Suleiman Hathaleen: How a 73-year-old challenged the Israeli occupation | Occupied West Bank

Hebron, occupied West Bank – Suleiman al-Hathaleen, 73, never shied away from the opportunity to confront Israeli forces in Masafer Yatta, 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 doggedly trying to stop Israeli bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian homes or tractors from razing Palestinian land.

Although he could not read, write or use the internet, the late Suleiman, known locally as “Sheikh” or “Hajj” Suleiman, had good connections.

On January 17, some 15,000 Palestinians attended his funeral in his hometown of Umm al-Khair, a village in northern Masafer Yatta, two weeks after he was – allegedly deliberately – run over by an Israeli tow truck.

Ibrahim, Suleiman’s 60-year-old brother, said the attendance at the funeral was unprecedented for Masafer Yatta.

“Communities in southern Hebron have never seen anything like this,” Ibrahim told Al Jazeera.

Mourners attend Suleiman Hathaleen’s funeral procession in Umm al Khair on January 18 [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

Home to some 7,000 Palestinians, the Palestinian communities of Masafer Yatta are at the forefront of a struggle for survival amid Israeli efforts to dispossess them, including refusing to connect them to water and electricity grids. .

“He [Suleiman] would stand in the foreground with the young men behind him,” Ibrahim recalls, describing him as an influential icon and Palestinian street mobilizer. “He was lying on the ground to prevent military vehicles from moving to demolish Palestinian homes.

Suleiman was fatally injured on January 5 when an Israeli tow truck ran over him in Umm al-Khair during a raid by dozens of Israeli army jeeps on the village to seize unregistered Palestinian vehicles.

The truck “rolled over it and dragged his body for several meters without stopping”, according to a statement from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Israeli forces fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd protesting the raid and quickly withdrew from the village, leaving his bleeding body on the ground. Due to the lack of ambulance services in the village, he was taken in a private car to the nearest medical clinic, approximately 15 km (9 miles) away.

He died after 12 days of hospitalization in Hebron.

Carmel Colony at Masafer Yatta
Suleiman’s 34-year-old son Muntaser described his father as ‘at the forefront of protests against the occupation’ [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

The family, who believe the shelling was intentional, are filing a lawsuit in Israeli courts against the truck driver and policeman who failed to provide treatment.

More than two weeks later, the Israeli police have still not questioned the driver of the Israeli truck. Police said they are investigating the incident with input from the state’s attorney’s office, according to Israeli media.

UNOCHA said Suleiman “protested peacefully on the road” and “would have been clearly visible to both the truck driver and the [Israeli] officers,” adding that there is no indication that Israeli forces offered him any assistance, “having simply left the area immediately after the incident.”

“Information Room”

Suleiman leaves behind three brothers, seven sons and three daughters and nearly 30 grandchildren. He mobilized a group of them to inform him of the planned demonstrations, setting up an “information gathering room”.

His 34-year-old son, Muntaser, said he was his father’s companion, describing him as “at the forefront of protests against the occupation”.

“I was in charge of collecting the dates and places of demonstrations everywhere. I woke up early in the morning bringing him all the details with me,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I sometimes hid protest dates from him out of concern for his health, given his advanced age, but when he found out he was very angry so I had to stop,” he said. for follow-up.

“The house has lost its solid foundation,” Muntaser said.

Carmel Colony at Masafer Yatta
The community is home to around 1,000 residents, most of whom were expelled from Arad in the Naqab (Negev) in 1948 [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

Umm al-Khair, a village of about 1,000 people, became Suleiman’s new home after he, his parents and his younger brother were forcibly moved by Zionist militias from the desert town of Arad. Naqab (Negev) during the 1948 war to create the State of Israel.

In the 1980s, the Israeli army began building the nearby illegal settlement of Carmel at the expense of Umm al-Khair land, sparking another family struggle.

Like other Palestinian communities in Masafer Yatta, Umm al-Khair lacks basic necessities such as electricity, water, infrastructure, education and sanitation, and residents are prevented from building homes permanent, forcing them to live in tin shacks and tents.

Meanwhile, Carmel Colony is a green oasis filled with playgrounds and parks, and an electric-powered chicken farm.

Suleiman’s house is only three meters (10 feet) from the settlement. It was the victim of dozens of attacks by settlers, who were protected by the occupation army and police.

In recent years, there have been more than 15 demolitions in Umm al-Khair.

Carmel Colony at Masafer Yatta
The illegal Carmel settlement at Masafer Yatta was built on Umm al-Khair land [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

“If we don’t resist, who will?

Fouad al-Amour, 38, first met Suleiman in 2018 and accompanied him for about five years on his journey of resistance.

Together with several residents of the village, they created the Protection and Resilience Committee in Masafer Yatta to fight against Israeli policies of systematic displacement against Palestinian residents.

Al-Amour said that using the committee’s cameras, they “documented the demolitions of Palestinian homes”, exposing “the practices and crimes of the occupation forces against Palestinian residents, constituting a deterrent to attacks by the Palestinians”. settlers in the region”.

“He was our backbone with every step we took,” al-Amour told Al Jazeera, noting that Suleiman called him a day before he was run over to hold an event in the village of Umm Zaytouna. where Israeli forces had demolished houses.

“If we don’t resist, who will? al-Amur recalled Suleiman as often said.

Carmel Colony at Masafer Yatta
Israeli authorities are developing the Carmel settlement at the expense of neighboring Palestinian communities like Umm al-Khair [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

“Sheikh Suleiman did not just participate in the events of Masafer Yatta – he was present in all the demonstrations inside and outside the [Hebron] governorate, from the far south to the far north,” al-Amour said.

He noted that Suleiman “used to wake up at dawn on protest days and be the first to arrive. He would refrain from eating and drinking until the end of the event, saying, “I gave my day to God and country, and it will remain for God and country.”

“In 2021 alone, Sheikh Suleiman has been detained more than 60 times and imposed dozens of exorbitant fines,” al-Amour said.

“The Israeli army targeted Sheikh Suleiman at the start of Israeli protests or demolitions. They would detain him, beat him and take him to an undisclosed location until the event or demolition was over because they knew he was the main driver of the protests,” he continued.

“The sheikh’s resistance against the occupying forces has been peaceful. He did not use the stick he was carrying, nor stones.

Ibrahim described his late brother Suleiman as “an obstacle that hindered their [Israel’s] Displacement Policies of Palestinians,” which has now been removed from the scene.

Still, he said he proudly remembers Suleiman and his companions “showing the world in the clearest way their heinous crimes against the Palestinian people.”

Michael A. Bynum