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Amr and his sister Samah recorded a video in spring from their home in Burin
By Fergal Keane
BBC News, West Bank

At the start of the video, Samah has her arm around her brother Amr.

Holding the phone up for the best view, she announces: “Hello and welcome to the most beautiful people. Today we are in the village and wanted to vlog the amazing vibes. We swear to God it’s amazing!”

Samah and Amr were filming themselves on a spring day. They walk around the garden of the family home. Amr is the less vocal of the two, happy for his younger sister to describe what they can see. In the background, their mother Salam is burning leaves and grass. The scene is emblematic of a close family that has lived in the same place for generations.

“It’s nice, and warm. Look, look,” says Samah. “The sun looks good, and the fire… and whatever you want you can do.”

Now Samah is in mourning for her brother. Only a year separated them.

Ten-year-old Amr was shot dead last Monday, 4 March, as he sat in the front passenger seat of his father’s minivan. His dad, Mohammed, and younger brother Ahmed saw the bullet smash through the windscreen and saw Amr fall sideways. Blood poured from his head. There was no surviving such a shot.

To understand the killing of Amr Najjar, it is necessary to know the times and place in which he lived. All the 10 years of his life, Amr lived in Burin as his parents and grandparents had. He was a diligent student and an easy-going child. But he grew up in a place at the heart of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

The village, in the north of the occupied West Bank, is overlooked by Jewish settlements – regarded as illegal under international law, an assertion Israel rejects.

At Amr’s funeral, his body was draped in the colours of different factions, including that of Hamas

Burin has long been a flashpoint, but since 7 October, when the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza began after Hamas gunmen launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, tensions across the West Bank have surged. According to the UN, more than 400 Palestinians have been killed – 107 of them children. The UN says 15 Israelis were killed.

In Burin, the threat of settler violence is relentless, say villagers. It has been condemned by the United States, which has recently imposed sanctions on several settler leaders for what it calls “intolerable violence”.

The villagers accuse the army of taking sides with the settlers and failing to protect them. Human rights groups in Israel and the West Bank allege a long pattern of violence enabled by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). The army denies this.

Amr Najjar’s mother, Salam, describes a life of constant vigilance that ultimately proved futile. “I don’t let my children out of the house fearing they’ll kill them, and I go get them from school so they don’t get killed. And then my child’s destiny was to get killed here in the town. As much as I tried to protect my child, he’s gone from me.”

On the day he died, Amr climbed into his dad’s minivan so that they could drive the short distance into Burin from the family home on the outskirts of the village. It was around 16:30, his father Mohammed recalls. Sunset was not for about another hour. They were to get some groceries and pick up a phone that was being repaired. The children needed it so that they could attend online classes on Microsoft Teams.

A bullet entered through the windscreen of the family’s van and killed Amr

The IDF told the BBC that there had been stone-throwing in the village as troops were carrying out a counter-terrorism operation. A local resident, Jemal Nejar, says it was quiet when the Najjars’ van drove into Burin and encountered a military patrol.

“[Amr’s father] noticed soldiers and sensed that something was going on. He didn’t move at all, and stopped the car with him and his children inside it… At the time, there was no one around, neither the townspeople nor young men. There were not even people throwing rocks.”

Amr’s father, Mohammed, remembers that as he was driving, he heard shots from the western part of the village, but he couldn’t tell “their exact location”. Then he says he “suddenly encountered” the army.

“And at that moment, they directly shot at us. Without any warning for me to stop or do anything… We were in the car when suddenly we encountered the soldiers who targeted us directly. They shot directly at us, so my son was killed immediately. He was not injured; he was immediately killed as he was shot in the head.”

All of this was witnessed by Amr’s brother Ahmed, aged seven. The video footage of the aftermath – blood pooled on the floor between the seats, spattered on the wall behind the seats – gives a glimpse into the traumatic experience of those who were present.

“I didn’t see the soldiers, but I saw their tank, and it had their flags on it,” Ahmed recalls.

“I was on the bus with them when Amr was shot. I got out of the bus and ran away. My dad helped me escape.”

The UN says a Palestinian man who tried to help Amr was also shot and wounded. He died in hospital two days later.

We asked the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to respond to the family’s claim that Amr had been shot despite posing no threat to the soldiers. They told us:

“During IDF counterterrorism activity in the town of Burin, a number of suspects hurled rocks at the soldiers, who responded with live fire. A short while after, a report was received regarding a Palestinian minor who had been injured. The circumstances of the incident are under review.”

Human rights groups in the West Bank and Israel say the military has a long history of using unnecessary lethal force.

The Israeli group B’Tselem told the BBC: “Since the beginning of the war in the Gaza Strip, Israel has continued to implement a lethal open-fire policy in the West Bank. Of the almost 400 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since 7 October, many did not pose a threat of the level that would justify the use of lethal force.”

The group says that “with rare exceptions that usually involve low-ranking soldiers, no one is brought to justice for the killing of Palestinians… [This] reflects Israel’s profound disregard for the lives and bodies of Palestinians.”

Amr Najjar (right) is seen with his siblings

The IDF says it has been responding to a surge in terrorist attacks since 7 October and that it “does not target non-combatants including children”, using lethal force only when all other options have been utilised. It also says the military complies with international law.

This statement is rejected by the director of the main human rights group focusing on Palestinian children. Dr Khaled Quzmar, of Defence for Children International, believes indictments by the International Criminal Court would act to change soldiers’ behaviour.

“Of course, they are protected by their government, and they live under full immunity… I’m not sure that all of them will stop, but at least I know that there will be something different than now. “

The family of Amr Najjar have no expectation of justice. Instead his father, Mohammed, talks of retribution. “They have occupied us, killed us and raped our land… there is no peace at all. We don’t think about it.”

At Amr’s funeral, he was covered in the colours of different factions, including Hamas, a child made into a symbol of the angry times in which he lived and died. Afterwards, his friends put up posters in Burin bearing his face. They are sad and angry children, a generation trapped in their place and time.

With additional reporting by Alaa Badarneh, Alice Doyard and Haneen Abdeen.

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