NABLUS, West Bank - It happens every day.
Sometimes Israeli soldiers are killed. Sometimes, Palestinian
fighters. Many of the casualties, however, are noncombatants:
innocent Israelis killed by Palestinian attackers; innocent
Palestinians felled by Israeli military fire.
"The army killed my mom," Saed Abu Hijleh, 36, reflected this
week, observing the start of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Feast of
Sacrifice, with a ritual visit to his mother's grave. "Why did they
kill my mom?"
A graduate of the University of Iowa who lived in the United
States for 10 years and now resides in Nablus, Hijleh, a politics
professor at a Nablus college, speaks angrily in fluent English
about Israeli army practices that, he says, "encourage soldiers to
be trigger happy" and a "culture of cowardice" that rarely metes out
In a conflict that cuts lives short every day, the killing of
Shaden Abu Hijleh, 61, a Palestinian social worker from a prominent
family, stands apart for its power to shock, and because the family
who loved her (two members of which are American citizens) has the
influence to let the world know how she died.
Saed, who was wounded in the neck by flying glass in the shooting
that killed his mother on Oct. 11, says she was seated on her
doorstep, doing needlepoint in the fading sun, when two Israeli army
jeeps pulled up 100 feet from the house.
Saed's father, Jamal, 65, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, sat
beside her, sorting spices. Saed said he was looking out from the
glass-enclosed porch when a soldier in one of the jeeps raked the
house with rifle fire, leaving at least nine jagged holes in the
door and walls. It is not clear why the shots were loosed at the
Jamal Abu Hijleh was grazed on the head and arm, apparently by
ricochets; a single shot tore through his wife's left side, killing
Akiva Eldar, a veteran Israeli journalist who is following the
case, has said its outcome could force the army to reexamine its
policy on opening fire.
"This should be a turning point," he said in an interview
published last month. "Sometimes people become symbols after their
death to make sure it doesn't happen to others."
The United Nations has heard testimony about the case in the
context of a resolution on Middle East violence. President Bush
reportedly has raised it in conversation with Israeli Prime Minister
In October, before Sharon went to the United States to meet with
Bush, American ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer delivered a
letter from Washington to Jerusalem expressing concern about the
number of Palestinian civilians being killed in Israeli military
operations, according to Israeli sources.
Meanwhile, the Hijleh family has created a Web site, http://www.remembershaden.org/,
and hired a lawyer to sue Israel for her wrongful death.
A preliminary army report said she was killed by a stray bullet.
Top brass insisted on more investigation.
An army spokesman said yesterday that the inquiry was being
conducted "in the most thorough way possible" by military police.
Their report will go to the judge advocate general of the army, who
will decide whether to press charges that could result in a
court-martial. There is no time limit to complete the work, the
Lana Abu Hijleh, 39, Shaden's only daughter, works for the U.N.
Development Program in Jerusalem as a civil engineer. The
educational and other advantages that she and her brothers have had,
she said, give them tools to press their mother's case without
losing sight of common connections.
"We all lose in the same way," she said yesterday, feeling her
mother's loss acutely as the end of the holiday neared. "The vacuum
inside us is the same. I cannot believe that an Israeli who loses a
son in Tel Aviv would not feel the same pain. We are the same, so we
have to be treated the same. We have to get the same kind of
For now, the Hijlehs grieve and wait.
"Sometimes I go downstairs and cry by myself. Sometimes I see my
father crying," Saed said.
And sometimes, he said, he finds himself talking to a portrait of
his mother, telling her about a petition drive for justice in her
name, or the Eid holiday, which feels less festive now.
"Like any feast, in any culture, families get together to
reestablish their ties," Saed said. "For me, my family is
everything. My parents, my brothers and sister."
The four-day holiday, which ends today, was particularly hard, he
said, because his mother, a community activist, provided money and
gift baskets for the needy at that time.
As Saed spoke about his mother's death, he fingered the
embroidery she was working on, now stained with her