BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The early morning traffic began to ease as the funeral procession departed from Bethlehem’s city limits, and cars sped up on their way to the nearby village of Tuqu, in the southern occupied West Bank.
Fatima al-Umour, the mother of slain 17-year old Qusay, rests her head on a family member's shoulder moments after saying her final goodbyes to her son. (MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
“Look, look,” said one of the drivers in the funeral procession, pointing upwards to a group of Israeli soldiers stationed on the hill just above the shared Palestinian-Israeli settler road. “They’re trying to provoke us.”
As traffic slowed for a moment, young men -- residents of Tuqu where 17-year-old Qusay al-Umour
was shot dead less than 24 hours earlier -- hopped out of their vehicles to grab stones from the side of the road and hurl them as far as they could at the soldiers, not knowing if one of them had shot the four fatal bullets that killed their friend.
Women and children gathered on rooftops, passersby honked their horns, and young men hung out of the windows of speeding cars waving Palestinian and Fatah flags, with pictures of al-Umour, the latest “martyr,” taped to the backs of their cars.
Crowds gather on the rooftops of homes in Tuqu overlooking the cemetery during the funeral of 17-year-old Qusay al-Umour. (MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
Within moments of arriving to the teenager’s hometown, thousands of Tuqu residents flooded the main street -- men and teenage boys crowding around the ambulance holding al-Umour’s body, women and children peering from windows and rooftops wiping away tears.
The sea of people joined al-Umour’s family and school friends to chant slogans of redemption as they marched through the town holding the body of their slain son and friend draped in a Palestinian flag, with a traditional Palestinian kuffiyeh scarf wrapped around his head.
As the procession stopped in front of the teenager’s house, where women from the al-Umour family waited to say goodbye to Qusay, the chants of the men in the street quickly faded amid the piercing shrills and screams of the women inside.
“They [Israelis] are terrorists. They are tyrants. They didn’t allow me to see him. They didn’t help him,” Fatima al-Umour, Qusay’s mother, said in a faint cry, barely able to speak as dozens of mourning women crowded around her.
“I kept asking them [the soldiers] to give him first aid without taking me with them, but they didn’t. They dragged him to a remote area and we didn’t know where he was. They took him behind the jeep, tore his clothes, then they threw him away and left him alone [to die],” she said as she struggled to sit up straight, resting her head on a family member next to her.
“Lift your head up, you are the mother of a martyr,” some women shouted in an attempt to comfort Fatima, “your son is a hero!”
The attempts at consolation were drowned out by Fatima's cries.
“Oh my beloved son! They tortured you and dragged you. They have destroyed me. May God bring them to justice,” she continued to wail, fixing the kuffiyeh around her head as television crews, family members, and mourners attempted to push their way in front of her.
Family members and PA security forces carry the body of 17-year-old Qusay al-Umour out of the morgue at Beit Jala's Hussein hospital. (MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
“They [Israeli soldiers] dragged him in a brutal way to the military vehicle. Nobody in the world would do that,” a male family member sitting next to Fatima said, echoing the frustration of the circumstances under which the teenager was killed.
The residents of Tuqu -- those who were present at the clashes where al-Umour was shot, and those who saw the video documenting the events immediately following his death
-- seemed to be sure of two things: the high school student was wrongfully killed by Israeli forces, and they do not know, and will likely never know, if Qusay was already dead when soldiers got a hold of his motionless body, or if he died in their custody.
The footage taken by Palestinian journalist Hisham Abu Sharqah immediately after al-Umour was shot went viral on social media, as it seemingly contradicted Israeli army allegations that al-Umour had been the "main instigator" of the clashes that day.
The video shows Israeli forces running towards the teenager's motionless body, lying in a field of olive trees at least 100 meters away from the road where the clashes were taking place.
As the Israeli soldiers reach a motionless al-Umour lying face down in the ground, one soldier can be seen stumbling on al-Umour's legs, while another one gets on top of him, forcefully turning him onto his back before more soldiers arrive. The video then shows four soldiers, each carrying one of al-Umour's arms or legs, dragging the motionless teen to the road in an area surrounded by soldiers and armored jeeps.
Mourners hold onto the arms of Qusay al-Umour's father, center, as he overlooks his son's grave. (MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
Though initial reports claimed that al-Umour was shot six times, a medical source from the Hussein hospital in Beit Jala, where the body was examined, told Ma’an that the teenager was shot four times -- twice in the chest, once in each hip.
“One of the bullets perforated his heart. Medically, this is a fatal bullet,” the source said
Despite medical opinions surrounding the case, which have yet to be formalized, Ahmad al-Umour, a cousin of the slain teenager, told Ma’an that he -- like Fatima, his family, and the rest of the village -- did not know what to believe.
When asked to recall details of the incident, specifically regarding the allegation that al-Umour was the “main instigator” despite being shot from a distance of at least 100 meters, Ahmad, distracted and overwhelmed, could fixate only on the fact that al-Umour was dragged by his limbs and left to bleed, with villagers unable to reach him.
“They fired four rounds at his chest, and he fell immediately. They left him bleeding without offering any first aid. After we tried to rush to help him, the soldiers took him to a military base at the entrance of the town,” Ahmad said. “Then they notified the Palestinian liaison office of his martyrdom, and the Palestinian Red Crescent went to receive the martyr’s body.”
Ahmad managed to say a few words about his cousin just as al-Umour's body was being carried into the mosque, the last stop in the procession before he would be laid to rest.
“Qusay was beloved among the village’s youth. He always helped everyone, he helped his classmates with their lessons. He was sociable,” Ahmad said, adding that al-Umour was also "active in the resistance" against the Israeli soldiers who regularly raid the village.
But when questioned about Qusay or about Monday’s events, Ahmad, Fatima, and every relative and villager Ma’an spoke with became fixated on the hour or so when the teenager was in Israeli custody before his body was returned. Not on the fact that he was shot in the chest, but that the Israeli army had his body, and for that reason, they could never be sure exactly what happened to him.
Every banner hanging in the village's streets and poster taped to the backs of cars featured an enlarged screencap of the image of four Israeli soldiers dragging al-Umour’s limp body by his legs and arms, overlaid with a smiling picture of the slain teen on the right, and late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on the left.
Though official medical reports might solve the mystery surrounding whether al-Umour was killed instantly or whether he died after being dragged by Israeli forces and held in Israeli custody, the overwhelming sentiment of denial and doubt surrounding the events of the teenager’s death will likely never be put to rest.
The funeral procession for Qusay al-Umour in Tuqu on Jan. 17, 2017. (MaanImages/Muhammad Taqatqa)
According to Ma'an documentation al-Umour was the 251st Palestinian to be killed by Israelis since a wave of unrest broke out across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel in October 2015. Though the majority of the Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces after attempting or allegedly attempting to carry out attacks against Israelis, at least 65 Palestinians, like al-Umour, were shot dead during clashes with Israeli forces during that time period.
In tens of cases, Israel’s version of events has been disputed by witnesses, activists, and rights groups who have denounced what they have termed as a "shoot-to-kill" policy against Palestinians who did not constitute a threat at the time of their death, or who could have been subdued in a non-lethal manner -- amid a backdrop of impunity for Israeli forces who have committed the killings.
When asked if Israeli authorities would be opening an investigation into al-Umour’s death, as they have done in a handful of cases, an Israeli police spokesperson told Ma’an that he “was not aware” of any investigation.
Crowds gather in the village of Tuqu for the funeral procession of 17-year-old Qusay al-Umour. (MaanImages, Yumna Patel)
Were an investigation to be opened, the precedent set by cases such as that of 15-year-old Khalid Bahr,
who was shot dead by Israeli forces in October for allegedly throwing rocks at soldiers during a raid in a Hebron-area village, casts doubts on the likelihood of real accountability.
According to rights group Yesh Din, of 186 criminal investigations into suspected offenses against Palestinians opened by the Israeli army in 2015, just four resulted in indictments.
While witnesses claimed that Bahr was just walking home from school and not participating in the rock throwing, and an internal Israeli army investigation later revealed that the lives of Israeli soldiers were not at risk when Khalid was killed, no serious repercussions have befallen on those who killed the teenager.
Whether al-Umour's death will have broader repercussions on the accountability of Israeli forces, it will likely not change much for al-Umour’s family, friends, and his fellow villagers.
“They took him about a kilometer away without giving him any medical help or first aid until he bled to death," a relative of al-Umour told Ma’an during the funeral. "What would you tell the world about killing a child this way? This is criminal and terrorist behavior.”