," Iyad said.

The Israeli Ministry of Defence told MEE that the family filed their complaint against the state "despite the fact that Ghneimat was killed after he threw a Molotov cocktail at an IDF jeep, causing the jeep to fall onto him."

In light of the damage that was caused to the IDF vehicle, the ministry has filed a countersuit

- Israeli Ministry of Defence

"The ministry submitted a statement of defence to the court, stating that the event in which the plaintiff was killed constitutes wartime activity as defined by the law, and therefore the state is immune from prosecution in this event.

"In light of the damage that was caused to the IDF vehicle (as a result of the petrol bomb thrown by the plaintiff), the ministry has filed a countersuit."

For Iyad, the ministry's statement proved that the family was being punitively countersued.

"They showed that they are so upset that we filed our suit against the state, and for that reason they are fining us.

"If this is not the case, why didn't they fine us more than two years ago, when their precious vehicle was damaged?"