A day after the funeral of 4-year-old Ammar Hujayrat, the playground where he killed by a stray bullet was deserted. The red-and-white police tape fluttering in the wind bore witness to what had happened here on the western end of Bir al-Maksur, an Arab village in the Lower Galilee, some 48 hours earlier.

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In the parking lot next to the playground, local resident Yakub steps out of a white car. He walks to the fence at the edge of the park and leans on it, pointing.

“Do you see the stain over there? It’s his blood. All the other kids managed to run away, but he got caught in the crossfire,” he says. “There are no words that can describe the shock I’m feeling. These tragedies make you not want to go on with your life. It’s not only me, everyone in the village feels this way.”

As early as last Thursday evening (the day after the shooting), police detained eight men, all residents of Bir al-Maksur, and arrested four of them on charges of being complicit in the shooting. The shooters’ intent was apparently to damage a construction vehicle traveling on the road near the playground where the children were playing.

“All the other kids managed to run, but he got caught in the crossfire.” (Photo: Yahel Faraj)

“This is a shocking incident, of a toddler who was hit by gunfire from criminals who resort to lethal force very easily, with no respect for human life. It is a terrible tragedy,” the police statement said.

“The Northern District Police are working daily to get the weapons and criminals off the streets, and everything is being done to apprehend the shooters even during this painful time.”

The mourning compound for the men in the mosque was full of people coming to express their sympathy.

“People have come to pay their respects from all over the area, even Jews have come,” Khaled Hujayrat, head of the local council for the past three years, tells Davar.

“We are all in shock. The entire village is basically one family. Things like this don’t happen here,” says Muhammad, a relative on Hujayrat’s father’s side.

Ammar’s father, Muhammad, enters the prayer room and falls crying on the shoulders of some of the comforters.

“Ammar was the son he had been waiting for 14 years,” says the council chairman.

“They will not be accepted as heroes”

This past Sunday, children returned to the school after their winter break, and the local council helped them get back in routine.

“We had a meeting with welfare staff and decided to open the kindergartens and primary schools with on-site psychologists and social workers. The children [in Bir al-Maksur] are afraid to leave their houses, but we will there to provide support, until they feel safe enough,” Khaled Hujayrat explains.

“I set up a park so that the children would have a place to play. They played, and one of them was shot in front of his aunt’s eyes.” (Photo: Yahel Faraj)

“I set up this park so that the children would have a place to play together in the village,” Hujayrat continues. “The children played, and one of them was shot in front of his aunt’s eyes. They just pulled out an automatic weapon and shot it everywhere. These are murderers. They must go to jail.”

“We do not know who is behind the shooting, but we fully support the police in their efforts to solve this case,” Hujayrat says.

He explains that in his capacity as head of the local council, he will work with village leaders and public officials to keep the calm, along with supporting a zero-tolerance policy for anyone carrying weapons to prevent situations like these in places like schools.

“As a society, we need to identify and call out the young people who carry weapons and let them know that they have no place,” Hujayrat says. “A small handful have started in the last two or three years, and this cannot spread. They will not be accepted as heroes. We will not agree to such thing in Bir al-Maksur.”

A cycle of violence

Yakub continues to lean on the fence, and suddenly stands up and says: “Do not be afraid of it. It is the worst it can be. Anyone who is guilty will get what’s coming to them, and his family will too.”

Yakub explains that this event will trigger a cycle of retribution within the village, which is essentially one extended family. This is exactly what scares the police, and should shock all public leaders as well, according to him.

“Whoever fired should have taken that into account,” he says determinedly. When asked if that isn’t the job of the police now, he clarifies where the anger comes from: “It’s the job before it, not after it. It will not end.”

He says that in recent days, the young people in the village have not slept, and are patrolling the community in an attempt to protect it from those who committed the crime. He himself took leave from work until things are cleared up.

“A big family is a force. Whoever shoots a child like that, should have thought about it. We will do what is necessary,” he says.

Toddler Ammar Hujayrat is the first murdered person in the Arab community in 2022. According to the ABraham Initiatives Association, 126 Arab citizens were murdered in circumstances related to violence and crime in 2021.

This article was translated from Hebrew by Zak Newbart.