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Palestinian Scholar Noura Erakat: Israeli Forces Killed My Cousin on His Sister’s Wedding Day

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Israeli soldiers on Tuesday killed 27-year-old Ahmed Erekat at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank as he was on his way to pick up his sister, who was set to be married that night. Ahmed Erekat is the nephew of senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and cousin of Palestinian American legal scholar Noura Erakat, who says Israeli claims that Ahmed was attempting a car-ramming attack on soldiers are completely unfounded. “What we understand is that Ahmed lost control of his car or was confused while he was in his car. That was all it took to have a knee-jerk reaction … and immediately to cause the soldiers to open fire on him multiple times,” she says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York. Juan González joins us from New Brunswick, New Jersey, from his home during this time of the coronavirus. Hi, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Hi, Amy. And welcome to all of our listeners and viewers across the country and around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to begin today in Israel and the West Bank. Israeli officers on Tuesday shot dead a Palestinian man at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank as he was on his way to pick up his sister, who was set to be married last night. A warning to our viewers: This story contains graphic footage. The video from the scene shows 27-year-old Ahmed Erekat bleeding, but still alive on the street where he was shot. He’s the nephew of senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who said his nephew was, quote, “murdered in cold blood,” and wrote in a tweet that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for his death.

Ahmed Erekat’s family said he was killed while on his way to a beauty salon to pick up his sister and his mother, but Israeli authorities claim he tried to run over an officer at a checkpoint in the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem. His family rejects the allegations, is calling for Israeli authorities to release security footage. Ahmed himself was also due to be married soon.

His killing comes nearly a month after another Palestinian man was killed in similar circumstances near Ramallah, also in the West Bank, and as Netanyahu plans to start annexing nearly a third of the occupied West Bank next month.

For more, we’re joined by Ahmed Erekat’s cousin, Noura Erakat, who’s a Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar, assistant professor at Rutgers University, author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.

Noura, our condolences to you and your family. This is such a terrible time for you. We so deeply appreciate you’re able to join us. This is just hours after your cousin was killed. Can you describe the circumstances under which you understand he died?

NOURA ERAKAT: Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Juan, and to the viewers. I haven’t had a chance to speak to his parents, so I want to start out by saying [speaking Arabic].

We understand the circumstances to be what people know. Ahmed was on his way, from Abu Dis to Bethlehem, to pick up his sister from a hair salon for her wedding. Her mom was there with her. You know, on the way to the hair salon, he passed through a checkpoint separating Bethlehem from Abu Dis through a known roadway, back roadway, a dangerous one known as Wadi Nar, or Valley of Fire. There is a steep decline between this checkpoint on the road. And what we understand is that Ahmed lost control of his car or was confused while he was in his car. That was all it took to have a knee-jerk reaction, for the car to jerk a little bit and immediately to cause the soldiers to open fire on him multiple times.

Note that these soldiers, who are fully armed at this checkpoint, are behind barriers, are not actually out in the open, and then left Ahmed to bleed for one-and-a-half hours. We also understand that his father, Abu Faisal, was there pleading with the Israeli soldiers to let him access his son. We also know that the Palestinian Red Crescent, the equivalent of the Red Cross, was not allowed access. And for one-and-a-half hours, as you saw in that inexplicable video, Ahmed was left writhing and bleeding out, without the ability to care for him.

And what is very obvious is the ease and the callousness with which this happened, the way that it’s normalized completely. And there’s a Palestinian — there’s a line, a queue, of Palestinian cars. And the one filming this was praying over Ahmed as he’s dying. It should remind us that even those Palestinians who are bearing witness to this are subject to a state of forced helplessness. They are not even allowed to help Ahmed in that moment.

I want to just bring up something, Amy, to the audience before I address Israel’s vicious, dangerous and disgusting allegations that this was a car ramming, and raise three questions for the audience that’s paying attention right now.

Right now, one, why is Abu Dis, where Ahmed and my family is from, so severely underdeveloped that he has to travel outside to one of the big Palestinian cities in order to get his sisters from a hair salon? What is the cause of that underdevelopment?

Number two, I want to ask the audience to think about the biggest Palestinian city and commercial center to Abu Dis is Jerusalem. Abu Dis is a suburb of Jerusalem and has been cut off from it by the apartheid wall. Why can’t Palestinians, why couldn’t my family get to Jerusalem, and instead have to travel to Bethlehem?

And number three, and so importantly, why is there a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Abu Dis, two Palestinian cities? Why are there checkpoints anywhere? Just think about those questions as we answer this broader question of the context that Ahmed was killed in.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Noura, that last point that you — first of all, my deepest condolences to you and your family. But I wanted to precisely ask that question. What are these checkpoints that are within Palestinian territory, that apparently are not even near any Israeli settlements? How many of them are there? And what is the justification for them from Israel’s perspective?

NOURA ERAKAT: Thank you for that question. The Palestinian checkpoint — the checkpoints that divide Palestinians from one another and that separate them from their homes are an invention of the peace process. In 1995, the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza were separated into three jurisdictions — A, B and C — demarking what was under full Israeli civil and military control and what was under some shared control. Note that Area C, or 60% of the West Bank, is the largest area. It is what is now being marked for annexation, and it is what came under full Israeli civil and security control.

The checkpoints that are erected are meant to police Palestinians from traveling from amongst their cities and with one another. And they are placed precisely to divide Palestinians from one another in order to delimit and to quell any kind of national cohesion and uprising. They are also set up because they are policing Palestinians, who are not to travel next to settlements, around settlements, through settlements, which are all built on confiscated Palestinian lands.

And you ask — you know, sometimes these checkpoints are built around places where there are no settlements, but there will be. But there will be. All of Palestinian territory is marked for Israeli settlements and is marked for the removal of Palestinians. Palestinians have been steadily removed from their homes. They are demolished. Roads are built over them for Israelis only. Settlements are built on top of them. And Palestinians are ever contained into smaller and smaller tracts of land, that the Trump administration just revealed, in January, will become their permanent Bantustans or reservations, where they will be able to practice autonomy, which — or derivative sovereignty, but never a form of freedom, and they will be forever dominated.

I want to switch really quick, because this is the concern of the family. In the aftermath of Ahmed’s murder, Israel immediately started a propaganda campaign blaming Ahmed for his own death and alleging that he tried to ram his car into the checkpoint. This is a lie. This is a incredibly hurtful lie, but it’s a systematic lie that Israel tells as it kills Palestinians and blames them for their own death. What we know is that Israel has done this systematically. We know that they have used this. As people have said, this is prepared and ready argument.

We know that from May to October 2018, Israel killed 267 Palestinians in Gaza who were unarmed. That was supported by the Israeli military establishment, its political establishment, and it was rubber-stamped, rubber-stamped as a shoot-to-kill policy by the Israeli High Court. We know among those murdered was paramedic, 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar, who had her hands up, was wearing a paramedic vest, and was shot in the back. When she was killed, the Israeli military released a doctored video claiming that Razan said, “I am a human shield.” What they failed to play was the rest of Razan’s clip, where she said, “I am a human shield here on the line being a protective human shield saving the injured.” But the Israeli military doctored that video to say that she was a human shield for Hamas.

And guess what. The entire world stops asking questions the moment you say Hamas, the moment you say Palestinian violence, the moment you say Palestinian resistance. It’s as if we expect that to be a carte blanche to kill as many Palestinians as possible. They did it with Razan. They did it with Iyad el-Hallak. They did it with Ahmed yesterday.

And right now the family is demanding that Ahmed’s body, his corpse, be returned. It is being withheld as a form of collective punishment. We are also demanding that the home be protected, because Israel has a policy of demolishing homes of Palestinians they consider alleged assailants, without, of course, any kind of trial. We are demanding that the footage be released, and atone and apologize and address the systematic violence.

It bears to note that in 2017 the Human Rights Council at the U.N. examined the cases of Israel’s systematic killings of Palestinians and concluded, quote, “that Israel often used lethal force against Palestinians on mere suspicion or as a precautionary measure.” Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians as precautionary measure. And the rest of the world accepts this because of how used to the loss of Palestinian lives we have become numb to. This is normalized. This amount of killing is normalized. And this is the context in which Ahmed now, his family, is fighting for justice in his name and is also mourning his life at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat, as you describe Ahmed, he was picking up his mom and his sister. His sister was going to be married last night. He was picking them up from the salon. His sister Eman fainted when she heard what had taken place? And he himself was going to be married in just a few weeks?

NOURA ERAKAT: Indeed. So, the other part of the story that doesn’t add up, and, frankly, one of the things about this is — you’re telling us these details, Amy, right? And so, most listeners would think, naturally, “Why would a young man, 27 years old, with his own T-shirt business, who’s incredibly happy and smiling on the day of his sister’s wedding, plan an attack against an Israeli checkpoint, which is basically a suicide mission? Why? Why would he do that?” Normal people will ask that. And normal, empathetic people will say it is impossible.

And yet, because of the dehumanization of Palestinians and the racism with which our stories are cloaked, there are some who might say, “Yeah, it’s possible. Palestinians are driven by a hatred for Jews and are basically born in order to kill.” As former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, Palestinian mothers should be killed because they birth snakes? This is the discourse of the highest people in office in Israel, not of the random extremists, but of its representatives, who represent them to the world, this so-called only democracy.

And yes, Ahmed was incredibly proud of the home he had furnished and prepared for his wife-to-be — they had shared pictures of him in his home — and had so much to live for and deserved to live and deserves justice and deserves our support in demanding justice, in demanding accountability.

This is not about one bad Israeli soldier, just as it’s not about one bad cop ever. This is a system. It is an apartheid system. It is a settler colonial system that enshrines Jewish Israeli supremacy as a matter of law and policy on an international scale. And it is one that marks Palestinians for removal, exile or death. And it is done with the full, unequivocal, diplomatic, financial, military support of the United States and with the complicity of the international community.

So it bears upon us to respond in this moment by supporting the Palestinian call for freedom, by doing the little that we can by engaging in boycott, divestment and sanctions for Ahmed, for Razan, for Iyad, to oppose the annexation, to oppose apartheid, to fight for freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat, we want to thank you for being with us. Again, our condolences to your family. Noura is a Palestinian human rights attorney, legal scholar, colleague of Juan’s over at Rutgers, assistant professor at Rutgers University and author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. Over a thousand European MPs have written a letter opposing Israel’s plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Also, the final tweet — one of the tweets of Noura Erakat, our guest, after Ahmed died, “They left him to bleed out like this. For 1.5 hours. His name is Ahmed. He deserved to live. He deserved to dance tonight w his family to celebrate his sister. He deserved to dance at his wedding, to nurture family. To live. This is not a picture of Ahmed but of Israel’s ugliness,” she wrote.

When we come back, we look at the fight for racial justice in sports with Etan Thomas, former NBA player, co-host of the podcast The Collision: Where Sports and Politics Collide. Stay with us.

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