Hilmi, 11, joins the band of martyrs

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The Independent Online
Eleven-year-old Hilmi Shawash was buried yesterday in the cemetery of Husan village near Bethlehem, 36 hours after a Jewish settler is said by Hilmi's family to have killed him with a kick to the neck as he came home from school.

"I was waiting for him to come home for lunch and we were going to go out and pick olives afterwards," said Aishi Mahmoud Shawash, Hilmi's grandmother, as she walked home from the funeral through pouring rain.

"The settlers say he was throwing stones, but that is no reason to kill an eleven-year-old boy."

As Hilmi's family returned to their home at the bottom of a narrow lane Israeli soldiers could be seen chasing protesters through an olive grove firing tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, stun grenades and live rounds. Clouds of gas drifted through the village and loudspeakers mounted on military Jeeps announced a curfew.

The man who is alleged to have kicked Hilmi to death is Nahum Korman, a Jewish settler in charge of security at the small nearby settlement of Hadar Betar, who is now in custody. Layla Shawash, a cousin of the dead boy, who lives in America, says Korman "continued to kick Hilmi after he had fallen to the ground".

Tahrid, an 11-year-old cousin of Hilmi who was walking back from school with him at 2pm last Sunday, gives a similar account of his last moments. He says: "Suddenly a Jeep pulled up. We fled. A settler got out of the Jeep and ran to Hilmi, who was hiding behind car. He kicked him in the face, and then hit him again on the head with his hands, and battered him also with his pistol."

Korman, described by settlers at Hadar Betar as a quiet man, not physically strong, who always wore glasses, apparently heard that Palestinian children were throwing stones at Israeli vehicles. He drove his four-wheel drive into Husan, a sprawling Palestinian village surrounded by Jewish settlements, and decided to make an example of Hilmi.

His death is part of an upsurge of attacks by settlers in recent days in what appears to be an effort to assert their strength in order to stop the Israel government from redeploying its troops from Hebron, 20 minutes drive south of Husan. When Yasser Abed Rabbo and Ahmed Tibi, advisers of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, visited Hebron yesterday they were surrounded by 50 settlers who shouted "Dogs" and "Hebron is ours" and cursed the Prophet Mohammed.

Surprisingly, Hilmi and his father Salim turned out to be Israeli citizens. Salim, a stocky man who had worked for years as a truck driver for an Israeli company, lives in the large neighbouring Jewish settlement of Gilo, just south of Jerusalem. "Hilmi was only in Husan to help pick olives and go to school," said his cousin, Layla.

Standing in the forecourt of a house out of the rain Salim said the death of Hilmi meant that his daughter, Suhah, was also likely to die. He said: "She needs a bone marrow transplant and Hilmi was the only perfect match. We asked the doctor if we could take bone marrow from him even if he was dead." Inside the Shawash home, filled with mourners seated around the wall, Hilmi's mother said she was in the Hadassah Ein Karem hospital in Jerusalem arranging the bone marrow transplant when the body of her son arrived.

In the settlement of Hadar Betar, a cluster of mobile homes surrounded by barbed-wire, settlers were eager to explain that Nahum Korman had never lived there. Mordechai Melchek, wearing back skull cap, said: "He was a security deputy and lived in Efrat [a larger settlement]. What happened in Husan is a long way from here. We have good relations with Arabs. I'm astonished. I don't believe he would kick a boy of 10 years of age."

Mr Melchek wanted to make clear that although the settlers at Hadar Betar were religious "we are not ideological settlers. We came here because we are poor and eight years ago the government gave us cheap land here." Overall, however, the settlers of the West Bank are on the offensive. Bassam Eid, of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, says: "The settlers are trying to demonstrate their strength under the new government." In Husan, meanwhile, there were already posters on the walls with a picture of Hilmi, a shy-looking boy in a sweater, and a text describing him as the latest Palestinian martyr.