Al-Arroub, Hebron – Milad al-Raee dreamed of being famous. The 16-year-old was an avid footballer, and everyone knew he wanted to go to Spain’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium to watch his favourite team Real Madrid play. And one day, he wanted to play for them.
In the narrow streets of al-Arroub refugee camp, north of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, everyone was used to seeing Milad with his friends kicking a football around, usually wearing his Real Madrid shirt.
On September 9, as Milad made his way back to the camp after a barbecue on a nearby hill, his life was cut short by a single Israeli bullet.
According to witnesses, an Israeli soldier in a military watchtower at the entrance of the camp shot the child in the back.
He became the 47th Palestinian child to be killed by Israel this year.
‘Now the group of friends is missing one’
Abdulqader Badawi, a resident of al-Arroub camp, remembers how he ran into Milad and they joked a bit, two days before the child was shot.
“The whole camp loved him,” Badawi said.
“I remember him sitting in the neighbourhood with his group of friends, which is now missing one. That neighbourhood, near the women’s centre and the kindergarten and leading out to the main street, down there you couldn’t miss Milad, with his friends or playing football.”
A promising 15-year-old Palestinian, Milad Al-Raee, dreamt of playing football and visiting Santiago Bernabéu Stadium to watch Real Madrid.
Sadly, near Hebron on Saturday evening, ‘Israel’ extinguished both his life and dreams. pic.twitter.com/dZMrTwqCwQ
— Chris Hutchinson (@ChrisHu34451470) September 10, 2023
The researcher at the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies (MADAR) added that the presence of the military watchtower had been a point of friction for many years.
“There is no space in the camp to play, because space is limited and people and houses are packed in tight,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Milad and his friends would just play in the street, it was occupied by the Israelis but this did not prevent them from playing football every day, a few metres away from the military tower.”
The tower was erected ostensibly to protect the movement of the army and Jewish settlers surrounding the camp.
‘Beautiful, warm voice’
Milad was the second of three brothers, and a music lover who learned about it from his father. While his dad sang national and folkloric songs, Milad was more into rap music and wrote his own raps in Arabic.
“My voice is loud, my time is precious, that’s why I dream of flying,” he once wrote.
Noor al-Sharif, Milad’s maternal uncle, described his nephew as a “bold, beloved, and extremely sociable boy”.
Milad, who grew up knowing only occupation, dreamed of liberating Palestine and returning refugees to their homes, al-Sharif said.
“Everyone knew him in the camp,” he said. “We lost a beautiful, warm voice that sang with love about the homeland, the future, and hope.
“He was passionate about his voice and singing … The last time I saw him was a few days ago in our house, and he sang for us, songs about homeland and the right of return.”
It was also known that, like many boys who grew up with the frustration of an occupation that essentially denied them their futures and their families their ancestral homes, Milad looked up to Palestinian armed resistance fighters as heroic figures, especially those who died in battle.
“Milad was greatly influenced by Mateen Dabaya from the Jenin camp,” said Badawi, referring to the 20-year-old local commander of the Jenin Brigades who was killed last year in an Israeli raid.
Munther al-Sharif, Milad’s 46-year-old father, was at the barber’s when he got a call that Milad was injured.
“I rushed to the clinic and found medics trying to resuscitate him,” he said. “I looked into his eyes and I knew he was gone.”
Milad had achieved the martyrdom he had so admired, his father said.
In his last post on Facebook, Milad wrote: “One martyr after the other … maybe we are next.”
More than 230 Palestinians have been killed by Israel this year alone, in what the United Nations said has been the deadliest year for them since the world body began counting Palestinian casualties in 2005.
Thaer al-Sharif, a journalist and al-Arroub camp resident whose home is near the entrance, said the Israeli soldier fired deliberately at Milad with the intent to kill.
According to witness accounts, Milad walked a few metres down the road after they heard the sound of the bullet. He collapsed a few minutes later.
“There was no blood on the street,” al-Sharif said.
Doctors confirmed later that Milad had been killed by a “butterfly bullet“, an explosive bullet that shatters upon impact, pulverising tissue, arteries and bone while causing severe internal injuries.
That was why he did not collapse immediately or bleed where he was shot.
“The doctors informed us that Milad had internal bleeding, his lungs and organs in the chest area were lacerated, and there was no exit wound for the bullet.”
Wafa, the Palestinian official news agency, reported that Israeli forces had fired “live bullets and tear gas canisters at several young men and children”. Witnesses say they heard what sounded like one Molotov cocktail at the same moment they saw Milad get shot.
The Israeli military claimed “terrorists hurled Molotov cocktails” at soldiers at a military post adjacent to the camp.
“The soldiers responded with riot dispersal means and live fire. A hit was identified,” it said.
The Palestinian Ministry of Education said: “Milad wanted to play for Real Madrid, but the bullets of the Israeli occupation did not give him the opportunity to achieve his dream.”