The West Bank town of Ya'bad is no stranger to violent clashes with Israeli settlers and the IDF, but the killing of a 14-year-old girl on the eve of the anniversary of half a century of occupation shakes it to its core.
YA'BAD, West Bank — Samira Osman sat in the centre of the living room, surrounded by neighbours and her daughters. As the cameras edged in through the crowd, a woman passed her a small Palestinian flag and several hands moved in to drape it over her chest. One of her daughters was crying uncontrollably on the couch next to her, another passed out and fell to the floor. The wails in the room swelled, drowning out the Quran recitations from a small stereo, and pushing Samira to raise her hands to the ceiling and begin yelling.
"God is greater than the oppressor, God is greater than the oppressor."
Two days earlier, her daughter left the house and headed to school to pick up an end-of-year certificate before the Ramadan break. She was gone for a few hours. Then her father received a call telling him that the 14-year-old Palestinian girl had been shot outside the gates of a nearby Israeli settlement, Mevo Dotan, and was in hospital fighting for her life.
No one knows what happened to Nouf Aqab Infayat in the grey hours in between, or why she ended up at the gates of Mevo Dotan. Security footage shows Nouf getting off a bus metres from the checkpoint leading into the settlement, and briefly speaking with one of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers stationed there. She then begins to walk up to the gate and out of view of the camera. Settlers are then seen running in the opposite direction.
The official statement by Israel's military accused Nouf of carrying a knife, and of stabbing one of its soldiers, injuring him lightly. The other soldiers shot her in the stomach. Later that day another video surfaced, showing the girl lying on the road moaning in pain, while soldiers and an armed settler stand around her vocally taunting her to die.
A few hours later she died from her wounds at Hillel Yaffe Medical Centre.
When word reached the village of Ya'bad, people began to pour in to her family home to offer their condolences. Dozens of young women dressed in black came walking or in taxis from other parts of town – Nouf's friends from school – and people who heard the story and wanted to support the family. The local imam took to the megaphone atop the nearby mosque to read passages from the Quran about martyrdom. Under a beating sun, men and children huddled in the arms of buildings to keep their body heat low. It was a week into the fasting of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Her death carried particular symbolism given its timing: on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, which began the occupation of the West Bank by Israel.
Samira held up a large necklace her daughter brought her from Al Aqsa Mosque, and placed it around her neck. She was still trying to understand what had happened.
"She left the house to go to school, but she never got there. We heard reports someone had been killed on the news, then the video came out and I recognised her clothes, but I couldn't make out her face. Then a while later, we spoke to the authorities and realised it was Nouf."
Nouf was the second youngest of five daughters. A quiet and warm girl, small in size for a 14-year-old, who never went to parties and encouraged her family members to pray at the mosque each night. She also had five brothers, two who spent years in Israeli jails, as did three of her male cousins. Yet Nouf was the first in the family to die at the hands of Israeli forces. She was not the first in the village to be killed by the occupation.
Sitting less than 10 kilometres from the Separation Wall, Ya'bad has been in the crosshairs of every major event in the region's history. In 1967 the town was the site of a famous battle, and lost seven of its residents when Israeli soldiers crossed into the West Bank for the first time. In 1988, during the First Intifada, six young men were killed in clashes with Israeli forces, the youngest of them also 14 years old. Another, a 23-year-old, was run over by an IDF vehicle. At the height of the Second Intifada in 2000, two brothers, aged 18 and 22, were shot in the head with Israeli assault rifles.
Ever since then, it has repeatedly been the target of IDF military drills, settler attacks and state-sanctioned housing demolitions as its neighbouring settlements continue to expand.
The day Nouf died was a day the people of Ya'bad remembered their lost boys, but it was losing a girl that would send them to the edge.
An ambulance carrying Nouf's body drove from central Israel across a military checkpoint and over an hour's stretch of road to reach her home. On its way to the village, it crossed a turnoff leading to the Mevo Dotan gates, just a few hundred metres away and within eyeshot of nearly everyone in Ya'bad. The settlement was built in the 1970s on land that still belonged to some of the villagers, and its presence loomed in everyone's minds. Two years ago, a group of Israeli settlers blocked the road leading into Ya'bad, and pelted a taxi driver with rocks when he tried to enter. Today, the ambulance arrived without opposition.
On the main street a procession of young men waited for the vehicle, all wearing Palestinian keffiyeh and holding flags that either read "Islamic Jihad" or "The Democratic Movement To Free Palestine". They unloaded the body, dressed in a large Palestinian flag, and passed it to her brothers, who lifted their sister over their shoulders and lead the march. The town was a powder keg ready to blow.
Within minutes the streets were filled with hundreds of men surging in behind the crowd, picking up on the chants they knew by heart. They chanted against the occupation, against Zionism, against the Arab leaders, against the settlers just a kilometre away. They clapped their hands in the air and pledged Nouf's life would be avenged. They pledged Palestine would be free, and that they would do the impossible to make it happen.
Four men in camo gear and balaclavas waited for the right time to make an entrance, holding up assault rifles and firing into the air. They waded through the marchers until the cracks from their shots ricocheted from the concrete buildings and goaded the crowd. Several people frowned at their presence but the march went on regardless.
As the men navigated through the innards of the village and returned to Nouf's home, a chorus of women erupted from inside, with Samira Osman at its head. Her daughter's necklace raised in a fist, she led the mourners out to join the march. Her husband attempted to calm her but it was pointless. The day's heat was turning every emotion into anger.
"She's just a small child, and everyone watched her dying on television. She was crying. She was still fasting," said Samira.
"They could have stopped her or fired tear gas at her, but they didn't, because they're cowards."
When the call to prayer finally sounded, the procession filed into the town mosque. In the sudden cool they laid the body down at the front by the imam, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder for the midday prayer, followed by prayers for the deceased. The hum of two dozen ceiling fans was the only sound, a catharsis for the young emotionally spent and overcome. When the prayer was over, they walked in silence from the mosque to the cemetery.
Iqab Enfeat stood solemnly and calmly over the grave of his daughter, instructing others to hand him stones to place over his daughter's body before her grave could be filled with dirt. One at a time, his sons broke down. First his youngest, falling to the ground in a heap of tears, held up by a neighbour who urged him to be strong. Then one of his eldest – who led the march and carried his sister's body to the mosque, and then to the cemetery, and was the first inside the grave to lower her in – passed out from heat and exhaustion. His body was carried out from the crowd, while his father continued the work.
"Nouf was a gentle girl," said Iqab, his voice torn.
"She worked hard at school, and never had any trouble with anyone, not her friends, not her community. She had a kind relationship with everyone around her."
He described his daughter as a martyr for Palestine and for the whole Arab world; the same world that was watching sons and daughters snatched from the arms of parents like himself.
A representative of Islamic Jihad spoke through a megaphone to the crowd at the burial site. His square glasses and button-up shirt a stark contrast to the armed young men, now nowhere to be seen.
"No one can say Nouf went to commit suicide. Her death is at the hands of the occupation, and no one else's. They fired fourteen shots into her body. The soldiers could have easily arrested her, but they enjoyed killing her. We all watched as they mocked her as she lay dying."
When the town had all taken turns hugging the family members and left, Iqab stood over the grave surrounded by all five of his sons. Without saying a word they all stared into the dirt, then held their hands up to pray.
There were no more marches that day. No more gunfire. Ya'bad had lost its first child to the occupation, but the real toll was a sinking realisation that nothing had changed. Pictures of Nouf would be plastered over images of young prisoners across the walls of the town. Women would dress in black for days. The sun would continue to choke the streets, and no one had yet broken their fasts.