Father of American teen killed in West Bank by Israeli fire rails against US support for Israel

AL-MAZRA’A ASH-SHARQIYA, West Bank (AP) — The father of an American teen killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank railed against Washington’s military support for Israel, as hundreds of mourners buried the 17-year-old in the family’s ancestral Palestinian village Saturday.

The death of Tawfiq Ajaq on Friday drew an immediate expression of concern from the White House and a pledge from Israeli police to investigate.

It was the latest fatal shooting in the West Bank, where nearly 370 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza more than three months ago. The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed concern about violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in recent months.

During Saturday’s funeral, the teen’s father criticized the long-standing U.S. support for Israel. “They are killer machines,” he said of Israeli forces. “They are using our tax dollars in the U.S. to support the weapons to kill our own children.”

Tawfiq Ajaq was born and raised in Gretna, Louisiana, near New Orleans, relatives said. His parents brought him and his four siblings to the village of Al-Mazra’a Ash-Sharqiya last year so they could reconnect with Palestinian culture.

On Saturday, crowds of Palestinians pulsed through village streets, following men who held aloft a stretcher with the teen’s body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag.

Hafez Ajaq implored Americans to “see with their own eyes” the ongoing violence in the West Bank.

“The American society does not know the true story,” he said. “Come here on the ground and see what’s going on. … How many fathers and mothers have to say goodbye to their children? How many more?”

The circumstances of the shooting remained unclear.

Ajaq’s relative, Joe Abdel Qaki, said that Ajaq and a friend were having a barbecue in a village field when he was shot by Israeli fire, once in the head and once in the chest.

Abdel Qaki said he arrived at the field shortly after the shooting and helped transport Ajaq to an ambulance. He said Israeli forces briefly detained him and other Palestinians at the scene, asking for their IDs before the men could get to Ajaq.

He said Ajaq died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Israeli police said they received a report Friday regarding a “firearm discharge, ostensibly involving an off-duty law enforcement officer, a soldier and a civilian.” Police did not identify who fired the shot, though it said the shooting targeted people “purportedly engaged in rock-throwing activities along Highway 60,” the main north-south thoroughfare in the West Bank.

Al-Mazra’a Ash-Sharqiya is located just east of the highway.

Police said the incident would be investigated. Investigations of those involved in fatal shootings of Palestinians by Israel’s police and military have rarely yielded speedy results, and indictments are uncommon.

Asked about the shooting, U.S. national security spokesman John Kirby said that officials at the White House were “seriously concerned about these reports.”

“The information is scant at this time. We don’t have perfect context about exactly what happened here,” Kirby said. “We’re going to be in constant touch with counterparts in the region to — to get more information.”

Since Oct. 7, when Hamas staged its deadly attack on southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage, Israeli forces have clamped down on suspected militants in the West Bank, carrying out near nightly arrest raids.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says 369 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Oct. 7. Most of the Palestinians were killed during shootouts in the West Bank that the Israeli military says began during operations to arrest Palestinian gunmen. In several documented instances, Israeli forces and settlers have killed Palestinians who witnesses report were not engaged in violence.

The U.S. has given military and diplomatic support to Israel’s war on Hamas, but has urged Israel to scale back the intensity of its attacks. Nearly 25,000 Palestinians have been killed so far in Israel’s offensive, Gaza health officials said.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state.