Hebron, Occupied West Coast – Suleiman al-Khatalin, 73, has never given up on the opportunity to face Israeli forces in Massafer Yat, Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.
With a white scarf covering his long gray hair and nothing more than a wooden stick in one hand, Suleiman was often seen fiercely trying to block Israeli bulldozers from destroying Palestinian homes or tractors from destroying Palestinian land.
Although he could neither read, nor write, nor use the Internet, the late Suleiman, known locally as Sheikh or Hajj Suleiman, was well connected.
On January 17, some 15,000 Palestinians attended his funeral in his hometown of Um al-Khair, a village in northern Massafer Yat, two weeks after he was allegedly deliberately run over by an Israeli tug.
Suleiman’s 60-year-old brother, Ibrahim, said the funeral activity was unprecedented for Massafer Yata.
“Communities in South Hebron have never witnessed anything like this,” Ibrahim told Al Jazeera.
Home to some 7,000 Palestinians, the Palestinian communities of Massafer Yata are at the forefront of the struggle for survival amid Israel’s efforts to evict them, including by refusing to connect them to water and electricity networks.
“He [Suleiman] he will lead the young men behind him, ”Ibrahim recalled, describing him as an influential icon and mobilizer on the Palestinian streets. “He will lie on the ground to prevent military vehicles from moving towards the destruction of Palestinian homes.
Suleiman was fatally wounded on January 5 when an Israeli tow truck ran over him in Umm al-Khair during an attack by dozens of Israeli army jeeps on the village to seize unregistered Palestinian cars.
The truck “passed him and dragged his body several meters without stopping,” according to a statement from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
Israeli forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd protesting the attack, and quickly withdrew from the village, leaving his bleeding body on the ground. Due to the lack of an ambulance in the village, he was taken by private car to the nearest medical clinic, about 15 km (9 miles) away.
He died 12 days later in a hospital in Hebron.
The family, who believe the ram was intentional, is in the process of suing an Israeli court against the truck driver and a police officer who failed to provide treatment.
More than two weeks later, Israeli police have not yet questioned the Israeli truck driver. Police say they are investigating the incident with the help of the State Prosecutor’s Office, according to Israeli media.
UNOCHA said Suleiman “had protested peacefully on the road” and “would be clearly visible to both the truck driver and the [Israeli] officers “, adding that there was no indication that Israeli forces had offered him any help,” they simply left the area immediately after the incident “.
Information Gathering Room
Suleiman left behind three brothers, seven sons and three daughters and nearly 30 grandchildren. He mobilized a group of them to inform him of planned protests by setting up an “information room”.
His 34-year-old son, Muntaser, said he was his father’s companion, describing him as “at the forefront of anti-occupation protests”.
“I was tasked with collecting dates and places to protest everywhere. I woke up early in the morning, bringing all the details with me, “he told Al Jazeera.
“Sometimes I hid dates of protests from him out of concern for his health, given his old age, but when he found out, he was very angry, so I had to stop,” he continued.
“The house has lost its solid foundation,” Muntaser said.
Um al-Khair, a village of about 1,000 people, became Suleiman’s new home after he, his parents and younger brother were forcibly evicted by Zionist militias from the city of Arad in the Naqab Desert (Negev) during the 1948 war. for the establishment of the State of Israel.
In the 1980s, the Israeli army began building the illegal nearby village of Carmel at the expense of Um al-Khair’s lands, beginning another family struggle.
Like other Palestinian communities in Massafer Yata, Um al-Khair lacks basic needs such as electricity, water, infrastructure, education and health facilities, and its residents are prevented from building permanent homes, forcing them to live in tin barracks and tents.
Meanwhile, Carmel is a green oasis full of playgrounds and parks, and an electric chicken farm.
Suleiman’s home is just three meters (10 feet) from the village. He has been the victim of dozens of attacks by settlers who are protected by the occupying army and police.
There have been more than 15 destructions in Um al-Khair in the last few years.
“If we don’t resist, who will?”
Fuad al-Amur, 38, first met Suleiman in 2018 and accompanied him for about five years on his journey of resistance.
Together with several villagers, they set up the Massafer Yata Committee for Protection and Sustainability to fight Israel’s policy of systematic resettlement against Palestinians.
Al-Amur said that using the committee’s cameras, they “documented the destruction of Palestinian homes”, revealing “the practices and crimes of the occupying forces against Palestinians, which are a deterrent to attacks by settlers in the area.”
“He was our backbone in every step we took,” Al-Amur told Al Jazeera, noting that Suleiman called him the day before he was run over to organize an event in the village of Um Zaytuna, where Israeli forces destroyed homes.
“If we don’t resist, who will?” Al-Amur recalled that Suleiman often said.
“Sheikh Suleiman not only took part in the events in Massafer Yat – he attended all protests inside and outside [Hebron] a province, from the far south to the far north, “al-Amur explained.
He noted that Suleiman woke up at dawn on the days of the protest and was the first to arrive. He would refrain from eating and drinking until the end of the event, saying, “I have given my day to God and the country and he will remain for God and the country.”
“In 2021 alone, Sheikh Suleiman was detained more than 60 times and fined dozens of unbearable fines,” al-Amur said.
“The Israeli army turned to Sheikh Suleiman at the beginning of the protests or Israeli destruction. They would detain him, beat him and take him to an undisclosed location until the event or destruction was over, because they knew he was the main driver behind the protests, “he continued.
“The sheikh’s resistance to the occupying forces was peaceful. He did not use the staff he carried or the stones. “
Ibrahim describes his late brother Suleiman as “an obstacle that hinders them [Israel’s] Palestinian resettlement policies ”, which has now been removed from the scene.
However, he said he proudly recalled that Suleiman and his companions “showed the world in the clearest way their heinous crimes against the Palestinian people.”