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A Palestinian-American family finds itself amid a spike of violence in the West Bank

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

An American Palestinian family moved to the Israeli-occupied West Bank last summer. But a few months later, Israel was attacked by militants from the Gaza Strip, killing 1,200 people. That touched off a war in Gaza that, according to the Gaza ministry of health, has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians. And now the family finds itself amid a spike in violence in the West Bank. NPR's Aya Batrawy has their story.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Tawfic Abdel-Jabbar Ajaq was 17 years old and the oldest of five. He was also Umm Tawfic's firstborn.

UMM TAWFIC: He was - he's the kind of person - he's like to be joking around, messing around. He doesn't know how to sit quiet. Now the house is so quiet. Who's going to mess with me now, ya habiby? Who's going to mess with me now?

BATRAWY: Ajaq moved with his family to this hillside town of Mazara's al-Sharqiya from Louisiana, where he grew up, to build bonds with his cousins and the land.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS CRUNCHING)

BATRAWY: Seven months later, his mom is at his grave.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: The cemetery's nestled among the green valleys of the West Bank, which are dotted by Palestinian towns surrounded by expanding Jewish settlements and checkpoints. Ajaq was driving through these hills to barbecue with friends on Friday. What happened next is unclear, but his friends and people in town say he was shot in the head by a settler on the road. Israeli police say they're investigating reports of an off-duty officer and an Israeli civilian shot at a Palestinian throwing rocks, and that an Israeli soldier was also in the area.

FAWZI OMAR: He got killed cold-blooded.

BATRAWY: The town of Masada's al-Sharqiya is teeming with Palestinian American youth - like 18-year-old Fawzi Omar, who's at Ajaq's funeral.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: They used to play football together with other American boys in town, who have more freedom than the Palestinian boys who live here to move around the West Bank. But no one's safety is guaranteed. Omar says it feels scary here right now. He wants to move back to the U.S. for college, but he wants to have a family and raise kids here, on this land.

OMAR: We're not going to give them what they want. We're going to live here, we're going to stay here - generation, generation. We're going to live here forever. They can't kick us out.

BATRAWY: Ajaq's mom says she was sure he'd get bored and want to go back to Louisiana, but because of how much he loved it here, she has no regrets about moving.

And now he's buried in his land.

TAWFIC: He's buried forever here. His land loved him more than me.

BATRAWY: She mourns him...

TAWFIC: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: ...Entering the ranks of countless other moms who've buried their children in this land.

Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Mazara's al-Sharqiya, West Bank. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.