Palestinian families speak out over rise in killings, violence in West Bank


(NEW YORK) — Tawfic Abdel Jawwad went to spend a year with his family in the West Bank after he finished high school in New Orleans, where he was born and raised.

Tawfic, 17, was enjoying connecting to his roots and spending time with his cousins, the teen’s father, Hafez Abduljabbar, told ABC News.

But now he says his son is a martyr.

Abduljabbar claims Tawfic was driving to a picnic last month with a friend when he was killed on a hillside road in what Abduljabbar called an ambush.

He claimed that eyewitnesses told him, “They shot him and executed him from a very short distance. He didn’t see them. He didn’t see them coming. He didn’t see them hiding. They just came out of the trees and just saw shooting.”

The teen’s death, which is still under investigation, is among the many killings that Palestinians and international groups say are part of the growing violence and threats inflicted by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

And while the U.S. has recently taken action with sanctions against accused settlers, Palestinians in the area said they are afraid that they are still going to be targeted.

The circumstances of Tawfic’s death remain unclear.

When asked about the incident by ABC News, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement, “A report of an off-duty police officer and a civilian who shot at a Palestinian, suspected of throwing stones in the area of Mazra a-Sharqiya was received on Friday, January 19, 2024. An off-duty IDF soldier was also present at the point. The Israel Police is reviewing the incident, in which the police investigation unit is cooperating with the military criminal investigation division (CID)”

Abduljabbar rejected the IDF’s claims that Tawfic was throwing stones, contending that his son could not have been throwing rocks while the car was moving. He said that when he went to get his son from the scene, IDF soldiers were there pointing guns at him.

“They scarred my family like that,” Abduljabbar said.

The Israel police have opened what they described as “a comprehensive investigation” into the incident,” and the U.S. State Department said that it hopes and expects “that the investigation will be conducted expeditiously.”

“We are eager to hear and learn of the findings,” the agency said in a statement.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, the United Nations has documented more than 500 incidents against Palestinians and violence by settlers has surged.

One of the most serious cases was an attack in the village of Qusra on Oct. 11.

Ibrahim al-Wadi and his son Ahmed had been in a funeral procession for four other Palestinians allegedly killed by armed settlers a day earlier. The father and son were set upon and shot to death in their car, according to witnesses.

The IDF says the incident remains “under review” and is still under “active investigation” by Israeli border police.

Abdel Hafez, al-Wadi’s brother, told ABC News that he was in the procession during the assault and was lost in the commotion following the attack.

“We found our friends there, and my brother and his son martyred, then we moved them. We were with four martyrs then became six,” Hafez said.

He added that the humiliation that came after the deaths has been unbearable for this family.

Video cameras outside Hafez’s home filmed Israeli soldiers tearing down posters that commemorated his brother and nephew.

The IDF would not comment on this specific issue, but said in a statement, “The video sent by ABC shows a soldier taking something off the wall. That is not enough information for the IDF to respond.”

Hafez said he does feel some hope given recent actions by the U.S. in response to the violence.

On Feb. 1, President Joe Biden issued sanctions to four Israeli settlers accused of inciting violence or being involved in attacks on Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized the sanctions and defended the settlers.

These initial sanctions are not related to the murders of Tawfic or Ibrahim al-Wadi and his son.

One of the Israelis sanctioned is Yinon Levi, who has been accused by the U.S. of creating an atmosphere of fear in the West Bank.

Levi and other settlers at Meitarim farm have repeatedly attacked Palestinian and Bedouin civilians and threatened them with additional violence if they don’t leave their homes, according to the State Department.

Yinon Levi and his wife Sapir denied the accusations in an interview with ABC News.

“We are here and we have to defend ourselves and nothing more,” Sapir Levi told ABC News’ James Longman.

However, ABC News obtained videos from April 2022 and March 2023 of Yinon Levi with his dog discouraging Arabs and activists from herding sheep in the area. In another video from October 2023, Yinon Levi is seen getting off a bulldozer with a weapon, threatening Arab civilians.

Yinon Levi sent a statement to ABC News in response to the videos, claiming, “This is exactly what I explained. Anarchists come to our territory and do provocations. They disturb the soldiers, they attack us, the dog and the sheep on purpose and document it for provocation.”

When asked if they think their presence in the West Bank would create a hurdle to a two-state solution, Sapir Levi contended that Jews in the country have no choice.

“We all saw what happened when we didn’t have a country. So we don’t have another option. We need to live in this country and we don’t have another place to go,” she said.

However, when told about Tawfic’s murder, Yinon Levi acknowledged that he would be angry, just like the boy’s family, if he were in their situation.

“I don’t know what I would do, but obviously there is anger over such a thing,” he said. “But this is not the reality here.”


Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.