Hossam Ezzedin & Claire Gounon
Al-Jazeera / March 13, 2023
In two incidents in the past six months, Palestinians have been declared dead by Israel, only to be discovered wounded in hospital.
For two weeks, Palestinian mother Basma Aweidat was in mourning after receiving news that her son had been shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.
Then she got a phone call, telling her that while 28-year-old Thayer had indeed been shot, he was alive and being treated at a hospital in Israel.
“I couldn’t believe what they were telling me,” she said.
As violence surges in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the West Bank, where more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the past year, such tales of muddled identities are rare but not unique.
In Thayer Aweidat’s case, the Israeli army launched a February 6 raid at the entrance to the Aqabet Jaber refugee camp near Jericho, searching for suspects accused of carrying out an attack against Israelis.
The army said it killed five “terrorists”, and an Israeli security official told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the military was holding the bodies of the dead Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority, which said it had been informed by Israeli authorities, announced that Thayer Aweidat, a member of the armed wing of the Palestinian movement Hamas, was among the dead.
His photograph was printed on posters plastered on the walls of the refugee camp, joining other Palestinian “martyrs”, and messages of condolences flooded in.
Then Basma Aweidat’s phone rang.
It came from a cousin of hers, the mother of Alaa Aweidat, a young man who was reportedly wounded in the same raid and who had been taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital.
Except that when she visited the hospital, she realised in shock that the wounded man was not her child. It was Thayer Aweidat. He was in a serious condition and in a coma.
“I couldn’t believe he was still alive,” said Basma, who applied for an Israeli permit to visit him.
“I saw him, his head bandaged and his body with several wounds,” she said. “I tried to speak to him, but he did not answer.”
Back home in Aqabet Jaber, the same neighbours who days before had offered condolences returned.
“The women in the camp started coming to congratulate me because my son is alive, a few days after coming to mourn,” Basma Aweidat said.
Her husband, Khaled Aweidat, has not received permission to visit his son.
“From what my wife tells me, he is in serious condition and his death could be announced at any time,” he said.
As for Alaa Aweidat, his fate is unknown.
A relative told the family he saw him on board an Israeli ambulance and alive on February 6 after the fighting in the camp. But they have heard no word of him since.
The army would confirm only that they had five bodies from the February 6 raid.
Asked about a possible mistake, neither the army, police nor the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories would clarify the reason for the confusion.
The Palestinian Authority did not specify who from Israel submits the names of Palestinians killed during army operations.
But this is not the only case like the Aweidats.
In October, a similar story unfolded in the Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah, also in the West Bank.
The Basbous family mourned the death of their son Basel for two days after Palestinian officials told them he had been shot and killed by the Israeli army near Ramallah while driving with two other people, who also died.
But he was not dead.
“I was unconscious, and I woke up two days later in hospital with my legs and my hands shackled,” Basel Basbous said.
The family received a call from a friend, who had a relative working at the Israeli Shaare Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem.
“She called me to tell me … Basel was still alive,” said his mother, Ataf Basbous.
The hospital said in a statement: “Due to the nature of his condition, it appears that some confusion ensued regarding his identity prior to admission for treatment.”
Ataf Basbous said, “Israelis treat us like numbers. They don’t care about families. My son is shot, and he remains in hospital for 18 days before being released, but no one cares when he has done nothing.”
Basel Basbous is still receiving treatment for injuries to his leg and hand in hospital in Ramallah.
First called the “heroic martyr”, like all Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, he has since become known as “the living martyr”.