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

Hebron, Occupied West Bank – Suleiman al-Hathaleen, 73, never retreated to fight Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank in Masafer Yattan, Hebron.

Wearing long, gray hair with a white cloth and a wooden stick in one hand, Suleiman often saw Israeli bulldozers demolish Palestinian houses or prevent tractors from destroying Palestinian land.

Even though he did not read, write, or use the Internet, Suleiman, known as the local “Sheikh” or “Hajj” Suleiman, was well connected.

On January 17, about 15,000 Palestinians went to his funeral in Umm al-Khair, his hometown in the northern town of Masafer Yatta, two weeks after he was attacked by an Israeli tow truck.

Suleiman’s 60-year-old brother, Ibrahim, said his participation in the funeral was unprecedented for Masafer Yatta.

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

Mourning goes to Suleiman Hathaleen’s funeral procession on January 18 in Umm al Khair. [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

About 7,000 Palestinians live there, and the Palestinian community of Masafer Yatta is at the forefront of the struggle for survival among Israel’s efforts to expropriate them, including refusing to connect to water and electricity networks.

“She is OK [Suleiman] it would be at the forefront with the young people behind it, ”Ibrahim recalled, describing him as an influential icon and mobilizer of the Palestinian street. “It would lie on the ground to prevent military vehicles from moving to demolish Palestinian homes.”

Suleiman was seriously injured on January 5 when he was hit by an Israeli tow truck in Umm al-Khair in an attack to seize Palestinian vehicles unregistered in dozens of Israeli army jeeps.

The truck “overturned and dragged his body several meters without stopping.” according to Statement by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Rights (UNOCHA).

Israeli forces fired shots to disperse the crowd protesting the attack, and quickly fled the village, leaving a bloodied body on the ground. As there was no ambulance service in the village, he was taken in a private car to the nearest medical clinic, 15 kilometers (9 miles) away.

He died after spending 12 days in a hospital in Hebron.

Carmelite settlement Masafer YattanMuntaser, Suleiman’s 34-year-old son, described his father as “at the forefront of anti-occupation protests.” [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

Families who believe the goring was intentional are facing a lawsuit against Israeli truck driver and police for failing to provide treatment.

More than two weeks later, Israeli police have not yet questioned the Israeli truck driver. Ertzaintza says they are investigating the incident with contributions from the State Prosecutor’s Office, according to Israeli media.

According to UNOCHA, Suleiman “has been protesting peacefully on the road” and “would be clearly seen by both the truck driver and the truck driver. [Israeli] He added that there was no indication that he had been assisted by Israeli forces, who had “left the area immediately after the incident”.

Information Room

Suleiman has left three brothers, seven sons and three daughters and nearly 30 grandchildren. He mobilized a group of them to inform them of the planned protests, setting up a “room for gathering information”.

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

“I was busy gathering dates and places for protests everywhere. I woke up early in the morning, bringing all the details with me, ”he told Al Jazeera.

“Sometimes I would hide my protest dates because I was worried about my health, seeing my old age, but when I found out that I was very angry, I had to stop,” he continued.

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

Carmelite settlement Masafer YattanThe community is home to about 1,000 people, 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 the new home of Suleiman after he and his parents and his younger brother were forcibly relocated from the village of Arad in the desert of Naqab (Negev) by Zionist militia when it was formed in the 1948 war. State of Israel.

In the 1980s, the Israeli army began to build an illegal settlement around Carmel at the expense of Umm al-Khair’s land, starting another family struggle.

Like other Palestinian communities in Masafer Yatta, Umm al-Khair lacks basic necessities such as electricity, water, infrastructure, education and health facilities, and prevents residents from building sustainable housing, forcing them to live in tin huts and tents.

Meanwhile, the Carmelite settlement is a green oasis full of playgrounds and parks, and an electrically operated chicken farm.

Suleiman’s house is only three feet (10 feet) from the settlement. He has been the victim of dozens of attacks by settlers backed by the occupation army and police.

There have been more than 15 demolitions in Umm al-Khair in recent years.

Carmelite settlement Masafer YattanMasafer Yatta’s illegal Carmelite settlement was built on the land of Umm al-Khair [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

“If we don’t fight, who will?”

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

Together with several residents of the village, a Protection and Resilience Committee was set up at Masafer Yatta to deal with Israeli policies of systematic displacement against Palestinian residents.

Al-Amour said he had “documented the demolition of Palestinian houses” by the commission’s cameras, “revealing the practices and crimes committed by the occupation forces against Palestinian residents, forming a deterrent to attacks by local settlers.”

“Every step we took was our backbone,” al-Amour told Al Jazeera, noting that Suleiman had called a day before the race for Israeli forces to organize an event in the village of Umm Zaytouna where houses were demolished.

“If we don’t resist, who will?” al-Amour recalled that Suleiman often said.

Carmelite settlement Masafer YattanIsraeli authorities are developing a Carmelite settlement to the detriment of Palestinian communities like Umm al-Khair [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

“Sheikh Suleiman was not only involved in the Masafer Yacht events, he was inside and outside every protest. [Hebron] the governor, from the far south to the far north, ”al-Amour explained.

According to him, Suleiman “woke up early in the morning on protest days and was the first to arrive. He did not eat or drink until the end of the ceremony, saying, “I have given my day to God and to the country, and it will remain for God and the people.”

“In 2021 alone, Sheikh Suleiman was arrested more than 60 times and fined dozens of times,” al-Amour said.

“The Israeli army targeted Sheikh Suleiman at the beginning of the protests or the demolition of Israel. They would be taken to a place where they would not be arrested, beaten or released until the end of the event or demolition, because they knew he was behind the protests, ”he continued.

“The Sheikh was a peaceful resistance against the occupation forces. He didn’t use a stick or a stone. “

Ibrahim described his late brother Suleiman as “obstructing one of their obstacles [Israel’s] Palestinian relocation policies, ”have now been removed from the scene.

However, he proudly recalls that Suleiman and his friends “showed the world in the clearest way the horrific crimes against the Palestinian people.”

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