A visit to a West Bank ‘terrorist village,’ where the family of Uday Salah is in mourning. The teen was shot to death by an Israeli sniper during a nighttime army raid, after the killing of an Israeli officer, allegedly by someone in the town.
by Gideon Levy and Alex Levac, reposted from Ha’aretz, September 23, 2022
Every time Trad Salah looks out the window, he sees his son’s grave. And every time he looks at the grave, he sees youths sitting around it, talking to his dead son.
The Salahs’ house is the first one in the village, near the cemetery. Trad says he never imagined he would see his son buried there in the earth. Now he sees the grave day in and day out – ever since his son was laid to rest. On Thursday morning last week, an Israel Defense Forces sniper pumped two bullets into the teenager, one in the head and one in the heart, from a distance of over 100 meters. On Monday this week, too, when we passed the cemetery on the way to the family home, we saw high-schoolers sitting in a silent circle around the freshly dug grave; some had already brought a few benches to sit on.
We felt as if the visit this week to the village of Kafr Dan, in the northern West Bank about eight kilometers northwest of Jenin, was sending us back in time: For the first time in years, we left our car with Israeli plates outside the village and entered in a Palestinian vehicle. There are armed persons in the village, we were warned; there are hotheaded young people and no little anger at Israel.
The combative atmosphere in Kafr Dan only intensified after the 17-year-old Uday Salah, the eldest of five children, was shot and killed. That occurred during an IDF raid that in turn followed the killing Wednesday last week of an IDF officer, Maj. Bar Falah, next to the Jalameh checkpoint, north of Jenin. Falah’s two assailants, both of them from Kafr Dan, were also shot and killed. The next day the IDF arrived, in part to search for additional wanted individuals, and also apparently to punish the villagers and avenge the officer’s death.
In Kafr Dan they’re convinced that the soldiers came with intent to kill. All the permits allowing village residents to work in Israel have been suspended for now, and even that isn’t called collective punishment by Israelis.
At the edge of the Dotan Valley, past the fields of tobacco and za’atar that supplanted the polluting charcoal factories that were shut down, and after traversing Burqin and Yamun – also bastions of resistance to the occupation – we arrive at Kafr Dan. One of the six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from the Gilboa detention facility a year ago, before being caught again, also comes from here.
At the entrance to the village is a well-tended stone house with a spacious yard that is now adorned with huge posters bearing photographs of the dead Uday.
The house is well-appointed, elegant, with light-colored velvet sofas in the living room, and matching ceramic tiles and stone-paneled walls. The bereaved father sits next to an oversized photograph taken during his first encounter, following his release from prison, with his eldest son.
The photo was here long before Uday Salah’s death. Trad, an officer in the Palestinian police since 2000, was sentenced in 2004 to four and a half years in prison for membership in the Fatah movement’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Today Trad continues to serve as a police officer in his village.
When Uday was born, his father was incarcerated in Megiddo Prison. He saw his son three times through bars on visits; on one other occasion he was allowed to hold the baby in his arms, at which even the female prison guard on duty shed tears.
Uday was 2 years old when his father was released. It was another two years before he agreed to call his father “Daddy” and to allow him to pick him up and hold him. Until then, Uday referred to his grandfather as “Daddy” and addressed his father as Trad.
“I came to him from a different world,” the father says now. “It wasn’t easy to be rejected by the only son I had at the time.”
Trad tried to win over his son with candies and toys, and he finally gave in. Trad, who’s 40, and Mai, his wife, 34, have two more sons and two daughters.
Uday Salah completed 11th grade and then entered a vocational school to study automotive electrical systems. Two days after he was killed, a messenger arrived from the school with his graduation certificate, which Trad now displays proudly. Uday was also in the midst of driving lessons; he’d passed the theory test, had taken eight lessons and was preparing for the practical test.
On the night of September 14, two villagers were killed after they attacked soldiers near the Jalameh checkpoint, during a firefight in which the Israeli officer, Falah, was killed. Both local men were from the Abed family, one of the village’s three hamulas (clans). Their houses are close to each other, separated by a diwan, a seating area that serves as the clan’s community center. Uday was killed on the stairs of the diwan.
That night, Trad got home from work at 11:30 P.M., he recalls; Uday was awake, out on the balcony with a cousin. Because of recent tensions and the army’s frequent nighttime incursions, the villagers have taken to staying awake at night and sleeping during the day. Uday went to sleep after midnight; his father stayed up.
At about 1:30 A.M., social media in the Jenin area started to roil: The army is approaching Kafr Dan, said the reports, which flowed in from all directions: from Jalameh, Salem and the area near the Mevo Dotan settlement.
Quickly the army swooped in with large forces, and began firing stun grenades and tear-gas grenades. The village rose up, most of the men and youths went out into the streets, throwing stones and also shooting at the soldiers.
Trad: “An organized, well-equipped, trained and armed force, with armored vehicles and night-vision equipment enters the village and sees everything. Facing them are young people. They want to tell the soldiers: You are not welcome here. The soldiers came after the attack by two young men from the village – but no one asked why that attack happened.”
During the last Ramadan holy month, the army invaded the village, also with the intent of arresting two young men. Unable to find them, the soldiers started shooting every which way and killed two villagers, one of whom, Shawkat Abed, was the same age as Uday Salah and his friend.
The soldiers also wounded eight residents. That was April 14; on that day, too, Uday was hurt, struck by shrapnel in the head, causing a gash that required three stitches. Uday is now buried next to Shawkat.
Uday Salah was awakened in the early hours of last Thursday morning by the noise of the army and the terrified screams and weeping of his 4-year-old sister, Maryam. While their father was observing the army’s progress from the second-floor balcony, Uday slipped out of the house without a word. If his mother had seen him, Trad says, she would have stopped him, but she was busy trying to calm Maryam.
Uday’s father is dressed in black now, a pendant with his son’s photograph hanging around his neck; everyone in the house has one. More and more young people crowd into the living room, perhaps to see the Israeli guests. Some of them have apparently never before seen Israelis who were not bearing arms.
“These young people are very much influenced by what is happening around them,” Trad explains. “When Uday saw that his friend had been killed, and another friend wounded, that affected him deeply. They sit next to the graves and talk to their dead friends. You [Israelis] killed their friends, so what do you expect? You justify your soldiers’ violence, so what can you expect? You are pushing them to resist by force. These young people went to Jalameh, to your soldiers. They didn’t go to attack civilians. They didn’t go to Tel Aviv or to Haifa or to Afula. The soldiers invaded our village with intent to kill. To avenge the killing of the officer. Didn’t they see that Uday was a boy?”
The incident occurred a few hundred meters from the Salahs’ home. Most of the young people had massed in the center of the village and were throwing stones at the soldiers.
Uday Salah and two other youths arrived separately at the Abed diwan, between the houses of the two men who killed the officer, where most of the soldiers were concentrated. Snipers had taken control of a two-story house, and from behind curtains on the second floor, they watched the events at a distance of about 100 meters and opened fire.
From his balcony, Trad heard gunshots, but he never imagined that they had killed his son. By then it was about 6 A.M. A few minutes later, he got a call informing him that Uday had been wounded in the leg. He got into his car and sped toward the Jenin Governmental Hospital, where his son had been taken by a Palestinian ambulance.
The teenager had apparently died instantly. One bullet struck him in the head, the other entered his chest on the left side and exited from his back on the right. His bloodstains are still visible on the stairs of the diwan. The marble pillar at the entrance was also hit by a bullet.
Trad falls silent, chokes up and bursts into tears, which he stifles immediately. He relates that he entered the ER in the hospital and saw Uday’s drooping head, with a hole in it.
Here’s the grim photo he took, on his cellphone. “Your son grows up before your eyes. You live from minute to minute, you see him develop, you teach and strengthen him, and then someone comes, who saw that he’s a boy, and kills him. Instead of getting his academic certificates, I got his death certificate.
“You accuse us of being terrorists,” he continues. “What do you expect of us, when you come to the village to kill? You come every day to the Jenin area. Don’t come and you won’t get shot at. You didn’t kill only him, you killed a whole family. Stay away from us. Stay away from us.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit this week stated, in response to a query from Haaretz: “On September 15, 2022, during activity of the security forces in Kafr Dan, a disturbance took place in the course of which a resident of the village who took part in the disturbance was killed. The circumstances of the event are being clarified.”
The writing is already on the wall for the next incident involving bloodshed in this village: The IDF will return here to demolish the homes of the two assailants in the officer’s death. The army has already marked out and measured them.
Later, we are shown on TikTok how Uday Salahdanced and was carried on his friends’ shoulders in school. We go up to his bedroom and see the bottle of aftershave and the sunglasses in the cupboard, next to his clothes. And also the helicopter models on the shelf, and the stylish blue linen spread on his bed, which is still made up for sleeping, as though he’ll be back at any moment.
We go out to his grave, and Trad, pointing to one of the huge photos of his son hanging at the entrance to the cemetery, asks: Is this a terrorist?
OTHER ARTICLES BY GIDEON LEVY:
- Gideon Levy: “Terror” Is the Only Way Open to the Palestinians
- Gideon Levy: Israel’s massacre of family is a war crime
- Gideon Levy: a Quiet, Cruel Population Transfer in South Hebron Hills
- Gideon Levy: “Only for Jews”: The West Bank’s Apartheid Springs
- Gideon Levy: A Young Gazan’s Dream, Amputated
- Gideon Levy Tells It Like It Is: “In U.S. Media, Israel Is Untouchable”
- Gideon Levy: Israel Loves Wars
- Gideon Levy’s Challenge to Israel’s Supporters: Tell Me What’s Untrue in Amnesty’s Report on Israel
- Gideon Levy: The IDF Spokesman Announces: Continue to Shoot Palestinian Children