Diyar Omri: Son of Sandala and symbol of the ongoing Nakba

Diyar Omri: Son of Sandala and symbol of the ongoing Nakba
The teenager's murder at the hands of a Jewish Israeli settler is the result of the Israeli regime's incitement of violence against Palestinians. His story, and the story of his village of Sandala, is that of the continuing Nakba, writes Yara Hawari.
5 min read
16 May, 2023
Palestinians attend the funeral of Diyar Omri, shot dead by an Israeli settler, on 7 May 2023. [Getty]

On the 6th of May 2023, 19-year-old Diyar Omri, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was shot dead by a Jewish Israeli and former soldier in the middle of the road in broad daylight. Israeli media described it as a road rage incident.

Footage from another driver shows the killer pulling Diyar out of his car. Diyar attempts to fight him off and runs back to his car. The killer pulls out a gun and shoots in the direction of Diyar several times, who subsequently falls to the ground. Diyar, who was from the nearby Palestinian village of Sandala, was pronounced dead not long after.

Thousands of Palestinians participated in his funeral and burial, which was awash with Palestinian flags. The message from family members was that Diyar’s killing was a direct result of Israeli ministers and politicians (such as Itamar Ben-Gvir) openly encouraging Jewish Israeli citizens to take up arms against Palestinian Arabs.

The killer’s lawyer claimed that he was acting in self-defence. The Israeli police later declared that he was driving without a valid licence and under the influence.

"Diyar's cold-blooded execution cannot be seen devoid of the political context of the Palestinian citizens of Israel nor that of the continuing Nakba"

On the 14th of May, one day before the commemoration of the Nakba, Diyar’s killer was brought before an Israeli court in Nazareth. Palestinians lined the entrance to the court with Palestinian flags, donning keffiyehs and chanting promises to continue the struggle.

For them, they know that justice will not be served through Israeli courts, which only serve to prop up a regime of Jewish supremacy. Indeed Diyar’s cold-blooded execution cannot be seen devoid of the political context of the Palestinian citizens of Israel nor that of the continuing Nakba- the continuing process of Zionist settler colonisation.

Diyar’s village Sandala is located in the Jenin district, separated from its historic urban centre- the West Bank city of Jenin - by 7 kilometres and the Israeli regime’s separation wall.

Named after the sandalwood tree which grows in the area, the village has had a rich agricultural history thanks to its mineral rich soil. The residents of the village all hail from the same family - the Omri’s - who trace their ancestry back to the second caliph Omar Bin Al Khattib.

During the 1948 Nakba, the Zionist paramilitary group Palmach attacked the village, destroying buildings and forcing many of its residents to flee. Yet they failed to conquer the village because Iraqi army forces had come to defend Palestine and held the line in Sandala.

Still, the fate of the village was soon sealed in the 1949 Rhodes Armistice Agreement signed between Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. In addition to formally ending the fighting, the agreement demarcated the so-called Green Line, leaving Sandala within the borders of the new Israeli state.

In the years that followed, the residents of Sandala were threatened with expulsion many times by the Israeli regime because of how close they were to the border with the Jordanian-controlled West Bank. Its proximity to the front line was later acutely felt in 1957 when 15 children from the village were killed by an unexploded Israeli mortar.

During this time, the residents of Sandala, as with all surviving Palestinians in the 1948 territories, were placed under harsh military rule. They were regarded as “unfinished business” by the Israeli regime; in other words, they were seen as the Palestinians that they were not able to ethnically cleanse from the land in 1948.

But unlike most other villages, Sandala was declared a closed military zone, meaning that to simply leave or enter the village one had to obtain a permit granted by the Israeli authorities. During this period, there were various proposals put forward by the higher echelons of the Israeli political establishment that sought to “downsize” the surviving Palestinian population.

Whilst the military rule was lifted in 1966, the Palestinian community remained a demographic, and potential political, threat to the nature of the Jewish State. They thus continue to be treated as an enemy from within and were granted only nominal citizenship.

Meanwhile Sandala continues to suffer the consequences of being so close to the Green Line.  Indeed to this day, Israeli politicians continue to spout the same rhetoric of “downsizing” the Palestinian population with threats of population transfer for Palestinian communities like those of Sandala.

In more recent years, the rise of far-right extremist politicians such as Itamar Ben Gvir has further emboldened Jewish Israeli citizens to take matters into their own hands.

For example, during the 2021 Palestinian Unity Intifada, Jewish Israelis went to the streets attacking Palestinian communities in the so-called mixed cities of Haifa and Lyd.

Now Ben Gvir is calling for “guns in the hands of more and more (Jewish) citizens”. The fact that Diyar’s killer so easily pulled the trigger is thus not surprising. Diyar’s father, Ahmad, stated just that: “This criminal did what the state asked him to do…(Ben Gvir) literally asked Jews to carry weapons and have their finger on the trigger — and that’s exactly what he did. He was a soldier who was obeying orders”.

Indeed the killing of Diyar Omri is not a tragic random incident, it is a symptom of the continuing Nakba - a reality which places every single Palestinian at risk of the same fate.

Yara Hawari is the Senior Analyst of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @yarahawari

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.