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Remembering Saleh: A life cut short

Jan. 24, 2014 12:48 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 27, 2014 9:41 A.M.)
By: Graham Liddell
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of Palestinians gathered across Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank to mourn the anniversary of the death of a boy killed during protests a year earlier.

Fifteen-year-old Saleh al-Amarin from Azza camp died Jan. 23, 2013 after being shot in the head during clashes with Israeli forces days before.

Around noon Jan. 18, 2013, Saleh attended a protest at the nearby Aida refugee camp. As tensions grew, he and his friends threw stones toward the Israeli separation wall, while soldiers fired tear-gas canisters back at the boys.

Then the protest came to an abrupt end. Saleh was hit in the head with a live bullet. His friends and the Palestinian Red Crescent carried him to a nearby hospital, and he died five days later.

A year later, locals held memorial services and military parades in Saleh's honor.

On Thursday, hundreds from the Bethlehem area attended a memorial service in Dheisheh camp's Phoenix Center.

Several men gave speeches, a children's dance crew performed, and a video of the aftermath of Saleh's death was screened. Saleh's face was emblazoned on walls, t-shirts, and pamphlets.

On Wednesday, a group of teenagers from Dheisheh and Azza organized a march on a main street in Bethlehem, temporarily blocking traffic.

Dozens of masked youths dressed in ragtag military garb paraded through Azza and out onto Manger Street, carrying makeshift weapons. Following a truck whose speakers blared patriotic tunes, the boys in the front of the group held a banner that read "Friends of the martyr hero Saleh al-Amarin."

Men gave speeches as the youths marched in place. Women reached into baskets and threw candy into the street, and boys and girls on the sidelines ran to collect it. Later, a few of the "soldiers" snuck quick grabs at the candy, or returned unmasked after the march was over to casually snatch a few pieces.

On Saturday, Azza camp held another memorial service commemorating the day Saleh was shot.

"Saleh is a martyr of Palestine," his father said in a speech. "He is the martyr of three refugee camps," he added, referring to Bethlehem's Aida, Dheisheh, and Azza.

'We were brothers'

In separate interviews with Ma'an, Saleh's friends from Azza said he was beloved by everybody in the camp.

"Everyone loved him," said 16-year-old Muhannad. "He would always joke around with us. ... He'd always make us laugh."

Muhannad said Saleh loved to wrestle with other kids.

"Not 'kill, kill,' but just joking around," Muhannad said, smiling.

Saleh was respected by everyone, he said.

Fifteen-year old Nour told Ma'an: "Me and Saleh were more than friends. We were brothers."

Saleh and a group of about 10 friends were "best friends," Nour said. "We'd go everywhere together."

Nour said he attended the clashes at Aida camp on Jan. 18, 2013.

"We were throwing stones and marching, and everyone was there at the march," he said.

"Saleh was there, and the soldiers started shooting live bullets. But the live bullets they were shooting were silent. They would be shot but you couldn't hear anything. So the bullet came and went right into his head."

Nour said the boys carried Saleh away and went to the hospital, recounting that Saleh died at "approximately 3:00 p.m." on Jan. 23.

When people found out he had died, "it was terrible news."

"Everyone was shocked by this news. Everyone started crying. ... No one could believe it."

Another friend of Saleh's, 16-year-old Atallah, told Ma'an that he had attended protests around the time Saleh died.

"We thought they just used rubber bullets," Atallah said. "We didn't realize they used live bullets."

He said the reason Saleh's face had been spray-painted all over Bethlehem, and the reason his friends posted pictures of him on Facebook on a near-daily basis, was so "no one would forget."

Atallah, Muhannad, and Nour all said they regularly took part in clashes at Aida camp.

Muhannad and Atallah said they attended the clashes even more after Saleh died.

"Any clash that happens, I go," Muhannad said. "I go because of Saleh."

'Excessive force'

According to a Palestinian-led activist group, doctors speculated that the bullet that killed Saleh was an expanding dumdum bullet, due to the fragmentation of shrapnel within his skull.

One doctor said he was sure a dumdum bullet was used, the International Solidarity Movement reported on the day of Saleh's death.

Expanding bullets have been illegal under international law since the Hague convention of 1899.

Their use by Israeli forces has been documented in various news reports throughout the past decade.

An Israeli army spokeswoman told Ma'an she could not confirm whether a dumdum bullet was used to kill Saleh.

Asked whether the Israeli army used dumdum bullets at all, the spokeswoman said she was not authorized to provide such information.

But she confirmed the incident on Jan. 18, 2013, saying: "a gang of around 30 Palestinian protesters threw rocks towards the security presence in the area."

"A Palestinian protester, who was injured during the violent protest, was evacuated with the help of the Red Crescent to a nearby hospital. Upon his death, an investigation was immediately undertaken by the Military Police and the case is currently under the jurisdiction of the Military General Advocate," she said.

She added: "The protest took place within the context of a spate of extremely violent protests in the prior days, during which molotov cocktails were thrown and rocks hurled towards worshipers and security forces."

Violence had certainly escalated at the time, as at least five other Palestinians were fatally shot by Israeli forces throughout the first three weeks of January.

An Israeli rights group reported a five-year high in the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2013.

According to B'Tselem, 27 West Bank Palestinians were killed in 2013, including four during protests that involved stone-throwing.

In April, Amnesty International condemned the use of "excessive force" by the Israeli army against Palestinians.

"Israel must take urgent steps to ensure its forces in the West Bank limit the use of live fire to situations when their own lives or others are genuinely in danger in order to avoid further unlawful deaths and injuries," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty's Middle East director.

There are 19 refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, within which live about a quarter of the 771,000 registered refugees in the territory.

More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants -- were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel's creation in 1948.
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