Nazi Police Ran Over a Palestinian Anti-Occupation Protester

102 German Police Car Old Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from  Dreamstime

Israeli Police Ran Over a Palestinian Anti-Occupation Protester—Then Fled the Scene


Some 15,000 Palestinians attended Suleiman Hathaleen’s funeral in his hometown of Umm al-Khair, two weeks after he was—allegedly deliberately—run over by an Israeli tow truck. Hathaleen was present at this Sept. 29, 2021 protest and every other demonstration in the Hebron governorate. His resistance against occupation forces was always peaceful; he did not use the stick he always carried or stones. (PHOTO BY MAMOUN WAZWAZ/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES)1111111111

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March/April 2022, pp. 12-14

Special Report

By Gideon Levy and Alex Levac

IN THE INTENSIVE care ward at Al-Mizan Hospital in Hebron, Suleiman Hathaleen lies sedated and intubated, a gash in his head. No one is allowed to enter his room, not even his two wives or his three daughters and seven sons—though one of the latter managed to sneak in for a moment. It’s not clear how old Hathaleen is. His ID card says 65, but he has said for some time that he passed the 70-year mark a while ago and that the ID data is wrong.

Hathaleen is a shepherd and a well-known occupation resister and activist in his unrecognized village of Umm al-Khair in the South Hebron Hills.* There is barely a demonstration or act of resistance in this beleaguered and remote area that takes place without his participation. “He is the village’s clock,” his son Eid says of him, in his fine Hebrew. 

Hathaleen has been in a vegetative state since he was hit by a tow truck working in the service of the Israeli police on Jan. 5, on the road leading to his village. The truck had come to haul away Palestinian cars without license plates—mashtubas, in the local parlance. A video clip taken by a villager documented the police officer, who accompanied the tow truck in an armored military vehicle, throwing stones earlier at the cars’ windows so he could reach inside and open their doors, like a practiced car thief.

Hathaleen wanted to bodily stop the tow truck after it had already loaded three cars, but its driver accelerated, hit him and dragged his body for several meters on the sandy shoulder of the road, until Hathaleen fell from the heavy truck and lay bleeding. The two police vehicles then sped away without summoning assistance for Hathaleen, like the worst hit-and-run offenders, leaving him by the side of the road, blood oozing from his head.

Though it’s not clear whether Hathaleen was hit deliberately, it’s obvious that if the perpetrators were not police officers and if the injured man were a Jew, the offenders would have been brought to trial at least on a charge of leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident. But those involved in this case were a police officer and a soldier in an army jeep, with a civilian driver working for the police in a tow truck, and the person hit was an older Palestinian. Consequently, the law—actually, no law—applies to the driver or his escorts.

Umm al-Khair lies below the settlement of Carmel, in the southern West Bank, its tents abutting the settlement’s fence. Electricity is provided to the settlers via a cable that descends to their state-of-the-art chicken coop and crosses what remains of the land belonging to Umm al-Khair after swaths of it were taken over by the settlers. The chickens have electricity, but not the 36 families, some 200 souls, of the hamlet.

Suleiman Hathaleen was born on this land, which his father purchased in 1962 from residents of the nearby Palestinian town of Yatta. Hathaleen’s grandfather had been forced to wander here with his family and flocks, like the rest of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, which was expelled from Tel Arad in 1948 by the fledgling State of Israel. The Civil Administration in the occupied territories has demolished the locals’ tents 16 times—almost every structure there has a demolition order hanging over it now– yet the village is still here.

For about six years a large-scale struggle was waged here over a small stone oven. The aroma issuing from the tabun was displeasing to the settlers in Carmel’s relatively new southern neighborhood, and they demanded that it be demolished. After the settlers sued them and demanded compensation, the shepherds of Umm al-Khair sought to prove to the court that the tabun’s smoke does not cause cancer—as was alleged by Carmel’s delicate but impudent settlers—because the villagers burn only organic sheep waste to fuel it. Half the senior command of the Israel Defense Forces showed up at one point to see the tabun, which was finally demolished in 2014, but like almost everything else here, was rebuilt, of course.

Suleiman Hathaleen accompanied all the struggles bodily. After years of working as a manual laborer in settlements and in Israel, and taking no interest in the occupation, the occupation came to him and made his life miserable—and Don Quixote Hathaleen set out to tilt against it. The turning point came after the Second Intifada erupted in the early 2000s, when the settlements denied entry to workers from the area.

Hathaleen found himself in dire straits and became the occupation’s big troublemaker in the South Hebron Hills. He manned the barricades and blocked bulldozers, climbed onto the buckets of backhoe loaders, protested on behalf of prisoners and hunger strikers. There is virtually no local demolition, confiscation operation or arrest in recent times that he didn’t try to prevent physically. The police and army troops had heard all about him and knew that before anything else, upon arriving on the scene, they had to remove Hathaleen. He was always there, leaning on his cane, sometimes holding a Palestinian flag. He was taken into custody dozens of times but was always released after a few hours (with one exception, when he was incarcerated for 10 days), because, as his son Eid notes, he never resorted to violence, so there was nothing to charge him with.

In the meantime, his herd also diminished. The expansion of the settlements and illegal outposts in the area, and the settlers’ seizure of more and more land, on top of the areas lost to IDF-declared firing zones, left little grazing room for Hathaleen’s sheep. From 1,500 sheep some years ago, his extended family now has only 200. And that, too, spurred Hathaleen to continue to wage his struggle.

Eid, 38, a shepherd like his father, sports a man bun and speaks storybook Hebrew. No one can offer a more vivid description of the older man, who is now fighting for his life in the hospital. During the past few years, Eid tried to get his father to stop provoking the occupation forces, but to no avail. He told Suleiman that he was no longer young and that he was endangering his health—indeed, his very life. But it did no good.

“He’s a very stubborn guy,” Eid says, “and also a very nice guy. Different, but smart. He’s not violent but resists all the time. He always says that he wants to disturb the forces of the occupation the way they disturb his life.”

On Wednesday, Jan. 5, Suleiman attended the funeral of a relative in a nearby pastoral community. He returned at midday and went to tend the sheep. “He never sits still,” Eid tells us during our visit to his tent this week. “He feeds the sheep, cleans their pens, feeds the sheepdogs, never sits.” While at home, after the afternoon prayers, Suleiman suddenly noticed a police vehicle and a tow truck, already carrying three confiscated cars, descending from the direction of the village school to the main road. Members of his family warned Suleiman against going out, but naturally he ignored them.

Eid was in the wadi with the sheep at the time. He says he’ll never forgive himself for not being home—maybe he would have been able to dissuade his father from heading out. The mashtubas rarely leave the confines of the villages because their drivers know they will be confiscated by Israeli authorities. Dragging them from the alleyways of out-of-the-way villages is yet another means of tormenting Palestinians and of demonstrating control.

Suleiman crossed the wadi and climbed up toward the police jeep and the tow truck belonging to Shai Cohen Ltd. They were parked on the sides of the road, the truck on the left, the jeep on the right, a few hundred meters from Suleiman’s home.

Suleiman stood on the shoulder, opposite the tow truck. Suddenly the vehicle began moving—slowly at first, because it had been parked on a slight incline. Did the driver notice Suleiman? Eyewitnesses from the village are certain he did. After all, Suleiman was standing in front of him. The police officer-jeep driver would have seen him, too, eyewitnesses say. The police would claim afterward that stones were being thrown at the time and the driver of the tow truck tried to flee for his life. Eid says that serious stone throwing began only after his father was hit, an incident that everyone in the area saw and that enraged the villagers.

Don Quixote Hathaleen set out to tilt against the occupation

A video clip shot from a distance shows the two vehicles quickly fleeing the scene, toward the main highway: The truck knocked Suleiman to the ground, ran him over and dragged him for a few meters, his head banging against stones, until he fell to the ground and the vehicle sped away. From the wadi Eid heard gunshots: The soldier in the police jeep fired into the air to drive off the furious villagers; the officer with him opened the door of their jeep for a moment but closed it immediately. The two vehicles disappeared. By the time Eid reached the site, his father had already been taken to the hospital.

Kareem Issa Jubran, director of field research for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, visited the scene the following day and found not only bloodstains by the roadside, which were still visible this week, but also fragments of Suleiman’s skull and a few of his teeth. It was a brutal sight. A private car rushed the wounded man to a clinic in Yatta, and from there he was taken in a Palestinian ambulance to the hospital in nearby Hebron.

Immediately after the incident, an Israeli police communiqué was issued stating that “a Palestinian who apparently ran toward the tow truck was injured and taken for treatment by the Red Crescent [ambulance service].” The following day, the police clarified that “during enforcement activity against mashtuba vehicles, carried out by police forces together with a tow truck in the service of the police, near the village of Umm Daraj, a violent disturbance by rioters, who are local residents broke out against the forces. The movement of the tow truck and of the police vehicle was blocked, and stones were thrown at the police officer and at the tow truck driver in a way that endangered the force. In response, an IDF fighter who was posted in the police vehicle fired into the air.

“As the forces moved to leave while stones were being thrown at them, one of the rioters jumped on the tow truck, fell to the ground and was hurt. In the situation that was created, in which a militant mob concretely tried to harm the force in question, it was impossible to stop and assist the injured person. The Israeli police and the IDF take a very grave view of this attempt to harm the security forces and hamper routine activity and will act with determination to impose governance.”

Not a word about anyone actually being run over.

Eid Hathaleen refutes the claims of the police. “Let’s say they didn’t hurt Suleiman deliberately. So, call the army and summon an ambulance! I don’t understand how police can flee the scene of a road accident. Let’s imagine it was a Jew who was hurt, God forbid. What would they do? Summon medical assistance. You call an ambulance. A helicopter. The family is certain that he was deliberately hit. I don’t know. It must be investigated. So why aren’t they investigating? The police have body cameras. The tow truck needs to be examined. But the police want to cover up the incident.”

The family is now outside Suleiman’s room in the hospital, in around-the-clock shifts. His skull was fractured, his backbone injured, a rib is pressing on his lung and he has a broken hip. The doctors thought he would die immediately, Eid tells us now.

“We are ready as a family for any scenario. We have prepared ourselves,” he adds. “When I heard that Suleiman had been hit, I thought the mirror of the truck had struck him. When I reached the scene, I was told, ‘Your father was run over and died.’”

Gideon Levy is an Israeli journalist and author. Alex Levac is a photojournalist. *This article was first published in Haaretz, Jan. 14, 2022, right before Suleiman Hathaleen’s death. © Haaretz. Reprinted with permission.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *