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Palestinian boy killed by police in East Jerusalem

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This week Israeli border police shot and killed a 12-year-old Palestinian boy at a refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem. The boy's family said he was playing with friends just outside their home, which is near a checkpoint. Israel's Justice Ministry says it has opened an investigation into the shooting. It's the latest incident in growing violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. NPR's Fatma Tanis reports from Jerusalem.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: In one of the cramped apartment buildings at Shu'fat refugee camp, Rawia Hamdan is sitting in her living room surrounded by her daughters and grandkids. Her eyes dark and puffy, she points to a picture of Rami Hamdan, her youngest son.

RAWIA HAMDAN: (Through interpreter) He loved drinking Nescafe and eating toasted sandwiches. I used to bring it to him for breakfast as soon as he woke up. I spoiled him because he was the youngest. He was very attached to me, too.

TANIS: On Tuesday night, her son came home after the customary night prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and asked his parents for allowance money to buy sweets and fireworks. Nothing was out of the ordinary, his parents thought. Kids often light sparklers and fireworks as part of Ramadan celebrations.

R HAMDAN: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: Five minutes later, she heard screams. It was just a few meters away that her son was playing with his friends outside, an Israeli checkpoint tower nearby. His friend was filming a video as Hamdan lit a small firework rocket and pointed it at the sky when a shot rang and he fell to the ground. Moments later, the firework burst in the air. No police could be seen in the video. Here's his father, Ali Hamdan.

ALI HAMDAN: (Through interpreter) He is a child, only 12 years old. What could he have possibly done other than play around with his friends?

TANIS: In a statement, Israeli police said border police fired a single shot, quote, "at a suspect who endangered the forces after he fired fireworks at them." Israel's Justice Ministry said it was questioning the officer who shot Hamdan in the chest. Police are holding Hamdan's body for forensics, they told his family.

R HAMDAN: (Through interpreter) He never liked to be alone. He was always with his sisters or brothers or with me. I wish we could at least say goodbye and put him to rest. But he's in a freezer. It's cold. He's really cold.

TANIS: Ali Hamdan says the family are under strict instructions regarding funeral arrangements. He says the police had him sign a paper with a 20,000-shekel fine - that's almost $5,500 - if they didn't follow through.

A HAMDAN: (Through interpreter) We are not allowed to have people come to our house and give condolences. When they bring his body, only four people can go and pick him up, and we have to go straight to the cemetery, where only 20 people can be there for the burial.

DROR SADOT: Israel is always trying to prevent any kind of gathering of Palestinians.

TANIS: That's Dror Sadot, spokesperson for the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

SADOT: It's part of the control that Israel is implementing on the West Bank in East Jerusalem and that is being tightened since October 7.

TANIS: On Wednesday Israel's far-right minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who oversees the police force, praised the actions of the border officer who shot Rami Hamdan, calling him a hero, and blasted the investigation by the Justice Ministry. Israel's attorney general called on Ben-Gvir to stop interfering in the matter. Hamdan's father said Ben-Gvir's comments were another blow to the family. But Sadot with the Israeli rights group says what Ben-Gvir said brought to the surface a reality - that in the end, Israel will likely, quote, "whitewash" this police investigation like it has others in the past. Fatma Tanis, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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