Israeli Defense Forces soldiers repeatedly shot an 18-year-old Palestinian college student last month, claiming she’d pulled a knife on a soldier while trying to cross a checkpoint on her way to class. But one eyewitness argues otherwise.
SEATTLE — At 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 22, 18-year-old Hebron native Hadeel al-Hashlamoun was on her way to class at a local university. A metal detector rang out when she attempted to pass through Checkpoint 56.
She complied when she was approached by Israeli Defense Forces soldiers from the Nahal Brigade and asked to open her bag. Then the soldiers began shouting orders to her in Hebrew. Eyewitnesses say it seemed she didn’t understand the soldiers. As she stood there, frozen, not responding, a local Palestinian municipal worker, Fawaz Abu Aisheh, approached her, speaking in Arabic and trying to translate for her.
He told the soldiers he was moving al-Hashlamoun back behind a metal barrier. But as she did so, the soldiers ordered her to stop. One soldier (pictured in the first image in the eyewitness report that follows) fired several shots at her feet. At that point, Abu Aisheh retreated to protect his own safety. After he did, the soldiers continued shouting at al-Hashlamoun and she remained frozen. Finally, the soldier who’d fired warning shots then fired a shot that hit her leg. Then another shot that hit another leg. That’s when she fell to the ground.
After a few moments, the soldier approached her and fired several more shots into her body. She lay there on the ground, slowly bleeding to death. The soldiers — there were seven by now — did nothing for a few minutes. Then one made a call on a cellphone.
Some time after that, a soldier dragged al-Hashlamoun’s barely alive body under the metal barrier and back to where the soldiers had stood. They removed her veil and viewed her face. By this time, a crowd of onlookers had gathered round to watch.
A Palestinian ambulance arrived, but the soldiers refused to permit it to evacuate her. They fired a stun grenade in the emergency team’s direction (you can see this in a video posted by PalMedia Media Center) to drive them off. Only 40 minutes after she was shot, did an Israeli ambulance arrive. When she was placed inside the ambulance most of her clothing had been removed and either a soldier or settler took pictures of her half-clothed body in the back of the ambulance. A pro-settler Facebook page published the photo along with derisive comments about the victim. The photo was taken down, presumably on the order of outgoing Israeli military censor Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, who stated in a recent interview with the media watchdog publication 7th Eye that her staff closely monitors social media in order to avert such “embarrassment.”
The Israeli ambulance took al-Hashlamoun to a clinic in Kiryat Arba which had no critical care facility. She was then taken to Shaarey Tzedek hospital, where she was pronounced dead of blood loss.
We have documentary evidence of the scene of the murder thanks to an activist volunteer with a foreign NGO. His work involved escorting Palestinian students through this checkpoint to ensure they were not harassed by soldiers. That is why he had a camera at the ready and recorded the tragic killing that morning.
His photographs captured the tense standoff between the victim and killer. But until this week, we did not know who the eyewitness was. Today, he broke his silence. His name is Marcel “Renan” Leme. He is Brazilian. Though his account states he did not want to speak out publicly until he had left Palestine and returned to Brazil, I will offer another more credible explanation here later.
Leme not only documented the scene with photographs, to which he’s added a timeline, he also added his own precise account of the incident. Here is his report, published on Sept. 26, which begins with an introductory paragraph explaining the context. I have slightly edited the English translation in order to smooth over a few awkward phrasings:
On September 22, 2015, day of the murder of palestinian Hadil, Marcel Leme, International Human Rights Observer, was leaving the city of Hebron in Palestine to return to Brazil. He was a few meters from the scene. His photos have been used by the international media and his name kept anonymous for security reasons, because it was still in territories controlled by Israel. Upon arriving in Brazil contacted the Blog Sanaúd-Voltaremos and presented the written and photographic report of his testimony.
While international media agencies tried to pass the Israeli version that the palestinian Hadil is a terrorist, Marcel was there, watching and photographing the killing of Hadil, an innocent Palestinian that at no time had some kind of reaction to the approach of Israeli soldiers in one of the Checkpoint imposed on Palestinians by Israel in the city of Hebron and in more than hundreds of Palestinian villages. …
Testimony about the Palestinian woman’s murder in Hebron (Palestine) on the 22nd September 2015.
Testimony and photos: Marcel Leme
On 22nd September 2015, at 7:43 a.m., I observed a Palestinian woman crossing [at] Checkpoint 56, at the entrance of Shuhada Street in Hebron. [As] she passed through the checkpoint, the metal detector [sounded] and, as usual, one of the two Israeli soldiers who were standing there asked the woman to stop walking. First, he spoke something in Hebrew, but as she was an Arabic speaker, the soldiers also tried to communicate to her in English, shouting at her “Stop, stop!” and “Move back!”. Immediately she stopped walking and turned around to him. At this moment, the distance between the woman and the soldier was about 2 meters away. She was totally covered by a black burqa, even her face was covered, and the soldier was totally scared since she had crossed the checkpoint. Then the soldier pointed the gun at her and seemed to have asked the woman to open her bag for [inspection]. (Picture 1 – 7:44 a.m.)
While she was trying to open her bag, the Israeli soldier made her move slowly towards the metal barrier on the exit way of the checkpoint. The soldier [forced her to do this] by pointing the gun at the woman and shouting something in Hebrew at her. [At this point], the distance between them was always about 2 meters away. The soldier remained very scared about her. (Picture 2 – 7:44 a.m.)
Immediately, [a] second soldier also pointed the gun at her. The distance between the woman and second soldier was also about 2 meters away. As the soldiers had asked her, the woman started moving slowly towards the metal barrier. She remained always silent, quiet and she never got closer to any soldier. (Picture 3 – 7:45 a.m.)
When she approached the metal barrier, which was about 1.2 meter high, the Israeli soldiers asked her again to open her bag. [At first], it seemed that she did not understand what the soldiers wanted from her, especially because they were shouting at her in Hebrew, so she did not move and did not even reply to the soldiers. She was totally still and froze.
Then both soldiers shot at the ground. Immediately after the shots, the soldiers shouted something in Hebrew at her again, so the woman tried to open her bag to show them what there was inside it. Before she [fully opened her bag], the soldier on her left side started shooting towards [the woman]. At this moment, the distance between her and both soldiers was about 3 meters away.
The Israeli soldier shot three times at her, but I could not [tell whether the] bullets hit the woman or not. Just after the three bullets [had] been shot, the woman remained standing near the metal barrier. With no reaction to the shots, she remained silent, quiet and did not move. The soldiers continued shouting something at her in Hebrew.
[At this time], a Palestinian man [Fawaz Abu Aisheh] arrived at the checkpoint intending to cross to H1 area (Bab Al-Zawiye). [He immediately approached the woman], stood just behind her and seemed [to ask] the soldiers to stop shooting. He [said] something in Hebrew with them and made some gestures with his hands suggesting to them to stop shooting. The woman turned around to [the] Palestinian man, she remained standing at the same place and [turned] her back to the soldiers. The Palestinian man was talking to her in Arabic, … probably trying to explain [the situation to her] and what the soldiers wanted from her, because [she seemed not to understand Hebrew]. (Picture 4 – 7:45 a.m.)
At this moment two more soldiers came to the scene. The Palestinian man spoke something in Hebrew to the soldiers and tried to help the woman to leave the area slowly towards the exit way of the checkpoint, just on the other side of the metal barrier. At this moment the distance between the Palestinian woman and the soldiers remained [about 3 meters]. When she tried to walk slowly towards the exit way of the checkpoint, the soldiers started shooting three more times towards the woman, even with the Palestinian man standing just behind her. (Picture 5 – 7:45 a.m.)
[Frightened by the shots], the Palestinian man moved away from the woman, standing about 2 meters away from her. After the shots, she remained standing, did not react, speak, scream or shout. Her only reaction was: she started walking very slowly to the exit way of the checkpoint, which leads to H1 area (Bab Al-Zawiye), on the other side of the metal barrier. (Picture 6 – 7:45 a.m.)
While she was walking slowly on the other side of the metal barrier, intending to cross the checkpoint back to H1 area (Bab Al-Zawiye), the soldiers shouted something at her in Hebrew. She immediately stopped walking and looked at them. It seemed the woman was not understanding what they wanted from her, so she remained still, silent and froze. At this moment there were four Israeli soldiers on the scene. The woman was standing about 4 meters away from all of them and now there was a metal barrier about 1.2 meters high between the woman and the soldiers. (Picture 7 – 7:46 a.m.)
The woman remained [frozen] on the other side of the metal barrier, behind her there was a wall. She did not move, speak, scream or react. She … never tried to attack any soldiers and did not even get close to them
Then the Israeli soldiers started opening fire at her some five or six times. The soldiers were now about 3 meters away from her. (Pictures 8 and 9 – 7:46 a.m.)
After she [had] been shot many times, the Palestinian woman remained standing for some seconds, then, suddenly, she fell down on the ground. At this moment two more soldiers ran to the scene. Now there were six Israeli soldiers around her. (Picture 10 – 7:46 a.m.)
Just after the woman [fell to the ground], a soldier came to her and shot her while she was [lying on the ground]. At this moment the distance between the victim and the Israeli soldier was about 1.5 meter away. (Picture 11 – 7:47 a.m.)
The Palestinian woman remained [lying down on the ground] after [she had] been shot many times by the soldiers. She fell down on the ground on the exit way of the checkpoint, which goes to H1 area (Bab Al-Zawiye) and the Israeli soldiers shot her from the other side of the metal barrier. She was totally unconscious and did not move. There was no knife on the ground around her. (Picture 12 – 7:47 a.m. / Picture 13 – 7:48 a.m.)
Two minutes after she [had] been shot by the soldiers [and fell to the ground], many Palestinians who live around the area tried to come to the scene, but the soldiers had already blocked the area, closed Shuhada Street, Checkpoint 56, and the street which goes up to Tel Rumeida neighborhood. So the crowd stood behind the soldier’s blockade, looking at the scene from a distance of about 40 meters away on the street which goes up to Tel Rumeida.
The six soldiers who were in the scene started walking around the woman and they seemed [not to know what to do]. Five minutes after she has been shot by the Israeli soldiers and [fell to the ground], they started talking to each other and one of the soldiers made a phone call. (Pictures 14 and 15 – 7:52 a.m.)
Just after the phone call, many soldiers and Israeli policemen came to the scene. They were standing around the victim, taking pictures of her and making some phone calls. I remained standing at the scene and nobody said nothing to me.
No one was allowed to get closer to the scene, except for the Israeli settlers who arrived eight minutes after the Palestinian woman [had] been shot by the soldiers and [fell to the ground]. (Pictures 16 and 17 – 7:55 a.m.)
At 7:59 a.m. a man from the Israeli [emergency medical services] arrived at the scene, but he did not provide first aid, he just looked at the victim and made a phone call. At this moment the Israeli settlers, soldiers and policemen were talking to each other and taking pictures of the Palestinian woman, who was unconscious and [lying] down on the ground. (Picture 18 – 8:01 a.m.)
At 8:01 a.m. the soldiers dragged the woman’s body under the metal barrier and pulled her to the other side of the metal barrier, where the Israeli soldiers were standing during [the entire] incident and where they shot her from. [At that time,] the victim [regained consciousness] and moved slowly her head. Immediately the Israeli soldiers pointed the guns at her, but she fell unconscious again. (Picture 19 – 8:01 a.m.)
Then the Israeli settlers stood around her and started gathering and taking pictures of the woman again. The soldiers took off her black veil, so that they could see her face and take pictures of her. (Pictures 20 and 21 – 8:03 a.m. / Picture 22 – 8:05 a.m.)
Twenty minutes after the Palestinian woman [was shot by the Israeli soldiers and fell to the ground], the policemen moved away the Israeli settlers who were standing around her away and isolated the area around the victim. I could not see any medical care.
Then one policeman came to me and asked me to leave the area. I took the last picture from the scene and went up the street which goes up to Tel Rumeida. Then I joined the crowd who was standing behind the soldier’s blockade, which was about 40 meters away from the scene. (Picture 23 – 8:07 a.m.)
I was standing at the checkpoint before the woman … crossed it, I could see [the entire] incident from a distance of about 7 to 8 meters …, always walking around the scene to try to find a safe place and a better angle to witness and take pictures. I left the area at 8:07 a.m., 24 minutes after the woman has crossed the checkpoint and 20 minutes after [she had fallen to the ground because she had been shot].
The name of the victim was published later by media as Hadil al-Hashlamun, [an 18-year-old] Palestinian woman. The Palestinian man who tried to help her is Fawaz Abu ‘Easheh.
I would like to emphasize that the victim … never tried to attack any Israeli soldiers, she … never tried to raise a knife and she [never moved closer] to any soldiers [from the time that she] crossed the Checkpoint 56 to when she was shot many times by the Israeli soldiers and fell down unconscious on the ground. Before, during and after the incident I [did not see] any knife with the woman or around her on the ground.
Conflicting accounts of a knife
Leme’s testimony is critical for several reasons — the most important being conflicting testimony with another eyewitnesses. Fawaz Abu Aisheh, the man who stepped in to attempt to translate for Hadeel al-Hashlamoun, has been interviewed extensively by foreign media and human rights field workers interviewed since the tragedy. He told Amnesty International and B’Tselem that while al-Hashlamoun had at no point done anything threatening to the Israeli personnel, he did see a knife held under her niqab.
Abu Aisheh described the knife as having a “brown handle.” The IDF produced pictures of a knife lying on the ground far from where the victim stood during the encounter, but that knife had a yellow and blue handle. The knife in the IDF photograph is also at least 10 feet from the spot where al-Hashlamoun fell after being shot. There has been no effort to explain how the knife moved from the spot where the IDF claimed it was to where it was photographed.
The IDF maintains security video surveillance of all such checkpoints, which could easily resolve all questions surrounding this tragedy. If its personnel are without blemish, the IDF should release the footage to prove it. IDF spokesperson, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, has failed to respond to my repeated calls for this footage to be released.
Abu Aisheh also gave an interview to The Guardian in which he spoke extensively of the scene of the attack. At no point does he mention a knife. In an interview with The New York Times, he does not claim to have seen a knife. Even if the Israeli version of events is true and al-Hashlamoun did indeed have a knife, Abu Aisheh told The Times:
“[S]he would have to leap over a barrier about a meter high to reach a soldier. … There were six or seven soldiers with heavy weapons. There was no need for that assassination.”
Likewise, Marcel Leme, who regularly manned this checkpoint in order to accompany Palestinian children to school on behalf of his NGO, never saw a knife. Though he was slightly farther from al-Hashlamoun than Abu Aisheh, Leme witnessed the entire incident from beginning to end (Abu Aisheh only entered the scene in the middle of the standoff). Leme also recorded everything with his camera.
Foreign NGO obstructs reporting of the murder
There is another strange twist to this affair. After Marcel Leme documented the killing, he was called to Jerusalem by the educational NGO that sponsored him. They cut short his participation and immediately sent him back to Brazil, even though his program had not ended.
Though Leme shared his pictures with a separate Palestinian NGO, Youth Against Settlements, which published them online, he himself remained silent initially. Badia Dwaik, founder of the Hebron-based Human Rights Defenders, told MintPress News that he contacted Leme’s NGO, asking to make the eyewitness’ personal testimony public in order to clarify the discrepancy with Abu Aisheh’s account.
After Dwaik received no response, he mounted a campaign in Arabic-language social media and enlisted other Palestinian human rights NGOs to join him. They pointedly and publicly asked why Leme’s NGO was remaining silent when its testimony could redeem the honor of the murdered victim.
This NGO has done educational and relief work in Palestine for many years. From its point of view, it sought to safeguard its mission, its staff and volunteers. Angering the military authorities would be a sure way to frustrate their future work. New foreign volunteers seeking to enter the country might be deported en masse. So it took a cautious approach and refused to involve itself in the incident and sent Leme home. He did not publish the account offered here until he was safe there.
Dwaik is certain that his pressure played some role in encouraging the NGO to permit the story to be told. For him, the behavior of Leme’s NGO raises important questions about the roles they play in the conflict. It’s understandable that such an organization might wish to protect its projects on the ground. Getting involved with a murder and the accompanying scrutiny from Israeli media and security personnel certainly might be unwelcome. But, as Dwaik says: “If you come here but are not willing to play a constructive role in the conflict, then why are you here?”
I attempted to contact Leme for an interview and was not able to do so before this story went to press.
Defiling the dead
I mentioned earlier that degrading images of Hadeel al-Hashlamoun were published on pro-settler social media. After she was killed, Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, released an anonymous statement published in Israeli media which further defiled her memory:
“In recent months, Hadil al-Hashlamoun told her close friends at several opportunities that she wanted to ‘do something’ and carry out a terror attack. One day before the incident she sought to break off with her boyfriend. From an investigation of the event, it appears she was known to the Shabak [another name for the Shin Bet] and expressed her desire to carry out a terror attack and told him she would never see him again.”
This passage has been scrubbed from later versions of the article. In such circumstances the military censor usually demands the material be removed, though someone in the Shin Bet may’ve thought better of disseminating this inflammatory portrait of the victim.
In the aftermath of this killing, Amnesty International released a report calling it “an extrajudicial execution.” It used this term while also acknowledging that Hadeel al-Hashlamoun may have been holding a knife. It made clear that the most salient point in determining how to view the confrontation is that al-Hashlamoun, if she had a knife, never displayed it, never showed any intent to use it, and never made any movement that could be even vaguely interpreted as hostile or threatening.
Certainly, if al-Hashlamoun was carrying a knife, she deserved to be interrogated and possibly arrested. If it could be proven that her intent was to inflict harm on soldiers, Israel would have the right to try her. But of all the states in the world claiming to be democracies, Israel is one of the few that allows summary executions of civilians. (The U.S. drone program could prompt its inclusion on this list, as well.)
There has been little official response from the IDF to the murder. It’s not even gone through the standard operating procedure of announcing an investigation into the incident, which invariably ends with the case closed “for lack of evidence.”
Social media, on the other hand, has been filled with outrage. Facebook and Twitter users have been disseminating a poster produced by Israeli graphic designer and human rights activist Shaul Hanuka, which features the picture of the shooter on a “Wanted” poster.
A significant number of pro-Israel users have filed complaints with Facebook over this poster. The social media platform even briefly suspended the account of pro-Palestinian activist and MintPress contributor Joe Catron. It added that the graphic had been removed because it “contained graphic violence.” The irony in this, of course, is that al-Hashlamoun’s murder was the ultimate in graphic violence.
The poster contains no violence whatsoever. But pro-Israel advocates fear that those among them who do engage in violent acts may have done to them what they’ve done to Palestinians.
Finally, if Hadeel al-Haslamoun was executed as Amnesty claims, then this is a war crime and should be investigated as such. Evidence of this incident should be forwarded by the Palestinian Authority to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, of which it is now a member.