Haj Suleiman al-Hathaleen has died.
Haj Suleiman al-Hathaleen has died.
The icon of Palestinian resistance was 65 years old. He did not die of covid. He did not die of cancer. He did not die the way that I hope to die, surrounded by friends and family, warm in my bed at a ripe age, drinking a glass of red wine. No, Suleiman died after the Israeli police ran him over with their tow truck and dragged him for 10 meters, fracturing his skull in two places as well as his neck, chest, ribs, and pelvis. Despite the prayers of his community in Masafer Yatta of the South Hebron Hills, occupied West Bank, Suleiman succumbed to his injuries on Monday after twelve days in the hospital. He was a beloved father, uncle, and grandfather.
A week ago, while Suleiman was still fighting for his life, two writer-activists from Masafer Yatta, Ali Awad and Awdah Hathaleen, penned an article detailing what happened:
On the afternoon of January 5, the Israeli occupation forces entered the Palestinian village of Umm al-Khair in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills, where we live, to confiscate unregistered Palestinian cars. An elderly man from the village, Haj Suleiman al-Hathaleen, tried to peacefully prevent them from leaving with the cars, when an Israeli police tow truck ran him over…
Make no mistake: this was no accident. Granted, we do not know what was going on inside the mind of the Israeli police officer driving the truck that killed Suleiman, but we do know that he or she did not bother to stop the vehicle after colliding with and dragging his body (the police claimed that they could not stop their vehicle because Palestinian people nearby were pelting it with stones). Nonetheless, we can see from Ali and Awdah’s essay that Suleiman’s death resulted from policy decisions over years and decades, originating at the highest levels of the Israeli government.
As Ali and Awdah explain, the Israeli forces constantly menace the Palestinian communities in Masafer Yatta, raiding their homes at night, preventing them from doing any construction whatsoever, and demolishing the tents and cisterns that the villagers dare to build. All of this is exceedingly well documented.1 It’s the reason that Suleiman had dedicated his life to defending the rights of his people and struggling steadfastly against the occupation. Within this frame of reference, we can see that Suleiman’s demise stems from a deliberate effort to disable and kill Palestinians and destabilize their communities in order to push them off their lands.
In their analysis, Ali and Awdah remind us of certain Israeli policies of yesteryear that foreign observers may have assumed had ended. During the First Intifada, then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told his forces to respond to Palestinian protesters by “breaking bones.” Reflecting on the many casualties to the occupation’s violence over the past year—friends and loved ones beaten, maimed, and paralyzed—Ali and Awdah understandably wonder whether Israel is once again breaking bones as a means toward smashing the collective Palestinian spirit. This allegation deserves a serious inquiry given high number of Palestinian casualties this year.2
Lastly, let’s keep in mind that Suleiman only lived in the occupied West Bank because Zionist milities displaced his family from the Naqab (Negev) during the Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948, when over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes to make way for the nascent State of Israel. Suleiman’s passing reminds one of what Palestinian activists are saying all the time—that the Nakba did not end in 1948, but rather continues to this day.
If Ali and Awdah had published their piece one day later, they almost certainly would’ve mentioned the killing of another Palestinian elder on January 12 at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces. Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad, a dual American-Palestinian citizen, was 80 years old when Israeli forces detained him and then left blindfolded, dead on the ground next to a construction site in the West Bank town of Jiljilya.
The Israeli military claimed that As’ad was alive when they released him, but several people who saw what happened said differently:
As the Post reported:
An Israeli soldier had appeared to check on Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad, 80, who was lying motionless on the paving stones of an unfinished house here, and then, almost immediately, all the troops left, recounted one of the villagers, Mraweh Abdulrahman. Abdulrahman, who had also been detained, said he quickly went over to As’ad, pulled away a coat that had been draped over his head and a red scarf tied around his eyes, and checked for a pulse in his neck. He felt nothing.
Before moving with his wife to Palestine about a decade ago, As’ad had lived in America for over 40 years, where he ran a number of grocery stores in Chicago and Milwaukee. Because of his American citizenship, his death garnered international media attention and elicited concerned comments from U.S. politicians, including Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin as well as Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Marie Newman, and others. By contrast, no U.S.-based publication has told Haj Suleiman’s story, and few feature the stories of the hundreds of other Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the last year, the highest number since the 2014 war in Gaza.3
(On social media, it’s a different story: in the 24 hours following Suleiman’s death, many Israeli and Palestinian activists eulogized him, posting pictures of Suleiman at demonstrations, as if to defy his killers by ensuring that his memory will propel a revolution.)
Reflecting on the brutal deaths of these two elderly Palestinian men, I immediately think about my own grandfather, Sol (short for Solomon), who is now 91 years old and living with dementia in his home in metro Detroit. Sol has lived a very, very different life than Suleiman and As’ad. He never had to contend with a regime bent on displacing and dispossessing him. Sol did, however, grow up in the Bronx during the Great Depression. His family struggled with poverty, and my grandpa has repeatedly recounted how growing up he faced antisemitic racism from other kids, which sometimes turned violent. The family history says that another child from an Irish street gang once called Sol a “Christ killer” and chucked a brick at his head, leaving a scar. The mark remains on his scalp to this day.
The image of my grandpa’s scar presents itself to me whenever I contemplate the deep pain that causes my fellow Jews to victimize others. But it is this same image of a wound healed but not erased that symbolizes the Jewish resolve to defend others from racist state violence, be it in the form of brick or truck.
Thrown off kilter by the injustice of the untimely deaths of these two Palestinian elders, I’m left, as usual, grasping for meaning. Why will the U.S. and international press only report on a Palestinian’s killing if he holds an American passport? What causes an Israeli police officer or soldier to simply drive away from a person they’ve just gravely wounded or killed? Who sets the limits of our collective empathy, and how do we expand those boundaries beyond the family, the clan, the tribe? Why should it matter to us whether the deceased’s name was Suleiman or Solomon? The families will all pound their chests in mourning. We all bear scars.
B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, “2021 was the deadliest year since 2014, Israel killed 319 Palestinians in oPt 5-year record in house demolitions: 895 Palestinians lost their homes” (1/4/22) https://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20220104_in_deadliest_year_since_2014_israel_killed_319_palestinians_in_opt