Undercover Israeli forces kill Palestinian inside West Bank hospital
HEBRON, West Bank - Dressed in an array of Palestinian disguises, undercover Israeli forces stormed Ahli Hospital during the early hours of Thursday morning and arrested Azaam Shalaalda from his bed, shooting his cousin dead in the process.
Part of the incident was caught on a security camera in one of the main halls of the hospital. The footage, released online by hospital employees, shows at least 20 agents rush through the hospital halls with handguns drawn.
Azaam, the young man who was arrested, was in the hospital getting treatment for an attack that occured about a month previously. Locals said he was shot nine times by Israeli settlers while picking olives on his family farm in his village of Saeer in northern Hebron last month.
According to witnesses, Azaal’s cousins, Abdullah and Bilal Shalaalda, were staying overnight at the hospital, when the undercover forces barged into the room.
Bilal was sleeping when the forces stormed in, but his cousin Abdullah, 20, was in the bathroom washing up before early morning prayers.
"I just saw 10 people barge into the room. It was kind of chaos, it all happened in a matter of seconds. Abdullah, my cousin, came out of the bathroom to see what was going on and they shot him immediately the second the door opened," Bilal said.
Abdullah was shot once in his temple, once near his chest, and three times in the arm and shoulder. At the same time forces had rushed to Bilal and Azaam, restraining both of them.
"They put a cloth around my mouth so I couldn't speak, and handcuffed me to the bed while the whole thing happened," Bilal said. “Abdullah was still alive, bleeding on the ground but there was nothing I could do, they didn’t call for a doctor, he just laid there bleeding out while I was handcuffed and gagged.”
The forces moved to take Azaal, who was receiving treatment at the hospital, out of his bed and into a wheelchair to be taken away.
Bilal told Middle East Eye that he was still in shock from what happened, and described it as “like something from a film”.
"They were so professional, they knew exactly where they were going and what they were doing," Bilal said. "There is zero doubt in my mind about what happened, these were undercover Israeli agents committing a well-planned operation. They didn't plan for my cousin to come out of that bathroom, but they immediately shot him. They used silencers. They were trained soldiers."
Bilal says he has no idea why Israeli forces came to arrest his cousin in the first place.
Doctor Jihad Shaoor, the director of Ahli hospital, told MEE that Azaal had been in critical condition when he was admitted last month and that he had since undergone a series of surgeries to remove nine bullets and reconstruct his windpipe. He had been in hospital recovering at the time of his arrest, Shaoor said.
Taking Azaal out of the hospital could have serious effects on his health and recovery, he aded.
“First, Azaal was in no way ready to leave the hospital,” the doctor said. “And second, it is insane that these men are allowed to come in and just do whatever they want. This is a hospital, it is against the law to bring guns into the hospital here. Even our security does not have guns. A hospital is a place for healing, and that has to be respected, but it is not.”
While Shaoor said there was a Palestinian Authority (PA) police officer standing guard, in addition to the hospital’s private security, the Abdullah's family claims the PA police had intentionally not been guarding the hospital that night.
The hospital is in Area A. According to the Oslo Accords this means that it is under the full security of the PA, and any Israeli incursions into the area need to be carried out with the approval of the PA. However, it is unknown if such coordination through the proper channels was made.
Shaoor said the undercover agents entered the hospital dressed as Palestinians with what looked like a pregnant woman who was in labour and another man in a wheelchair.
Once the agents gained access to the main hall, near the ward where Azaal was being treated, the doctor said that they drew their guns and dropped their cover.
An Israeli army spokesperson told the Palestinian news agency Maan that Israeli soldiers and policemen entered the hospital to detain Azzam, who according to Israeli intelligence officials was responsible for a stabbing attack on an Israeli settler.
An “additional suspect attacked the forces” during the raid, the spokesperson said, adding that the Israeli officers responded by shooting and killing the man.
According to the spokesperson, on 25 October Azzam “stabbed an Israeli in the chest in [the settlement of] Gush Etzion,” wounding him. "The victim shot [Azzam]" as he fled.
Members of the "Shalaaldah family are known Hamas operatives,” the spokesperson added.
The Israeli news site Ynet said the raid was carried out as "a joint operation of the Shin Bet, the Border Police's counterterrorism unit and the IDF [army]".
Ynet quoted a Shin Bet statement as saying "it will not permit terror operatives to hide in any places of refuge".
Amnesty International said in a statement later on Thursday that the killing of Abdullah Shalaaldah "may amount to an extrajudicial execution".
“The fact that Abdullah Shalaldah was shot in the head and upper body suggests this was an extrajudicial execution, adding to a disturbing pattern of similar recent incidents by Israeli forces in the West Bank which warrant urgent investigation,” Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther said.
Funeral near Hebron
Just hours after the incident, Abdullah was laid to rest following midday prayers in Saeer village. Hundreds of people filled the streets to march for their "martyr" and to pay their respects to the family.
Mourners chanted slogans against the occupation, while walking with the body of Abdullah, tightly wrapped in a green Hamas flag and traditional Palestinian scarf. While his death was sudden and unexpected, people from villages miles away made it in time to attend the young man’s funeral.
The incident at Ahli hospital is the second of its kind in the last two months. In early October, Israeli forces raided al-Arabi hospital in the northern occupied West Bank city of Nablus, the Palestinian news agency Maan reported at the time.
During the undercover raid, another Palestinian man was arrested from his hospital room.
The agency has also reported multiple incidents of Israeli forces raiding al-Makkasad hospital in occupied East Jerusalem, one of which involved undercover forces attempting to obtain medical records of young men shot and injured during clashes in the city.
Um Abdullah, Abdullah's mother, told MEE that she feels now that Palestinians have nowhere to feel safe.
“They killed my son, they shot my son dead inside a hospital,” she said through tears.
“What kind of people bring something like this to a hospital? If we aren't safe in a hospital then there is no place in all of Palestine we can be safe.”
MEE staff contributed reporting.