Basil Al Aarej during a campaign against Israeli regime’s confiscation of Palestinian land in Ramallah. Image Credit: Supplied

Ramallah: Friends and relatives of Basil Al Aarej who was killed by the Israeli occupation forces in Ramallah on Monday remember him as a “very intellectual and unique fighter”.

“He was very intellectual, and since childhood he liked to read history books. His hobby was reading, and he was thorough with the Palestinian history and struggle movement since the British Mandate on Palestine,” Al Aarej’s cousin Mohammad Abu Ali told Gulf News.

Basil Al Aarej, 31, from Walajeh town in Bethlehem district, was killed in a hail of bullets from the Israeli troops who stormed his hideout in Ramallah after a two-hour gun battle. According to witnesses, the Israeli troops used explosives, and fired rocket at the corner where he took shelter. When he ran out of ammunition, the Israeli troops rushed in and shot him dead.

Mustafa Barghouthi, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, and lawmaker pilloried the Israeli assassination policy. “This is a systematic policy by the Israeli occupation forces that aims to deter the Palestinian fighters, and show that they have the upper hand over the West Bank cities, especially areas A, that is supposedly under full PNA security control.

“The continuing assassinations and leaving the injured to bleed to their death must be condemned by the international community,” he told Gulf News on Tuesday.

“I was at the house where Al Aarej was assassinated, and saw the huge quantity of bullets they fired against him. I believe they could have captured him alive after he ran out of ammunition, but they shot him and the neighbours confirmed to me that the soldiers were dragging him while he was bleeding,” Barghouti said.

Al Aarej was a pharmacist and political activist and had been living in Ramallah for the last few years. He was arrested along with several others in northern Ramallah by Palestinian security forces after their ID cards were found abandoned, and their families reported them missing. They were taken to a jail in Jericho where they were held for almost six months.

Al Aarej and his group were released in September last year after they went on hunger strike, protesting their detention. Shortly after that, all were arrested by Israeli armed forces, except for Al Aarej.

Before he went into hiding, Al Aarej was leading a campaign in occupied Bethlehem against the Israeli wall, colonies and confiscation of Palestinian lands.

Al Aarej lived close to Har Gilo Israeli colony, where he used to see the atrocities committed by Israeli soldiers and colonists. “Basil witnessed the daily ill-treatment by the Israeli soldiers and colonists on his town residents everyday, which deepened his anger against this occupation,” Ambassador Walid Abu Ali, a close relative of Al Aarej, said.

“Basil is a victim of state terrorism that is practised by Israel against our isolated people,” said Ambassador Abu Ali.

On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, while addressing the Security and External Affairs Committee at the Knesset, asked the Israeli army to open fire on Palestinians who threw rocks at them.

Palestinian and international organisations have documented dozens of extrajudicial killings committed by the occupation forces and colonists in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

Palestinians plan to use this documented evidence as proof of Israeli violence and aggression against unarmed Palestinian civilians.

Following his martyrdom, Israeli forces surrounded the family neighbourhood in Walajeh, and refused to return Al Aarej’s body to be buried, until the family agreed to their conditions. Another two Palestinian youths were injured in the clashes that took place around the house where Al Aarej was killed.

Nivine Sandouqa, ex-Oxfam employee who conducted projects at his town, told Gulf News that Al Aarej was very patriotic and wished fervently to see his homeland independent. “He was an activist who always comes up with new project ideas that serves his town. His mother was also a community activist,” Sandouqa confirmed.

Al Aarej’s close relative Ambassador Abu Ali described him as a role model for the Palestinian youth. Al Aarej, who graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy in Cairo, worked for three years in a pharmacy in Shuafat, on the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem. “We miss Basil. He loved his homeland,” Ambassador Abu Ali said.

Al Aarej was well-accepted in his community and enjoyed good relations with all. He was not religious, but “he was independent and an activist,” Mohammad Abu Ali said.

Al Aarej was the second of four children. He hoped to find a good job and help his father who was a mason.

With his murder, 285 Palestinians have been killed in intifada since October 2015.