He was a boy of 15. His mother did not appear this week before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, his sisters did not issue a heartrending public letter, no mass prayers were organized in his honor, nor was a memorial assembly held. No one accused the soldiers who killed him with live fire of perpetrating brutal terrorism, no one took responsibility for his killing. Naturally no one apologized: Israel ignored his death. But Mohammed Dudin, too, was a boy – the word Israelis are using to describe the three abducted Kfar Etzion yeshiva students.
Only his family weeps for him now. The expression on his father’s face bespeaks the agony and grief of one whose world has collapsed, a world that even beforehand was squalid and grueling.
Jihad Dudin is a hardscrabble, 45-year-old construction worker who has worked in Israel for years with a permit, building homes in Modi’in, spending nights amid the skeletons of the new structures, and going home to Dura, south of Hebron, on weekends.
After the start of Operation Brother’s Keeper and the closure imposed on the Hebron area, Jihad was unable to get to work. His son Mohammed, the younger of his two boys, was already on summer vacation, and the two used the time to continue the piecemeal construction of the family’s home on the floor above the apartments of Jihad’s four brothers.
In the meantime, Jihad’s family is living on the ground floor, in the apartment of one of the brothers, who married and moved to Nazareth. The walls are not plastered, there is no ceiling yet. There is still much work to be done, but Jihad’s meager income doesn’t allow him to speed up the process. In any case, it was only on holidays and during periods of forced unemployment that father and teenage son hauled cinder blocks to the heights of the new third-floor dwelling.
Last Thursday, too, they carried up cinder blocks and sacks of sand from morning to night. Before they went to sleep, Jihad asked Mohammed whether he would be able to help him haul up more gray cinder blocks on Friday, too. Mohammed told his father to wake him early and they would go on with the construction. The two went to bed around 11 o’clock, exhausted from the day’s work. Jihad slept until 6 the next morning, when he was abruptly awakened by the shouts of children in the yard.
Mohammed had leaped out of bed in the dark of night, his sleep broken by the din of Israeli forces on the move. Hundreds of soldiers were raiding the town, which in the first intifada was known as one of the most tranquil in the West Bank. Dura was the home of Mustafa Dudin, a relative, who had been the Jordanian agriculture minister and then headed the so-called Village Leagues, the vacuous organization Israel tried to establish in the territories in the late 1970s, as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mustafa Dudin died long ago, and with him the Village Leagues, whose leaders were accused by some of collaborating with Israel. But the members of Jihad Dudin’s household also see themselves as pursuers of peace with Israel.
On the days when Mohammed did not help his father in building their new home, he wandered the town’s streets, a tray perched on his head, selling hilbeh, a local fried sweet that he bought for half a shekel (15¢) each and sold for 1 shekel.
He was a strikingly handsome boy. His family say he was the best food hawker in town: Everyone was captivated by his winning smile and bought sweets from him. But on the night between Thursday and Friday, Mohammed had other things on his mind.
At about 10 P.M., as hundreds of troops invaded the town, Dura snapped to attention. Thousands waited in their homes for the soldiers to arrive, in the course of house-to-house searches and arrests by the Israel Defense Forces. Parents did not sleep all night, to ensure that if soldiers pounded on their door they would open it immediately – before the troops blasted it open.
“Everyone awaits his turn,” said one of Mohammed’s cousins, a psychologist at a local school. “The babies and the children are in a panic. The soldiers are liable to enter at any moment.” The local radio station broadcast nonstop bulletins: The soldiers are already here, the soldiers are advancing there. A West Bank version of traffic reports.
No one knows exactly when Mohammed woke up, but in the predawn hours, he wanted to go outside. Hundreds of children and teens were following the soldiers, hurling volleys of stones at them, and getting tear gas and stun grenades in return. This is life in the villages of the West Bank. As if lured by a magic wand, all the youngsters immediately stream into the streets to head off the soldiers – “as though there is some sort of connection between the children, or they are drawn by a magnet,” says Mohammed’s cousin.
Mohammed also wanted to join them, but his mother, who stayed up all night, wouldn’t let him out.
Mahmoud Dudin, a cousin and neighbor of Mohammed’s, was already in the street. He’s a young electrician, 21, with a keffiyeh draped over his shoulders. A witness to Mohammed’s killing, Mahmoud relates that the troops split into two groups of about 100 soldiers each, with each group raiding houses in a different neighborhood.
The forces had come on foot from the direction of the Adurayim base, situated across the nearby hill. At 12:30 A.M., they were joined by about a dozen army jeeps and another dozen civilian jeeps, apparently from the Shin Bet security service. They drove, lights out, toward the Sanjir neighborhood, where the abandoned burned-out car that apparently was used by the kidnappers of the yeshiva youths had been found several days earlier.
The searches, the stone throwing and the firing of tear-gas and stun grenades went on all night. The soldiers, Mahmoud recalls, smashed windows and overturned furniture in dozens of homes. At 4 A.M., when the jeeps returned from Sanjir, they were pelted by stones. At 4:30, the soldiers started to leave the town, in groups. At 4:45, they crossed the main street on the way to their base. The youngsters continued to throw stones at them unceasingly until they left.
The first group of soldiers made do with firing tear-gas and stun grenades at the large numbers of young people on the streets. A little after 5 A.M., the last group of soldiers started to leave the town. Suddenly, one of the soldiers in the rear of the column aimed his rifle and fired live ammunition at the youngsters, at a range of about 80 meters. Mahmoud rushed to take cover behind a palm tree.
Mahmoud remembers hearing six live-fire shots. It was a miracle that the number of casualties wasn’t greater. Then he heard a shout: “Mahmoud, I’m hit, help me!” He saw a boy lying on the road and bleeding, but didn’t know it was his cousin Mohammed. Drawing closer, he recognized him; until that moment he hadn’t known that Mohammed was on the street. A couple of hours earlier, at 3:30 A.M., when Mahmoud took his younger brother home to safety, he had noticed Mohammed watching events from the window in his room. It was a short time afterward that he stole out of the house, probably through the window. His father was sleeping, and he told his mother that the army had already left.
One bullet had struck his cousin in the chest. Mahmoud quickly carried him on his shoulders to a car, which took him the local Red Crescent clinic. Mahmoud holds up the undershirt and the T-shirt he wore that night. Both are covered with blood, the blood of his dead cousin. Two soldiers tried to approach the wounded boy, but backed off in the face of the agitated crowd.
In response to a request for comment, the IDF Spokesman told Haaretz this week: “The subject is under investigation by the Military Police. Upon its conclusion the findings will be conveyed to the Military Advocate General’s Office for examination.”
Mahmoud says that Mohammed managed to say, “Take care of yourself, take care of my parents, I love them.” He died on the way to the clinic. He was taken to Aliya Hospital in Hebron, where he was officially pronounced dead. At midday Friday, he was buried in his clothes, as is the custom, though they were drenched in blood. Almost the entire town turned out for the funeral.
Together with Mussa Abu Hashhash, a fieldworker for the human rights organization B’Tselem, we visited the site of the incident. A few blackened bloodstains are visible on the street next to a bus stop. Photographs sent to me afterward show Mohammed in death, his handsome face gray. Last Friday, his father, Jihad, was awakened by children shouting outside: “Your boy has gone, gone, gone.” He rushed to the hospital, but it was too late.
Now he’s crying – Jihad, the bereaved father from Dura.