Beit Lakia boys killed in IDF ambush, Palestinians claim

Amos Harel and Arnon Regular

Haaretz

Iyar 13, 5765

After two Palestinian boys were killed by Israel Defense Forces fire in the West Bank town of Beit Lakia two weeks ago, the army investigated and concluded that, due to the soldiers' overenthusiasm, a routine incident had deteriorated into a series of tragic mishaps that ended in the boys' death.

But Palestinian eyewitnesses said Jamal Assi, 15, and his 14-year-old cousin, Uday Assi, were caught in a deliberate IDF ambush.

Every day, Beit Lakia boys come to play on a soccer field south of the town. According to the IDF, some then proceed to a hill that overlooks a parking lot about 150 meters away and use slingshots to throw stones at the bulldozers being used to build the separation fence near Beit Lakia. In the past, the stone-throwers have wounded an Israeli driver and broken the windshields of several bulldozers.

On May 4, an IDF force came to guard the lot, and the officer in charge, along with four of his soldiers, ascended the hill in question. According to the IDF, the youths saw the soldiers and fled, which is when the officer - who has since been suspended and is under investigation by the military police - made his fatal mistake: Instead of being satisfied with driving the boys away, he gave chase, all the way to the outskirts of the town.

At that point, the IDF said, the soldiers found themselves in trouble, surrounded by about 150 Palestinians, some of whom were throwing stones at them. Some of the soldiers were hit by the stones and wounded, though not seriously. The soldiers say they could not use tear gas, because the strong wind made it impossible to control the direction of the gas. Instead, they fired rubber bullets, but the crowd did not disperse. The force commander also fired in the air.

Throughout this time, the officer failed to report the incident to his superiors; he reported it only after it ended.

At a certain point, the officer said, he felt that his soldiers' lives were in danger, so he aimed live fire at the rocks near the boys. He claimed he fired only one bullet directly at the youths, and it was aimed at their legs. His soldiers confirmed that he was the only one who fired. The army therefore believes the second boy might have been struck by a rock shard knocked loose by one of the officer's bullets.

But Palestinian witnesses told a different story: They said the boys fled the pursuing soldiers only to run into a different force that was lying in wait near the village. Uday's brother, Muweid, said he was with the group of fleeing boys and saw the force waiting there.

"The officer suddenly began firing at us," he said. Jamal and Uday were wounded, but the firing continued for some time until "there was a break, and we heard the officer talking on the radio and yelling with other soldiers, and we were able to get to them [the wounded boys]."

The boys called an ambulance, but Jamal, who was seriously wounded in the chest, died soon afterward, while Uday, who was hit in the leg, bled to death en route to the hospital in Ramallah. Israel asked the Palestinians to autopsy the boys, but the families refused.

The Beit Lakia incident is not unusual. Every day, soldiers and Border Police officers operate in some 15 villages near this section of the separation fence, sometimes without either crowd control equipment or clear rules of engagement. Since work on that section of the fence began, at least 10 Palestinians have been killed during protests against it, including eight children. Dozens of others have been injured, some by live fire.