“He asked me how many children I have – then he said: ‘Now you have one less’”

Basel Basbous in hospital (Basil Adra)

Basil Adra & Yuval Abraham

+972 Magazine  /   November 8, 2022

After shooting three Palestinians, two fatally, the Israeli army misled their mothers about which of their sons was dead, and refuses to return the bodies.

On October 3, Israeli soldiers opened fire on a vehicle carrying three Palestinians who were driving home from a work shift at a pizzeria in Birzeit in the occupied West Bank. Two of the passengers were killed on the spot, and one, an 18-year-old, was seriously wounded. The Israeli army is holding the bodies of the two who were killed, preventing their parents from giving them a proper burial.

In the back seat of the vehicle sat Basel Basbous, 18, who was shot in the leg and hand and was hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. In an interview with +972, he said that he and his two friends who were killed, 18-year-old Salama Sharayah and 21-year-old Khaled al-Dabbas, were on their way home.

Basbous was immediately arrested, but following a police investigation, the military prosecutor decided to release him without conditions and did not file an indictment against him. A source inside the police confirmed to +972 that the investigation found no evidence that Basbous planned to harm the soldiers.

Following the shooting, the IDF Spokesperson issued a statement declaring the incident an “attempted car-ramming terror attack,” while the Israeli media referred to the three Palestinians as “terrorists.” However, an investigation by +972 Magazine and Local Call contradicts this assertion.

Lying on a bed in the hospital in Ramallah, it is clear that Basbous has not yet recovered — either physically or mentally — from the incident. “My friends died — it took me a few days to believe that it really happened,” he said.

“At about 2 a.m. we finished a night shift at the restaurant where we work,” Basbous recounted. “On the way back home from Birzeit, we heard from other people that the army was raiding the area. We decided to take another road that connects Birzeit with Jalazoun Refugee Camp because we assumed the army wouldn’t be there. As soon as we turned around, they were in front of us and opened fire. I didn’t see them. They didn’t have any identification or lights on them. It was as if they were hiding.”

Basbous said that he lost consciousness on the spot and woke up in the hospital. According to one eyewitness, who said the soldiers’ bullets hit his home, the three were left to bleed in the car for two hours without medical treatment. After that, the soldiers declared the area a “closed military zone” until army jeeps arrived and took the three to a hospital.

“I woke up after two days,” Basbous said in a trembling voice. “My hands were handcuffed to the bed. I would wake up for a moment and lose consciousness. There were constantly soldiers around me. 

“An investigator came with a translator. He asked me: ‘What are the names of the other two young men who were with you? Where were you? What were you doing? Why did you go out at 3 a.m.?’ I told him that we were at work and that I could prove it. He asked me, ‘Why did you drive fast?’ He kept yelling at me.”

Basbous was treated at the hospital following his arrest, where he was asked to fast before undergoing surgery. Just before the operation, the Military Prosecutor’s Office announced that he was being released without conditions and that no indictment would be filed against him. Basbous was already in a surgical gown when a soldier entered his room, ordered him to change clothes, handcuffed him, and led him out of the hospital.

“The soldier told me: ‘You have three hours to organize your things and leave Jerusalem. If you don’t leave, we will arrest you, because you do not have a permit to enter Israel.’” Basbous was left at the entrance to the hospital, wounded, and having not eaten for 12 hours.

He called his brother, who spoke to the Palestinian Authority. PA officials called an Israeli ambulance, which took him to the checkpoint where a Palestinian ambulance was waiting for him. From the checkpoint he was rushed to a hospital in Ramallah, where he is currently being treated.

A security source with knowledge of the details of the investigation admitted to +972 that there are “question marks” regarding the initial claim that the three had attempted an attack. “It’s a strange case, because ramming attacks are usually carried out by one person, not three,” the source said. According to him, the claim is based on the testimony of the soldiers who opened fire at the vehicle, who insist that they felt their lives were in danger; their suspicions were raised, they say, after the vehicle passed them, stopped, turned around, and drove back the other way.

Despite the doubts raised subsequently, the IDF Spokesperson has not backed down from its initial designation of the incident, and the army continues to hold on to the bodies of Sharayah and al-Dabbas as a punitive measure. Holding the bodies of Palestinians as bargaining chips for future negotiations is a long-standing practice in Israel.

‘Everyone loved him so much’

 For a moment amid the confusion on the day of the event, the boys’ mothers did not know which of three of them were bereaved. First, an officer informed Basbous’ mother that her son was dead, and Sharayah’s mother that her son was injured. Later, they learned that it was actually the other way around.

Until now, Rana, the mother of Al-Dabbas, is still clinging to the hope that he might be alive because she has not seen his body, which is being held by the army. “Khaled was my rock. He had a good heart. He always did whatever I asked of him. It’s killing me that I don’t know,” she said.

At 3.30 a.m., Rana was awake waiting for her son to return from work. She called him 10 times, without answer. On the 11th time, a man she didn’t know — perhaps a Shin Bet officer — picked up the phone. He asked for her name, and informed her that her son had been wounded by gunfire.

Rana recalled their conversation: “He said to me, ‘Why is your son out of the house at 3 a.m.?’ I told him he was coming back from work. He told me I’m a liar. At the end, he asked me how many children I have, and I answered. Then he said: ‘Now you have one less.’”

Although he promised to call her back with more information in an hour, Rana never heard from the man again. Since then, everything has been up in the air. “I don’t know anything. I won’t believe anyone until I see my son,” she said. “Why won’t they give me his body?”

That night, Rana drove to the outskirts of the camp, to the place where soldiers shot her son. “I saw a lot of blood, which flowed into a pit on the side of the road,” she explained. “I felt with my hand how hot the blood still was. All the residents of the camp were gathered there, on the road. There were conflicting reports about the fate of the boys: they’re injured, they’re dead.”

Hijar, the mother of Sharayah, expressed a similar sense of helplessness. “At first, they said he was just injured,” she recalled, and it was clear that she too was still clinging to this hope. “I just want to see him one more time. To see the body. So that I can believe. Everyone loved him so much.”

A strange claim

In a recent response provided to +972, the IDF Spokesperson’s official line remained the same: there was an attempted car-ramming attack. Regarding Basbous, who was in the car and was later cleared of any suspicion, the IDF Spokesperson said: “There is no reason to prosecute him, in the absence of evidence of coordination between him and the others involved in the ramming.”

In other words, the Israeli army’s current version of events is that the two friends in the front seat who were shot dead had tried to run over soldiers, but the third friend, sitting in the same vehicle, was not coordinating with them and did not try to run over soldiers. +972 has seen no evidence supporting this strange claim — and as far as is known, the security establishment does not have any. 

A security source confirmed to +972 that the army only conducted an internal investigation, which was based on gathering testimonies from the soldiers involved in the incident. According to the source, an investigation by the Defense Ministry has, for the time being, not been opened.

The IDF Spokesperson also stated: “The IDF is holding the bodies until the completion of a decision-making process, [for which they are] primarily receiving guidance from the political echelon.”

So long as the army, under the guidance of the political echelon and the Shin Bet, continues to define the incident as an attempted car-ramming, there is little chance that the mothers will be able to bury their sons and come to terms with their loss anytime soon.

Basil Adraa is an activist, journalist, and photographer from the village of a-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills

Yuval Abraham is a journalist and activist based in Jerusalem