Early Monday morning, Israeli forces detained a teenage Palestinian boy who has been missing part of his skull since December, when he was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier during a protest against the occupation of his West Bank village.
The boy, Mohammed Tamimi, 15, was one of 10 Palestinian residents of the village of Nabi Saleh arrested in a pre-dawn raid. Tamimi’s 17-year-old cousin, Ahed, has been in an Israeli military prison since December, when she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier outside her family home about an hour after Mohammed was shot.
Mohammed was arrested in the middle of the night and taken away for interrogation, despite the fact that his medical condition has been widely reported on in the Israeli press, and his head remains badly deformed.
Following a wave of criticism from Israeli rights activists, Mohammed was released on Monday afternoon, according to Gaby Lasky, an Israeli lawyer who is defending his cousin Ahed.
The mystery as to why Israel would inflict such an obvious blow to its own image, by arresting a boy with severe head trauma, was resolved late Monday night in a Facebook post from Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the senior Israeli official who oversees the military rule of Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank. Mordechai revealed that during Mohammed’s interrogation by the military on Monday, without the presence of a parent or lawyer, the boy had “confessed” that “he was injured while he was riding his bicycle and fell off it.”
Mordechai, head of Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, insisted that previously uncontested eyewitness reports in the Israeli, Palestinian, and international media reporting that Mohammed had fallen to the ground after being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier were “fake news,” and accused the Tamimi family of “a culture of lies and incitement.” An Arabic-language version of the post included a screenshot of a report on the boy’s injury stamped with the words “fake news.”
“Israel arrested an injured, post-traumatic 15-year-old in the middle of the night and got him to lie out of fear of being sent to prison in his condition,” the Tamimi family said in a statement.
To debunk the Israeli claim, the family also released Mohammed’s medical records, showing that he had undergone emergency surgery to remove a rubber-coated steel bullet from the left side of his head on the day he was shot in December. Images of the bullet, in a CAT scan of Mohammed’s brain before surgery, and after it was removed, were published by Israeli journalists.
Sarit Michaeli, an activist with the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which documents the occupation, shared some of the medical records online and called the Israeli military’s attempt to deny reality “Orwellian.”
What's stunning about @cogat_israel claim that Muhammad Tamimi "fell off his bike" (not shot in the face) is not how big a lie it is: we've seen Orwellian lies before (Beitunia 2014). But such easily debunked lies show the only target audience is Israeli right. pic.twitter.com/vr19yfz7wY— Sarit Michaeli (@saritm0) February 27, 2018
The Tamimi family statement also noted that this attempt to deny that Mohammed had been shot by an Israeli soldier followed a bizarre claim from another senior Israeli official, who argued that Ahed and her cousins were unrelated actors only pretending to be oppressed by Israel.
“What began with a far-fetched attempt to claim that we are not a real family at all has now moved to the denial of documented reality,” the Tamimis said.
After his release, Mohammed confirmed to a reporter for Agence France-Presse, Joe Dyke, that he did tell Israeli interrogators — who accused him of taking part in the December protest they described as a “violent riot” — that his head injury was caused by falling from his bike.
Israeli army today claimed 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi's misshapen skull was result of a bike accident, rather than being shot at a protest. He confirmed to me that he told the army this after arrest in middle of night, but said he lied to avoid jail for protesting @afp pic.twitter.com/Urn0ZIG4tQ— Joe (@joedyke) February 27, 2018
In a video interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in January, Mohammed had explained that the injury to his skull meant that he would be unable to attend school or leave his house for up to six months.
In testimony to an Israeli military court in December, then-16-year-old Ahed Tamimi reportedly said that she thought that the soldier she had slapped had also been responsible for shooting her cousin. “I saw the same soldiers who hit my cousin, this time in front of my house,” she testified. “I could not keep quiet and I responded as I did.”
As the Israeli columnist Gideon Levy reported, the boy had spent three months in an Israeli military prison last year, when he was 14, after being accused of throwing rocks at an Israeli army jeep that had broken down near the entrance to the village.
According to Bassem Tamimi, Ahed’s father and the organizer of Nabi Saleh’s weekly demonstrations against the occupation, Mohammed’s health remains fragile as he waits for cranial reconstruction surgery scheduled for next week.
Another member of the extended Tamimi family in Nabi Saleh, Bilal, recorded video during the overnight raid on the village, which showed the occupation forces spraying parts of the town with foul-smelling liquid intended to be used to disperse crowds.
According to Haggai Matar, an Israeli journalist who reports for the Tel Aviv digital magazine +972, the liquid known locally as “the skunk” is very difficult to wash off and can leave a repulsive scent on objects for months.
As Haaretz reported, Ahed Tamimi’s trial in an Israeli military court began last week with a decision by the judge to close it off from reporters and diplomats.
On December 1, two weeks before Ahed Tamimi was arrested, Israel was holding 313 Palestinian minors as security detainees or prisoners, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that monitors Israel’s military rule over Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories.
As the rights group Defense for Children International reported last week, Israeli military courts convict over 99 percent of Palestinian detainees, but have frequently been accused of accepting what former prisoners say were false confessions they were bullied into making.
The arrest and prosecution of Ahed Tamimi, for the slap she says was motivated by anger over the shooting of her cousin Mohammed, has created a public relations crisis for Israel, since it has been widely condemned internationally, including by prominent entertainers like the American comedian Sarah Silverman.
Update: Tuesday, Feb. 27, 5:54 a.m. EST
The headline and text of this post were updated to report the Israeli military’s new claim that Mohammed Tamimi was not shot by one of its soldiers during a demonstration in December. A response from his family was also added, along with his medical records.