Mondoweiss / January 18, 2023
The anguish felt by Ahmad Kahla’s family stems not only from the sorrow of loss but from the fact that his killer would be standing at the same checkpoint the next day.
On Monday morning, January 16, Ahmad Kahla, 41, from the village of Ramoun 12 km east of Ramallah, was killed in cold blood by Israeli soldiers.
At approximately 8:00 a.m., Kahla and his 20-year-old son, Qusai, were on their way to work in their car when they were stopped by Israeli soldiers at a flying military checkpoint near the neighboring town of Yabrud.
Ahmad was the eighth son out of ten children. His older brother, 45-year-old Zayed, looks at his newly orphaned nephew as the gathering space is congested with men and boys joining to grieve the loss of 41-year-old Ahmad.
“As firm as a mountain!” Zayed said, patting Qusai’s back. The uncle was referring to an Arabic proverb extolling a person’s stoicism (ya jabal ma yhizak reeh), likening them to a mountain’s fortitude in withstanding stormy winds.
“This soldier is an ugly one,” Muneer R., 38, tells Mondoweiss, referring to the soldier who ultimately killed Ahmad Kahla on that fateful morning. On his way to his own place of work, Muneer had been parked near Kahla’s vehicle and bore witness to what would become another slaughter. “[The soldier] was cursing at Palestinians, calling them sons of whores,” he recalled.
At approximately 8:30 a.m., as the line of waiting cars carrying impatient families lengthened, drivers grew frustrated with the soldiers, who stopped and searched vehicles for 15 minutes at a time. Some drivers began to honk their horns in protest.
“That’s when they first hit us with sound grenades,” Qusai, Ahmad’s son, says. “Then they pepper sprayed us.” The 20-year-old smiles, but keeps his head hidden underneath his black hoodie.
“The soldier threw a stun grenade, which hit Kahla’s car, and then the concrete,” Muneer interjects. After the soldier threw the grenade, Muneer tells Mondoweiss, Ahmad closed his car door as soldiers continued yelling while throwing a line of tire spikes to impede any attempted escape.
His back to the crowd of grieving men, eyes unflinching, Qusai manages to recollect his father’s execution earlier that day.
“I was taken out of the car and detained near the checkpoint,” he said, pausing to receive condolences from a small group of men. Both father and son were then pepper sprayed.
Muneer recalls that Ahmad’s hands were flailing, possibly from the pain of the burn on his flesh. In that scuffle, a deafening gunshot was heard.
The moment was caught on camera by a bystander.
“I saw [Kahla] put his hand on his neck, walk two steps, and then fall onto the concrete,” Muneer says, recalling the moments after witnessing the soldier fire at the blinded Kahla. “After he fell, he was out of my sight, and I could no longer see him.”
The soldier who killed Kahla had been less than two meters away when he shot him at point-blank range.
As Ahmad took his final breath, his son, who was unable to see due to the pepper spray in his eyes, heard the sound of live ammunition. “I heard yelling, and then I heard a shot, and I asked the soldier around me where my father was,” he says. “He simply said to me, your father is dead.”
The 20-year-old did not believe the soldier, waiting anxiously until he regained his eyesight so that he could check on his father. Instead, Qusai, who was still experiencing the burns from the pepper spray, was taken in an ambulance for medical care near the neighboring town of Silwad, where he required oxygen support for almost 30 minutes. “Before being taken to the ambulance, I insisted on grabbing my father’s phone and ID to keep,” the young man tells Mondoweiss.
The eldest of four children, Qusai’s denial of his father’s death melted away when a family member finally confirmed the tragic news to him.
No grief in the slaughterhouse
Up the hill from the town mosque where the men gathered was the Kahla family home. Zahieh Kahla grieves her husband’s loss, along with her 18-year-old and 13-year-old daughters, Duha and Jana. Nearby is her youngest son, five-year-old Hasan, who moves around the swarm of women with his cousin.
Looking at one of the women, Zahieh holds an embrace with labored breath, “stand firm in the face of the wind, Oh mountain,” she sighs. She continues to repeat it like a mantra, almost willing the statement into life.
She is clad in a maroon headscarf and black mourning clothes. The smiles and warmth she musters for her guests cannot mask the swelling around her eyes. An inviting woman, her home is almost as welcoming as she is, in spite of the tragic circumstances.
“I don’t even remember how I fell in love with him,” she says with a rueful chuckle, barely audible. The room of women all laugh. Kahla’s eldest daughter, 18-year-old Duha, joins the room with a degree of timidity, less as though she were entering her father’s wake, and more as if she were interrupting a gathering of older women.
Zahieh puts her hands on her daughter’s shoulders as she looks at me. “This one has Tawjihi this year,” she says, referring to the standardized exam students take as part of their requirements for graduating from high school. Without a response, and with a shy smile, Duha nods to the women in the room and quickly returns to be with her friends and peers.
“Twenty years together,” Zahieh continues, breaking into tears despite herself. Catching sight of a photographer in the room, Zahieh quickly wipes at her eyes. She turns to the photographer and gently warns: “Please, don’t.”
She takes a breath, then says again: “don’t photograph me in tears.” Zahieh’s refusal to be caught in this moment of seeming weakness is mired in the politics of the struggle against Jewish settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing. “I don’t want to be seen like this. We are fighters,” she insists.
Zahieh is a physical education teacher. Her students suddenly arrive at the wake, marching into the house, walking past the cats in the garden and the crowd of women to give condolences to their teacher on her first day as a widow. She accepts the consolations absentmindedly, occasionally glancing at her youngest son, 5-year-old Hasan.
After regaining her warmth, Zahieh looks in my direction and says, “but at least I cried, at last. You got me to finally cry.”
The pain, it was clear, did not simply reflect the sorrow over Ahmad’s loss, but was an expression of indignation that the killers of her husband would remain at large — that the next morning, those same soldiers would station themselves at the same checkpoint, and would continue to terrorize the population under their mercy.
‘They are promising more violence‘
“It was not just that single morning at the checkpoint,” Sufian, who is Ahmad’s nephew, tells Mondoweiss just outside the mosque. “Just three days before, a settler known by the name of ‘Karamello’ had been provoking villagers with the protection of soldiers,” he explains.
In the last decade, Jewish settlements have continued to creep closer to Palestinian towns, and with them the building of the apartheid wall, further hemming in and choking Palestinian spaces and communities.
The UN has monitored increased settlement activities in the past two years, and has warned against the growing trend of illegal agricultural outposts sprouting on Palestinian lands. “It’s important to note that our lands are very fertile,” Ramoun village council director, Ibrahim al-Khatib, told Mondoweiss.
The road from Ramallah to Ramoun is drowned in settlements and military bases. The first checkpoint is the District of Coordination Offices military checkpoint, which is often closed or held up while soldiers search Palestinian cars. Drivers will often reroute through the Jalazone refugee camp, where the settlement of Beit El expands horizontally towards Palestinian-owned lands.
With Beit El to its west, Rimonim to the east, Ma’ale Mikhmas to the south, and Ofra to the north, Ramoun is surrounded by settlements from every direction. “It’s an organized and planned takeover extending to the Jordan Valley,” Al-Khatib elaborated. “To do that, the settlers rely on terror to push us out through fear.”
This comes amid an alarming rise in the rate of settler attacks against Palestinians, which in the previous year reached record numbers.
“Just days before Kahla was killed, there were settler attacks in Ramoun,” Al-Khatib said.
“As the settlers continue to expand, so will the likelihood of martyrs, injuries, and arrests by Israel,” he warned. “They are promising more violence.”
In fact, a few hours after Kahla was killed on January 16, Israeli soldiers fatally injured Omar Khaled Khmour, a 14-year-old boy in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp — the fourth child to be killed in 2023 — and a day later, Hamdi Abu Dayyeh was killed while carrying out a shooting operation.
The killings of Abu Dayyeh and Khmour brought the total of Palestinians killed since the start of 2023 to 15. In 2022, Israeli forces killed five times as many Palestinians as the year before, and this year appears set up to be the same.
Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss