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A day of rage and the killing of Mutaz Zawahreh

Oct. 14, 2015 4:14 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 7, 2015 9:13 A.M.)
An injured Palestinian protester carries a Palestinian flag during clashes Oct. 13, 2015 (MaanImages/Sheren Khalel)
By: Sheren Khalel

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A day of rage, as it was called, turned into an evening of mourning in Bethlehem on Tuesday, after Israeli forces shot and killed Mutaz Ibrahim Zawahreh, 27, while he was standing with a group of friends on a main street during clashes in the city.

Zawahreh was the second Palestinian to be killed on the Jerusalem-Hebron road in four days. The first was a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by Israeli forces just a few hundred meters away.

The protests, called for by Palestinian political parties as a “day of rage” across the occupied Palestinian territory, started atDuheisharefugee camp, where Zawahreh lived.

Hundreds of protesters participated in the march that proceeded down one of the main streets in Bethlehem, towards a garage-like door that opens to an Israeli military base on the other side of Israel’s separation wall.

The protesters marched carrying Palestinian flags while calling for their neighbors to “leave their homes” and join the demonstration and chanting slogans against Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Zawahreh wore a red kuffiyeh tied tightly around his head during the protest -- the color a symbol of his political party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the checkered scarf, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

“He loved Palestine more than anything,” Fadi al-Qaisi, a childhood friend of Zawahreh told Ma’an. “Most of his family has been imprisoned by Israel.”

When Tuesday’s march reached the separation wall, Israeli forces immediately fired tear gas at the gatherers, dispersing part of the crowd. The peaceful protest quickly turned into clashes between Palestinian youth armed with rocks and heavily armed Israeli forces.

Zawahreh was one of the young men at the front-line of the fight.
Protesters line up under cover of a stone stair case taking turns at launching rocks at Israeli forces on Oct. 13, 2015 (MaanImages/Sheren Khalel)

A few hours into clashes, Israeli soldiers took over a half-constructed seven-story building and stationed snipers on the rooftop.

A medic yelled out to protesters who had retreated down a side street to regroup after being barraged with tear gas.

When asked if he ever felt his role as a medic was sometimes difficult for him, he smiled and shook his head.

“I am Palestinian first, my medical training just means I have a different way of fighting,” he said. “My main concern is protecting these guys, it's my way of fighting the occupation.”

Being out-maneuvered while facing a well-equipped army did not stop Zawahreh and the other young men from continuing to hurl rocks from their slingshots. They spent hours choking on tear gas and dodging a litany of projectile weapons in the hopes that one of them might injure a single Israeli soldier with their rocks.

At one point, Zawahreh climbed up on a building where Israeli forces were stationed below and threw a Molotov cocktail on the helmeted head of a soldier. Zawahreh’s friends believe that is why he was targeted hours later.
A Palestinian protester uses a lamp post as cover during clashes with Israeli forces in Bethlehem on Oct. 13, 2015 (MaanImages/Sheren Khalel)

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that Israeli forces "thwarted an attack" by a "Palestinian perpetrator" who attempted to throw a Molotov cocktail at their army.

However Zawahreh was killed during a lull in the clashes. At the time he was standing among a group of fellow protesters with nothing in his hands, and was much too far away to have been a threat to Israeli forces.

When Zawahreh was shot, the bullet went through his stomach and exited from his back.

The young men who were standing with him scrambled to pick him up off the ground while the entire crowd yelled for an ambulance that came rushing to the scene.

Several friends who helped evacuate Zawahreh to the ambulance said he began singing a Palestinian fight song while they carried him.

“The mother of the martyr don’t be sad, every Palestinian is your son,” he sang, according to the young men.

Zawahreh was an active member of the PFLP, considered a terrorist group by the United States, the EU and Israel. For Palestinians, the group -- founded by a Christian doctor, George Habash -- is simply the choice for secular leftists.

People who knew Zawahreh repeatedly highlighted his friendly character and political involvement.

“His family are a very active family in his camp for PFLP,” al Qaisi said, pointing out that six of Zawahreh’s brothers are currently in Israeli prisons. “He was a popular guy, everyone in the area knew him and had some kind of relationship with him.”

After protesters realized how serious Zawahreh’s condition was, the entire protest dispersed as young men rushed to the hospital to kiss Zawahreh’s still face goodbye.

Hundreds of Palestinians went that night to his family’s home to pay respects to Zawahreh’s parents.

George Abueed, a friend of Zawahreh’s, was still in shock from the news of his death when he spoke to Ma’an.

“I still just can’t believe that this happened to him,” Abueed said through his grief. “He was simply the kind of person who gives hope to people. Whenever someone was sad or feeling down he was the guy that would always be there for people.”

“That was his human side,” Abueed said “But it is important to say that he was a great defender of his country.”
Protesters rest during a lull in clashes on a side street in Bethlehem on Oct. 13, 2015 (MaanImages/Sheren Khalel)

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