Something terrible happened near Ramallah on May 21, 2013. Atta Sabah, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, was paralyzed after being shot by an Israeli soldier. As a result, the boy, who lives in the Jazloun refugee camp in the West Bank, will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
What happened to Atta is a tragedy.
Reports from Haaretz, the Associated Press, and Agence France Press indicate that Atta was shot during a protest at which Palestinian teenagers were throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. The reports also indicate that Israeli soldiers fired on the teenagers after seeing one of them brandishing a firebomb.
A report from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) tells essentially the same story.
The PCHR reports that shots were fired at a confrontation between Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli soldiers. Atta was hit and taken to the hospital in Ramallah before he was treated at a hospital inside Israel. The PCHR – an organization relied on by many anti-Israel groups to make their case – makes no reference to a firebomb.
Firebomb or no, these reports clearly indicate that Atta was shot during a violent confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian teenagers.
But there is another version of the story.
This version, offered by a group that promotes the welfare of Palestinian children, tells the story of a young boy being lured into a position of vulnerability by one Israeli soldier (who was holding onto the boy’s book bag), and being shot in cold blood by another soldier who was lying in wait. If this version is true, it is an atrocity that needs further investigation.
If it is false, it is a blood libel.
Ivan Karakashian, who apparently used to work for Reuters and who now works for Defense for Children Palestine, told this story on a conference call organized by Churches for Middle East Peace that took place on October 1, 2013.
This is what he said on the call:
“Atta is 12 years old and he lives in the Jazloun refugee camp outside of Ramallah. After school he was playing with some friends and they were throwing around their school bags and one of their school bags went over a fence and a soldier caught it and when Atta went to get his school bag, the soldier told him to come back the following day to pick up his school bag.
So the following day, needing his books, he returned to pick up his school bag and saw the soldier carrying it and motioning him to come towards him.
But Atta also saw a… sniper…and felt panicked by the situation. Getting a bad feeling, he decided to turn around quickly and at that point the soldier on the ground fired live ammunition at the child severing his spine. So the 12-year-old is now paralyzed. He was taken to be treated at a hospital inside Israel.”
In this recounting, Karakashian does not state it explicitly, but suggests that the boy was shot in the back as he fled from the confrontation over his book bag.
After telling this story, Karakashian said that initially Israeli authorities denied Atta and his family the permits they needed to get treatment in Israel, but that Atta was able to get into Israel after Karakashian’s organization began advocating for him.
To underscore the tragedy, Karakashian reports that during his rehabilitation process, Atta held onto the vain hope that he was going to be able to walk again, and that no one had the heart to tell him otherwise. In the time since being paralyzed, Karakashian reports that he has “tried to take his own life several times.”
After hearing this story, the people on the conference call heard a plea from Brad Parker, Karakashian’s colleague at Defense for Children Palestine. He said, “This is the first time we’re really prioritizing engagement with the U.S. audience, with the U.S. faith-based community. We want to recruit everyone on this call and every organization that’s listening to us right now to really take our information and take our statistics, take our data, take our case studies in using in your own campaign in any way you see fit.”
Atta’s Version On Video
The story told on the CMEP conference call is clearly a centerpiece for the organization’s activism. Defense for Children Palestine has created a YouTube video of the boy and his mother recounting what happened.
The story Atta tells in this video differs a bit from the one offered by Karakashian during the October 1 conference call.
Atta reports that as he was playing with his friends, an Israeli soldier got a hold of his book bag and told him to come back the next day to retrieve it. He reports that he went to retrieve his bag with a friend. Here is what happened next:
“We stopped at a store to buy a Coke, we walked a little bit and I got shot. I fell straight to the ground. My friends picked me up and that’s when I saw the soldiers hiding behind the wall. They put me in a taxi…”
Karakashian says that when Atta went to get his book, the Israeli soldier motioned for him to approach and that he got a bad feeling when he saw another soldier lying on the floor with a rifle. The boy himself says he was shot while walking “a little bit” after buying a Coke and that he didn’t see the soldiers until after he was shot.
Now let’s take a look at PCHR’s account of what happened on May 21, 2013:
“At noon on Tuesday, 21 May 2013, dozens of Palestinian boys and teenagers gathered at the southern entrance of al-Jazloun refugee camp, north of Ramallah, behind the UNRWA Camp School for Boys. The boys were 300 meters from the fence surrounding ‘Beit El’ settlement. The boys threw stones at the settlement’s fence. In response, Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, tear gas canister(s) and sound bombs at them. As a result, 2 Palestinian children sustained wounds. The wounded children are: 12-year-old Atta Mohammed Atta Sabbah, who sustained a bullet wound to the abdomen, and the bullet went out his back. Sabbah was taken to Palestine Health Complex and underwent a surgery there as he suffered an internal bleeding; he was later transferred to Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem. Also, a 17-year-old boy sustained a bullet wound to the right foot.”
The PCHR’s account of the events indicates that Atta was shot during a confrontation with Israeli soldiers outside Bet El, which clearly undermines Karakashian’s story of a young boy being shot after trying to retrieve his textbooks. It is important to note that neither Karakashian nor the boy himself make any reference to a violent confrontation with Israeli soldiers.
Instead, Karakashian suggests that the interaction took place in a relatively calm environment. Would an Israeli soldier motion for a young Palestinian boy to approach to retrieve his bookbag during a confrontation where stones were being thrown?
Interestingly enough, in the video, Atta’s mother says, “He was never interested in the soldiers and clashes. The only reason he found himself there was to get his bag so he could study for his exams.” And later, she even admits that maybe he was throwing a stone: “Even if he did throw a stone, what is a stone doing?” (Answer: Quite a lot, actually.)
Karakashian’s (and Atta’s) story seems even more implausible in light of the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs account of the confrontation that took place on May 21, 2013:
“On 21 May, stone-throwing by Palestinian youths at Israeli forces at the entrance of Al Jalazun refugee camp (Ramallah), led to a violent clash, during which, two Palestinian children, aged 13 and 15, sustained serious injuries. Medical sources indicate that the children were shot with 0.22 caliber bullets, a smaller and less lethal caliber than the standard live ammunition (5.56mm bullets). Last week, five children were injured by this ammunition in the same location.”
Media reports of the confrontation clearly indicate that a confrontation of some sort was taking place when Atta was shot. On May 21, 2013, the Associated Press reported “Israel’s military said soldiers shot and wounded a Palestinian as he threw a firebomb in the West Bank during a violent protest. The teenager’s family says he was not involved.”
The AP report continues:
“The military said dozens of Palestinians threw rocks at soldiers near a settlement Tuesday when troops noticed a protester aiming a firebomb at them. Soldiers called on him to stop, then fired warning shots and later fired at his lower extremities when he refused… The wounded Palestinian’s family said Ata Sharaki was playing with a friend next to the fence of the settlement when he was shot. They said he is 13 years old.”
On the same date, the AFP reported “Israeli troops shot and seriously wounded a 12-year-old Palestinian boy during a clash in the West Bank on Tuesday, Palestinian security and medical officials told AFP.” The report also states that Israeli officials “said that Atta Mohammed Sharadeh was hit during one of what have become almost daily clashes between young Palestinians and soldiers outside the Jelazoun refugee camp, near Ramallah.” The boy “was hit in the chest by a live bullet which exited through his back and was in critical condition in a Ramallah hospital.”
The report continues: “An army spokeswoman told AFP that troops opened fire at a protester about to throw a petrol bomb as dozens of rioters hurled rocks at them. ‘The soldiers instructed the suspect to stop and when he refused to do so they fired warning shots, which failed to deter the suspect,’ she said.”
Clearly, there is some uncertainty over the circumstances surrounding the shot that tragically crippled Atta Sabah. Some reports indicate the shot was fired after Israeli soldiers saw a firebomb, others omit or discount this story.
But the story Karakashian told of a young boy being lured into place and then shot in cold blood just doesn’t stand up in light of what the UN and the PCHR report about what happened on May 21, 2013.
This raises a serious question: Is Defense for Children Palestine using a blood libel as a publicity tool?
Dexter Van Zile (@dextervanzile) is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (@cameraorg).