Thousands of Palestinians march in mass funeral for slain imprisoned youth Raed Salhi

Thousands of Palestinians participated in a mass funeral on Saturday, 9 September for Raed Salhi, the Palestinian youth killed by Israeli occupation forces outside his home when they invaded Dheisheh refugee camp on 9 August in an “arrest raid.” They shot the unarmed youth nine times, left him to bleed in the streets of the camp and then imprisoned him under armed guard in the hospital for nearly a month until his death from his injuries on 3 September. The date of his funeral would have been Salhi’s 22nd birthday.

His body continued to be imprisoned by Israeli occupation forces until Karim Ajwa, Salhi’s lawyer who had been advocating for his release, filed an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court. Raed’s body was finally turned over to his family on Friday evening, 8 September, before the mass funeral on Saturday afternoon following noon prayers. The funeral was led by a group of Salhi’s young comrades from the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, carrying his body wrapped in a Palestinian flag and a PFLP banner, and all Palestinian political organizations – as well as masses of Palestinians – participated in the funeral.

His relatives, friends and comrades joined the massive procession from the Beit Jala Government Hospital to the family home in the camp to the boys’ school to the martyrs’ cemetery. The funeral was accompanied by a commercial and general strike in the city of Bethlehem which lasted until 3:00 pm. Salhi’s brother, Bassam, has also been imprisoned by occupation forces; they seized him in the camp one week after shooting Raed. He was ordered to four months in administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial.

The return of Salhi’s body was accompanied by the return of the body of Qutaiba Zahran, whose body had been held captive by the Israeli occupation since last month, when he was shot and killed by occupation forces at the Zaatara checkpoint south of Nablus, accused of attempting to stab occupation soldiers at the checkpoint. Qutaiba, 17, was also buried on Saturday in a funeral procession in Tulkarem.

When Salhi’s body was returned, it was met with hundreds of Palestinians who marched demanding justice and accountability for the assassination and extrajudicial killing of Salhi. Following Salhi’s funeral, intense protests broke out against occupation forces as Palestinian youth confronted occupation forces at checkpoints and military occupation sites around the city of Bethlehem.

Raed Salhi was remembered as a beloved and active member of his community. In an interview published in Middle East Eye, his brother Khaled spoke about both his love for animals and his political commitment. “Raed, whom his brother Khaled described as a cat lover who would rescue stray kittens from the street, much to his family’s displeasure, was described by several Dheisheh residents as loved by the community….Raed had also been a committed member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the main Palestinian leftist political party, since he was 15…and was imprisoned by Israel for around four months in 2014. ‘He was a good-hearted guy, he was always smiling and joking,’ Khaled said.”

“Raed was from one of the very poorest families in the camp… but he wanted to help the people as much as he could, and to educate them more,” said Naji Owdah, the director of Laylac Community Center in Dheisheh, to Middle East Eye.  Salhi was involved in a number of volunteer projects, including voluntary health days and a campaign to set up small libraries around the camp.

Salhi had been held under high security guard within Hadassah hospital, despite being unconscious and in a coma. His impoverished family members, including his mother, were denied family visits or the ability to see him, while his detention was extended several times by the Ofer military court as he lay in a coma, dying.

Before the raid in which Raed was fatally shot by invading occupation forces, he had been theatened by occupation forces, including the infamous “Captain Nidal,” the pseudonym used by the local Israeli occupation military official in charge of Dheisheh – specifically, that “Nidal” would “shoot [Raed] in front of [his] mother.”  Palestinian NGO Badil reported that Captain Nidal had threatened to “make all the youth of (Deheisha) camp disabled,” saying “I will have all of you walking with crutches and in wheelchairs.”