Palestinian girl killed by Israeli soldiers a day before turning 16

Makeshift memorial erected around the site of Fulla Masalma's death (Vivian Tabar - Mondoweiss)

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  November 15, 2022

Fulla Masalma would have turned 16 today. Instead, she was brutally murdered yesterday by Israeli soldiers for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At approximately 3:30 a.m. on November 14, Israeli forces invaded the neighborhood of Betunia in the Ramallah district to arrest Tareq Imwasi, 28, from his home. 

During the operation, Israeli soldiers saw a Palestinian car driving on the road and opened fire from at least two directions. The passenger, 15-year-old Fulla Masalma, was killed, while the driver was injured and arrested by the Israeli army. Today would have been Masalma’s 16th birthday.

“They didn’t stop at killing her,” Bakr Armoush, 35, told Mondoweiss. “They took her corpse and dragged it around, only to throw her in the back of the military jeep with six other soldiers and the driver, who was also injured and bleeding,” he said.

With the children of the neighborhood surrounding him, Bakr recalls the image of Imwasi, blindfolded and under the rain during the dawn hours of Monday as Israeli soldiers invaded Imwasi’s home. “I remember the bang of the stun grenades,” Amir, 9, says as he looks at the stones marking the location where 15-year-old Fulla was killed earlier that morning in his neighborhood. 

Arrest turns into slaughter

Just behind the trail of blood and the Palestinian flag is the Imwasi home. 

“I woke up to the sound of banging. I checked the door and found soldiers surrounding the house,” Umm Muhammad, 54, recalled to Mondoweiss.

Israeli forces had invaded the Betunia neighborhood and bombed the doors to the apartment building in which Imwasi lives. According to the family, soldiers took the cell phones of everyone in the family and forced the women to sit on the couch at gunpoint, while Abu Mohammad, Imwasi’s father, was taken outside to stand in the rain amid a thunderstorm. 

The black metal gate still has the scars from the assault at dawn. Next to it, a striped orange and white cat wakes up, stretches, yawns, and escapes to the living room behind the door. The smell of dinner still cooking is welcoming, while the evaporating steam contrasted with the rainy wind outside. 

“They forced us all outside. I begged them to be able to go inside, because my husband is on kidney dialysis, and he can’t be kept out in the rain,” the Imwasi’s mother said. Sitting on the same couch on which his wife and daughter were earlier being held captive, Imwasi’s 60-year-old father held his head in his palms. 

Almost ashamed that he was crying, Abu Mohammad tells Mondoweiss: “I told him, I’ll kiss your hand, your feet,” his voice broke. “I told the commander, just please stop beating my son.” 

Israeli search-and-arrest operations in civilian homes often mean that women are held in a room while the men are often beaten, blindfolded, and at times stripped to their underwear and forced to sit in stress positions.

“I kept telling the commander, I am sick, look at the tube,” Abu Mohammad said, moving his sweater to expose the yellow tube attached to a hole in his right shoulder. “I told him, if this tube is not in me, I will die.”

As his older daughter heard her father speak, her eyes swelled.

“[The soldier] put his hand on my shoulder, by the tube, and began to squeeze,” Abu Mohammad said, his grimace emphasizing the deep network of wrinkles on his face. 

“You will not come to my home upstairs,” Tareq yelled to soldiers from his apartment on the second floor. Upstairs, five-year-old Hani and two-year-old Alma were asleep when soldiers came for their father.

 “There are children here and you will not come upstairs,” Tareq had repeated to the soldiers. “I will come down,” he said as his children woke to the sound of sound grenades and their grandparents screaming in pain and fear.

“They took Tareq outside in handcuffs, and before putting him in the jeep, they began beating him over and over again,” Umm Mohammad said. Almost 12 hours after their father’s arrest, Hani’s face is still pale. His eyes seem to hardly blink, as if his attention is elsewhere.

 “The kids are still traumatized,” their grandmother says, as the children play with their cousins in the small living room.

“All of a sudden I hear the bullets,” Umm Mohammad says, turning her attention away from her son to remember that beyond their tragedy, someone was killed just outside their home. For almost four minutes, Israeli soldiers kept shooting. 

‘They killed her and walked off, just like that’

“They came here to arrest the neighbor,” Armoush explained as he stood on the street overlooking the site where Masalma was killed. “They took the man out in handcuffs and blindfolded him,” he continued. 

Bearing witness to the invasion, Armoush recollects a horrifying scene of soldiers firing live ammunition non-stop at the car. “The car was driving slowly,” he explained, pointing at the direction in which the soldiers fired. “They fired from multiple directions, and they riddled the car with bullets,” he said. 

“If anything, it was clear that the car was trying to turn around once noticing that there was a raid,” he pointed.

A CCTV video shows the moment Israeli soldiers fired at the car. Other videos provided by eyewitnesses and residents of the area also corroborated Armoush’s version of events. 

“They killed her,” Armoush told Mondoweiss. Pausing for a short moment, he repeated, “they killed her and just walked off like that.”

No mercy

“[The soldiers] showed me no mercy,” Abu Mohammad said sorrowfully. “No mercy. None,” he reiterated. 

The soldiers not only assaulted Tareq Imwasi’s family and then beat him in front of them, but no medic was called after they shot at the car carrying Masalma. The body of the young girl was taken while the injured driver was dragged up and down the street as he bled.

Just last week in Jenin, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 29-year-old Rafaat al-Issa — a Palestinian worker who was trying to earn a living. According to the medics in Jenin, Al-Issa was also denied medical care, despite the possibility that his life could have been spared had the soldiers responded properly to the man’s injuries, according to Mahmoud al-Saadi, the head of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Jenin.

A few meters outside Imwasi’s home, those that bore witness to the arrest and the killing shared similar sentiments. Umm Darwish, Armoush’s 67-year-old mother, looked at the trail of blood on the street as cars shuffled by. In a low tone she smiled ruefully and said: “there is no humanity, no safety, nothing.” 

Since the beginning of the year, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces.

“Anything that moves becomes a target,” Armoush said. “If you saw the site of the car afterwards, the blood still on the shawarma sandwich, and the bullet holes in the car,” he said, almost trying to comprehend his own words. “You move, you get killed,” he said as his youngest son jumped around him. 

In a moment of tenderness, Armoush’s eyes loosen as he watches his son. 

“Look at the kids,” he says in a firm voice. “Look at what they keep getting exposed to. Even the way they moved the young girl’s body shows you that these stories are repeating themselves every day. Every single day,” he says.

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss