An Autistic Teen Was Killed by Israeli Soldiers. Her Mother Found Out Only a Day Later

15-year-old Fulla al-Masalmeh was riding in a car driven by 26-year-old Anas Hassouna, who, according to the army, sped up toward soldiers who then opened fire killing Masalmeh and wounding Hassouna. Al-Masalmeh’s family only found out about her death the next day, while Hassouna was released from custody a few days later

Before Fulla al-Masalmeh, a 15 year-old autistic girl from the West Bank town of El Bireh, was shot to death by IDF soldiers about two weeks ago, she was missing for hours.

Masalmeh was shot while riding in a car driven by a 26-year-old Palestinian, Anas Hassouna. According to the army, the driver sped up toward the soldiers and in response, they opened fire at the vehicle.

Hassouna, who was also wounded in the incident, was arrested. He denied that he had sped up toward the soldiers, and was released from custody a few days later, when the army could not conclude that he intended to perpetrate a terror attack.

According to the army spokesman, the Military Advocate General has ordered the Military Police to examine the incident to determine whether to launch an investigation.

The Masalmeh family told Haaretz that on the night Fulla was killed, her mother woke up at about midnight and realized she was not in the house. Fulla’s older sister Dalia told Haaretz that earlier that evening her mother had locked the door and hidden the key because she feared that Fulla, who was autistic, would leave the house without supervision, as she had done before.

According to the sister, on previous occasions the mother had turned to the Palestinian Police when Fulla went missing, but this time she did not – because previous approaches had not helped. In any case, the family did not know where she was for several hours. Only the next afternoon did the family find out that she had been killed. “My mother didn’t want her to leave the house; she doesn’t know the difference between day and night,” her sister Dalia told Haaretz last week.

The family is not sure how Fulla came to be in Hassouna’s car. Hassouna, who lives in the West Bank village of Bituniya west of Ramallah, told Haaretz last week that he saw Fulla standing by the side of the road and motioning him to stop. “I was on my way home at 3 A.M. after some time out. I saw her in the street. I didn’t even know her name. She said she was from El Bireh and she wanted to go home.” Hassouna added that his plan was to driver to home to nearby El Bireh.

Masalmeh and Hassouna were shot around 3 A.M. in Bituniya. According to the army, soldiers conducting an operation in the town spotted Hassouna’s car and motioned him to stop. The soldiers said the car stopped for a few seconds and then sped toward them, and they responded by opening fire. Hassouna said he had not sped up, and was driving slowly because he was in a residential area. “I didn’t see the army, nobody motioned me to stop and the shooting surprised me,” Why did this happen? Why did they shoot me?” he said. 

An eye witness who spoke with Haaretz on the day of the incident supports Hassouna’s account. According to the witness, the car Hassouna was driving was heading toward the IDF jeep at 20 or 30 kilometers an hour because of speed bumps in the street at that point. The witness said the soldiers who were in front of the car stared shooting, and then other groups of soldiers who were standing nearby and behind the car also started shooting.

The IDF also claims that it found traces of alcohol in Hassouna’s blood, but Hassouna denies drinking that night.

Fulla lived in El Bireh, near Ramallah in the northern West Bank with her mother and sisters. According to her sister Dalia, Fulla did not go to school and there are two other autistic children in the family. Dalia said Fulla had left the house a number of times in the past but she always came back. “We don’t understand why something like this happened to us,” she said.

Dalia also said that the family lives in an industrial zone far from other homes and none of the girls drives. And so they couldn’t leave to look for Fulla or ask for help from neighbors. This may be the reason that the Palestinian authorities did not correctly identify Fulla and the Palestinian media reported the name of a different woman. Only later was Fulla identified and the family was informed.

The army responded: “The preliminary examination shows that an IDF force that was operating in Bituniya identified a suspicious car moving toward them and ordered the car to stop. The car stopped for a few seconds, and then sped up to the soldiers, who responded by opening fire. After the incident, it was found that the driver was under the influence of alcohol. Following the incident, the Military Advocate General ordered a preliminary examination by the Military Police.”