The four-week war between Israel and Hamas may have been centered on Gaza, but it kind of started a few weeks earlier in the parched and dusty hills around Hebron in the West Bank.
After three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in June, Israeli forces focused their manhunt for the perpetrators there — an area known for having Hamas militants and sympathies. The Israelis rounded up hundreds of Palestinians they said were affiliated with Hamas, which they claim orchestrated the boys’ abduction and slaying.
VICE News spent a day in mid-July speaking to several Palestinians in Hebron who told us they were victims of collective punishment by Israel. Their family members, who they said had nothing to do with the murders or Hamas, had been detained, shot at, and in one case, killed. Several homes and businesses were damaged and destroyed.
Our final destination that day was the wreckage of a large white home. When we arrived, an old man was dragging boxes of cutlery, clothing, loose paper, and books from his driveway to the street. We shook hands and he brought me up a few flights of stairs that were blanketed in shattered glass to the top floor, where a wall had been blown right out. The man didn’t have much to say; he just quietly pointed to where his wall used to be and said he expected the Israelis to soon finish the job.
His name was Sa’di al-Qawasmi. And after a brief chat, I wished him and his family well and said goodbye.
I thought that would be the end of it. But shortly after our visit, I read an Israeli news report that identified the name of one of the suspects in the killing of the three Israeli boys. Marwan al-Qawasmi. The same last name as the man we met, but also the name of a large and important clan in that area. A direct connection would be a long shot. But after a few phone calls, I confirmed that the man we met was the father of the suspect. Still, with so many hundreds of “suspects” rounded up in the wake of the murders, I didn’t read much more into our encounter.
'They’re not even telling me where they are. How am I going to see my sons?'
It wasn’t until Wednesday that I was able to connect the dots. That's when Israel’s justice ministry announced that it had arrested the suspected mastermind of the killings of the Israeli boys in July. His name is Husam al-Qawasmi — no direct relation to the man we met, but alleged in court papers to have directed Marwan al-Qawasmi and another man to kill the teens and hide their bodies.
After hearing this news, we called Sa’di al-Qawasmi to conduct the interview I would have done in person, had I known. The conversation was very brief. He told us he’s renting a home in Hebron while he waits for Israeli courts to decide if his home will be completely demolished.
The Israelis have said Marwan al-Qawasmi remains on the lam. But his father insists Marwan and two of his other sons have been detained by Israel for months — that’s his best explanation for why they didn’t come to see him during Ramadan.
“They’re not even telling me where they are,” he said. “How am I going to see my sons?”
Sa’di also denies his son had anything to do with Hamas or the murders. “The entire story is a lie,” he said.
It’s the job of a father to defend a son accused of murders that touched off a bloody four-week war. But it’s Israel’s burden to prove its case in a public trial, with evidence, that these three men committed the crime and did so on behalf of Hamas.
Until then, the truth behind the motivation for this war will remain about as clear as the dusty Hebron air.
VICE News' Yara Bishara contributed to this report.