Jamal al-Durrah sat beside the grave of his son Muhammad in Bureij camp. He read the first chapter of the Quran, Surah Al-Fatiha, on his son’s soul and recalled the incident when Muhammad was killed by Israeli army fire 13 years ago in south Gaza, when Jamal was returning by taxi from a shopping trip.
Jamal told Al-Monitor what happened: “On Sept. 30, 2000, I went with Muhammad to Gaza City. Upon our return, there was a lot of shooting and confrontation with Israeli soldiers near the Israeli settlement of Netzarim, so we had to get out of the taxi. I went behind the agricultural lands of the almond trees, east of Salahuddin Street, the location of the clashes between Palestinian youths and the Israeli army. Then we took a street that intersects with Salahuddin. At the intersection’s other corner, there was an Israeli military watchtower from which they started shooting at us directly and continuously for approximately 45 minutes. Muhammad was hit in his right foot. I was scared and tried to comfort him, but he was in high spirits.”
Jamal’s attempt to save his son, who was 12, failed.
“I tried to protect him from the continued shooting by putting him behind a cylindrical cement block on the sidewalk, which we used as refuge from the beginning. But I failed. … I tried very hard to point to the watchtower, from where the shooting was coming. But the shooting continued for a long time. When Muhammad’s head fell on my lap, I knew that he was martyred. I was hit in my right arm and in my lower body. I didn’t know that journalists were videotaping me,” he explained.
“The ambulance arrived after a long time. I don’t know exactly how long. At first, Muhammad was taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, and then in collaboration with the Jordanian Embassy in Israel to the King Hussein Medical City in Jordan via the Erez crossing and Allenby Bridge.”
The account by Muhammad’s father contradicts a report just issued by an Israeli investigation committee which concluded: “There is no evidence that Israeli soldiers were in any way responsible for causing any harm to Jamal and the boy.”
Jamal scoffed at the ever-changing Israeli narrative, the latest being that Muhammad al-Durrah could still be alive. “For 13 years, they keep coming up with a different story every year. At first, they said that he was shot and killed by Palestinian bullets. Then they said that the bullets were both Israeli and Palestinian. Now they claim that he is still alive,” he said.
Jamal has six sons and four daughters, including a baby born two years after Muhammad’s death. The baby’s name is also Muhammad. “I wish [the Israeli] story was true. I wish that Muhammad was with us now. Is there any religion in the world that allows hiding a son and claiming that he is dead? And what about my injuries? And what road did I use to get to Jordan? Didn’t I pass through Israel?”
Talal Abu Rahma, the France 2 cameraman who shot the video of Muhammad al-Durrah and his father, met Al-Monitor in his office in Gaza City. “I witnessed nothing. It is the camera that witnessed the event. The camera recorded everything. But unfortunately the camera cannot speak about what it saw or recorded,” he said.
Netanyahu endorsed the results of the Israeli investigation and said that the accusations that Israeli soldiers had killed Muhammad al-Durrah were “a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimize Israel."
On Sunday evening, he said that a government commission headed by current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon investigated a France 2 report about Durrah’s killing and found no evidence that the Israeli army was responsible.
The Israeli committee concluded that Durrah was still alive at the end of the video that aired on the French channel because he was hiding in his father’s lap, which they claim refutes the hypothesis that he was killed by Israeli fire.
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza denounced the Israeli denial. “We deplore the fact that the Israeli occupation authority formed a commission about 12 years after the incident and did not bother to search for witnesses or review information published about Durrah’s killing, which shook humanity’s conscience.”
The center posted a statement on its website, adding: “The occupation authorities continue their attempts to mislead world opinion about [Israel’s] grave violations, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in the Gaza Strip. The occupation authorities never cooperated with any inquiry commissions or truth commissions formed by the Commission on Human Rights or the UN Human Rights Council.”
Jamal, who does not hide his support for peace in the region and for a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, agreed to allow an independent international commission of inquiry to perform a DNA test to make sure that the remains in the grave are those of his son, who was killed by Israeli bullets, contrary to “Israeli claims.”
Jamal takes a final glance at his son’s grave before we leave the cemetery. The inscription on Muhammad al-Durrah’s grave in the Bureij camp reads: “The martyr of the Al-Aqsa Battle. Martyred on Sept. 30, 2000.”
Hazem Balousha is a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza City. He has worked as a news producer for BBC World Service and contributed to Deutsche Welle and has written for The Guardian, Al-Raya (Qatar) and other publications. He is the founder of the Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development (PICD). On Twitter: @iHaZeMi