Sixteen year old Saleh Elamareen was shot in the head with a dumdum bullet on January 18 and was pronounced dead several days later. But the full circumstances surrounding Elamareen's death, who was shot several days after an Israeli invasion of Aida refugee camp in response to the discovery that a hole had been drilled in the Apartheid Wall, have never before been reported.
"By burning the tower, it will be destroyed"
On the night of January 13, several days before Elamareen was murdered by occupation forces, a small group of youths from Aida camp (located inside Bethlehem) gathered at a section of the Wall adjacent to the camp with a hand drill and lights to illuminate their work. The section of the Wall they decided to drill in is directly next to an Israeli watchtower frequently used to shelter soldiers as they fire tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition into the camp during military raids.
The Palestine Monitor spoke with several witnesses to the drilling and saw a video of the youths drilling the hole. Photos taken after the drilling was done show a hole several feet high and perhaps a foot wide, large enough for children to pass through.
Salah Ajarma, the director of the Laje'oon Center, located several hundred meters from the site of the drilling and directly above the spot where Elamareen was killed, said the idea to make a hole in the wall came from an activist identified only as "Ali Wall," who began a campaign against the barrier in Aida camp shortly after its completion in 2006.
On the night of January 13, a small group of youths from Aida camp gathered at a section of the Wall adjacent to the camp with a hand drill and lights to illuminate their work
His dream was to make a hole and go to the other side to play in the field," Ajarma said. "For more than a month, he made a fire there every day. And he made a small hole, like you can see the other side."
Ali Wall was sentenced to nine years in Israeli jail for attempting to destroy the Wall. He was released during the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap, but was rearrested last year for participating in clashes with Israeli soldiers, Ajarma said.
During Israel's last assault on Gaza known as Pillar of Cloud, the youth of Aida camp reactivated Ali's tradition of trying to burn down the Wall, focusing especially on the guard tower.
"They don't want to see the tower and especially the Wall close to their areas. And they started to burn the tower in that time [during the assault on Gaza]. And they feel like maybe [by] burning the tower, the tower will be destroyed," Ajarma said.
In January, several youth from Aida camp decided to take a more drastic form of action against the Wall. Choosing a spot next to the guard tower, where the Wall had already been weakened by a continual burning of tires, a small group began drilling a hole with an electric hand drill. After two nights of work, the hole was large enough for children to pass through, and on the morning of January 15, two children did.
"In the morning when they make the big hole, some of the children entered through that hole to the other side of the Wall. And some of them, they wanted to play football there," Ajarma said. "And when the Israeli soldiers saw the children on the security road behind the Wall, the Israeli soldiers raided the camp. From Rachel's Tomb, they opened the gate and more than 30 soldiers came into the camp and started shooting at the people tear-gas and live bullets."
The purpose of the hole was not to launch attacks on Israel or otherwise endanger the Zionist state's security, Ajarma said. The hole was drilled by the camp's residents out of a simple and universal desire for freedom.
"They don't want the wall close to them, they don't want the towers, they don't want to see the Israeli army in the camp… That's how they feel. Like if we open a hole, [there's the belief that] we can reach every space, we can reach Jerusalem, or we can go to have a picnic or to have barbecue on the other side of the Wall. Because that's what children want," he said. "They don't want walls, they don't want towers, they don't want bullets. They want a free area and free space for them to play."
Shot near the drilling in the Wall despite no clashes
Several Aida camp residents interviewed by the Palestine Monitor said that on January 15, the day the hole was discovered by Israeli soldiers, the camp was occupied by Israeli forces from 8 am until 8 pm and the hole was covered over with a metal plate.
Mohammad al Azzeh, the Photography Department Coordinator for the Laje'oon Center, said that the following day, Israeli soldiers stationed themselves in the watchtower and shot at anyone who stopped near the sealed-off hole. Al Azzeh said the soldiers shot at him with rubber bullets when he went to take pictures of the hole.
Two days later, on January 18, the situation in Aida was still tense, although there had been no more clashes between camp residents and occupation forces. The residents of Aida camp were unsure if Israeli soldiers stationed in the watchtower would allow them to use the road adjacent to the Wall.
It was in this context that Saleh Elamareen was killed. Al Azzeh, a friend of the Elamareen family, said the youth was on his way to a print shop when he was shot with no warning. Contrary to some media reports at the time, there were no clashes in Aida camp at the time of the shooting. Security-camera footage of Elamareen's death, provided to the Palestine Monitor by the Laje'oon Center, confirms that there was no demonstration or riot happening at the time of Elamareen's death.
The video shows around a dozen people cautiously gathered at the entrance to the street adjacent to the Wall. The shot is fired from the watchtower, not visible in the footage, and a group of men run and retrieve Elamareen's body, also out of frame. The other Aida residents that can be seen in the video run away as the group carries the body back into the frame and around a corner.
"They are standing, and you can it's see quiet," al Azzeh said. "The people hear [a sound] like rubber bullets, but they are not scared much. But the real bullet, we know how that sounds. So when they hear that, they start just running. And (a group of) five of them, they come running to Saleh to carry him. "
Elamareen was pronounced dead on January 23. Since that time, at least two more minors have been shot by Israeli forces in Aida camp, and both are still in critical condition. Mohammad al Kirdi was shot in his back and leg by live ammunition, while Odai Sarhan shot in the head with a rubber bullet.
The Wall remains intact, preventing residents of Aida camp from praying at al-Aqsa Mosque or visiting family members in Jerusalem.
"Behind the Wall used to be a big space of land… Maybe the young, they don't know that land, but I remember it very well. We used to play there," al Azzeh said. "And all the people came during the drilling. 'Tomorrow, we will go to Jerusalem.' The only thing they wanted was just to go to the other side."