‘What harm could a firework do?’ Family of boy killed by Israeli police want justice

<span>Ali and Rawiya, Rami's parents, in their house in Shuafat refugee camp, hold a photo of their son Rami.</span><span>Photograph: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian</span>
Ali and Rawiya, Rami's parents, in their house in Shuafat refugee camp, hold a photo of their son Rami.Photograph: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Rami Halhouli had just lit a firework in East Jerusalem to celebrate the end of another day of Ramadan when his life was cut short.

As the 12-year-old hoisted the firework in the air, he was shot in the chest by Israeli police standing on a watchtower overlooking Shuafat refugee camp. Rami fell to the ground as the firework exploded and painted the night sky with a flash of red stars.

Israeli police said the firework was directed toward its forces and endangered them.

“He was just a little boy,” Rami’s father, Ali Halhouli, 61, said in an interview. “The watchtower was only 50 metres away. What harm could a firework possibly do? Why did they need to shoot him, aiming at his chest?”

In the aftermath of Rami’s death on 12 March a video of his last moments went viral.

Human rights activists have said the death shines a light on the sharp rise in the number of unjust killings of Palestinian children by Israeli forces since the Hamas attacks of 7 October.

Rami’s family think invoking the Gaza war is a distraction.

“My son would have been killed even if there was no war going on,” Halhouli said. “Because that’s how the Israeli military and police operate. It’s certainly not the first time this has happened.”

The video clip, filmed on a mobile phone by one of Rami’s friends, shows Rami, his brother, and four friends lighting fireworks. The boys are joking and laughing.

“I could hear them outside playing as they used to do every day,” Halhouli said. “Then I heard the sound of a bullet exploding. It wasn’t the noise of fireworks. Immediately I heard the screams of the boys. I rushed outside to see what had happened. I found my son Rami on the ground, his body lifeless. I thought he had been hit with a plastic bullet, because there was no blood. When I lifted his shirt, I saw he had a hole in his chest.”

Halhouli said he rushed his son to a medical facility in Shuafat and then arranged for an ambulance to take him to Hadassah hospital, where doctors determined that a bullet had stopped his heart.

“A doctor told me that the bullet that killed my son was not just any bullet, but one of those that explode after penetrating the victim’s body,” he said. “They told me I had some time to be with him before the police took his body away. I covered him with a blanket and lay down next to him, my head close to his.”

But two hours later, a police officer ordered Halhouli to move away from the body and leave the hospital. Halhouli said he tried to demand an explanation for the order but was pushed against a wall and forced to leave the building. Rami’s body was transferred to an Israeli forensic institute for an autopsy and returned to the family a week later. Israeli authorities ordered that the funeral be held with no more than 40 people in attendance.

Israeli police have acknowledged that they shot Rami, saying their forces returned fire after fireworks were launched at the watchtower. Police also said there had been reports of Palestinian protesters from the camp throwing molotov cocktails through the night on 11 and 12 March.

Video of the incident shows Rami pointing the firework in the rough direction of the watchtower, but not directly at it.

Makhash, the Israeli justice ministry unit responsible for investigating police actions, told the Associated Press that an investigation into the shooting was taking place.

In a Telegram post shortly after the shooting, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the ultra-nationalist minister for national security, hailed the officer who fired at Rami. “I salute the soldier who killed the terrorist who tried to shoot fireworks at him and the troops – this is exactly how you should act against terrorists – with determination and precision,” Ben-Gvir said.

“My son a terrorist? He was just a little child,” Rami’s mother, Rawiya, said this week as she embraced a photo of her son.

“He was a happy child. I still can’t believe he’s gone. I can’t believe he’s dead. Sometimes I turn around in the room, and I feel like he should appear. I haven’t got used to the idea that he’s not here any more. I want to meet this soldier and ask him: Why did you do it? Why did you shoot?”

According to the Palestinian health ministry, about 444 Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been killed by Israeli fire since 7 October. At least 112 were children.

Although police officers and soldiers on active duty seldom face prosecution for the deaths of Palestinians, Rami’s parents said they were prepared to report the shooting to the authorities and take the Israeli police to court.

“We will not give up,” Halhouli said. “I owe it to my son. I will not have peace for the rest of my life until justice be done.”