Palestinian teenager dreamt of being a chef before attack, teachers say
By Henriette Chacar
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - In the middle of last week, 13-year-old Palestinian Mahmoud Aleiwat was pressing his teachers for the school report he needed so he could go to a Jerusalem college to train as a chef.
Three days later, he was lying unconscious in hospital accused of opening fire at a group of Israeli passers-by in Jerusalem's Silwan district.
Two people were critically wounded and Aleiwat was shot and wounded by one of the group. Police have not publicly named a suspect but his lawyer said they accuse Aleiwat of opening fire and attempted murder, accusations his family rejects.
Police, who called the shooting a terrorist attack, have said it was carried out by a 13-year-old, prompting widespread shock and underlining fears of so-called "lone wolf" attacks by individuals with no links to political or militant groups.
People who knew Aleiwat are puzzled about what could have prompted him to carry out such an act.
Although he grew up in Silwan, a cauldron of Palestinian-Israeli tensions near Jerusalem's Old City, Aleiwat had not shown an interest in politics, teachers, relatives, and children from his area told Reuters.
They described a popular teenager with a strong personality, a passion for football and an ambition to be a chef.
"He was making a visible effort. Since the beginning of this term, he has aced three of his classes: social studies, mathematics and religion. That's why (the news) was so shocking for us," said Souhair Mikkawi, 57, his school principal.
She said days before the incident he had been pushing for his report so he could transfer to college, telling her: "Miss, please, I won't go home until I get my report card. If I miss the application deadline, I'll be devastated."
The Jan. 28 attack in Silwan is part of a recent surge of violence in Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The night before, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people near a synagogue in a part of Jerusalem annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. The previous day, an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Jenin killed 10 Palestinians including eight gunmen, the largest single-day death toll in what Palestinian officials had already declared as a bloody month.
TENSIONS OVER SILWAN
The lawyer Mahmoud said the parents and two brothers were detained after the attack. The parents and one of the brothers were subsequently released after questioning. The parents were barred from speaking to the media for 30 days, Mahmoud said.
"He did not carry out the attack," Mahmoud said. "The family says that he happened to be there and was shot at."
An Israeli police spokesperson said an investigation was ongoing, declining to give details.
Footage on social media appears to show a person firing a pistol at a group walking along a street before at least one fires back, apparently hitting the shooter. Reuters could not independently verify the video.
Silwan, where the incident occurred, has long been a site of tension between Israelis and Palestinians. It lies in the shadow of Jerusalem's walled Old City, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and annexed with other parts of East Jerusalem - a move not recognised internationally.
Israel deems the whole city its "eternal and indivisible" capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state made up of the West Bank and Gaza.
Many Jews believe the ancient City of David stood on the site of Silwan and Jewish settlers have bought properties there, which Palestinians see as part of a policy to drive them out.
About 600 settlers now live among 50,000 Palestinians in Silwan, according to Aviv Tatarsky at Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation that monitors Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.
Violence had flared in Silwan a few days before the Jan. 28 incident, when Wadi' Abu Ramuz, a 17-year-old Palestinian who lived on Aleiwat's street, was wounded during clashes with Israeli security forces. He later died.
Israeli police said explosives and fireworks had been hurled at police during rioting and an officer who sensed his life was in danger fired at and wounded two suspects. It said the suspects, who were not named, were found to have a flag of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza.
'I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS'
Abu Ramuz's mother, Hadeel, said her son did not participate in clashes but was shot when trying to drag a wounded friend to safety. She said three Palestinians were wounded.
Posters of Abu Ramuz with the logo of Fatah, the dominant Palestinian faction in the West Bank, were plastered to walls in Silwan when Reuters visited the neighbourhood this week.
Zaki Abbasi, Aleiwat's uncle, said he did not think his nephew knew Abu Ramuz well, noting their age difference.
Abbasi said the family had no links to Palestinian political movements and had not been looking for trouble, saying Aleiwat's older brother was preparing to get married.
After the Jan. 28 attack, Israeli forces took control of Aleiwat's family home and the government ordered it sealed. It marked a change of policy as Israel usually only orders such action after fatal attacks.
"I can't believe this is happening," Abbasi said about Aleiwat. "Young people see things on social media. No one knows what may have gotten to him."
Abbasi's two sons, close to Aleiwat's age, described their cousin as compassionate and said he played football after school most days, often taking a lead in organising teams.
Abbasi and other relatives said Aleiwat's family had for years feared their home would be demolished because it was built without the required Israeli permissions.
A Jerusalem municipality spokesperson said a demolition order was issued about 20 years ago over "building violations".
Last year, 10 houses in Silwan were demolished for illegal construction, the spokesperson said, adding demolition orders were regularly enforced across the city in line with the law and in coordination with police.
The Israeli group Ir Amim says 24 Palestinian structures were demolished in Silwan in 2022, while rights groups say building permits are almost impossible for Palestinians to secure in East Jerusalem.
Aleiwat's father, who works in a hotel washing dishes as one of two jobs he has to make ends meet, did not comment on politics to colleagues, said Mahmoud Mir'i, the hotel head chef.
The administrator at Aleiwat's school, Hayat al-Husseini, said the 13-year-old's passion was football.
"'I want to be like Messi', he would say. That's what he cared about. What happened, what went on in his head, we don't know."
(Writing by Henriette Chacar and Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair)