Before Amr Khamour, 14, was killed, shot twice by Israeli forces while throwing stones at an army jeep in his hometown, he spent his time dancing with friends, recording TikTok videos on his phone.
But after his death in January, his parents found a photo of a handwritten farewell message on his phone. “If I come to you as a martyr, God willing,” he wrote to his mother, “don’t cry. And forgive me for every mistake I’ve made.”
“Do not be sad, father,” Amr continued, “I wanted martyrdom and I got it.” Then he ended with words of love for his childhood sweetheart: “God gave me the person dear to my heart, Kariwan.”
Fighters who took up arms against Israel with groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have long left behind final testaments, sometimes high-quality videos, to take responsibility for attacks in which they expect to lose their lives.
Now, young Palestinians, like Amr – not affiliated with the armed groups of the territories but still ready to face Israeli forces – are leaving their own messages. These farewells to loved ones, requests for forgiveness and exhortations to fight against Israel are known as “wills” in Arabic, even if their authors do not leave behind any material goods. Many scribble them on notebook paper, with scratched-out words a sign of their uncertainty about what to say.
The farewell testaments reflect a prevailing sentiment among many young people that death is heroic, meaningful and inevitable during what is now the deadliest period for Palestinians in nearly two decades in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
This week, Israel, saying it wants to root out armed groups, launched its biggest military incursion in decades in the West Bank, in the Palestinian city of Jenin, killing at least 12 Palestinians, carrying out airstrikes and destroying roads and infrastructure, local officials said. said.In all, at least 155 Palestinians have been killed this year, mostly during Israeli military raids in Palestinian towns and cities, or in attacks by extremist Israeli settlers.
It was also a particularly deadly time for Israelis. The military attacks were stepped up last year after a series of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. So far this year, at least 29 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian attackers, one of the highest tolls since 2008.
With the violence intensifying, many young Palestinians feel the added pressure that they themselves must get involved in the struggle against Israel and take action.
Palestinian society has long lionized “martyrs” – anyone killed by Israeli forces – with many of their images displayed on walls and banners in Palestinian cities and, more recently, on social media platforms such as Instagram.
Farewell messages are often published by the Palestinian news media and widely shared on social media, inspiring more young Palestinians to write their own.
Dr. Samah Jabr, the head of the mental health unit for the Palestinian Authority, said the writing of such wills was shrouded with generational traumas for Palestinians living in the occupied territories, dealing with checkpoints and near daily attacks by Israeli forces. Many young people feel the obligation to take on adult roles, including confronting Israeli forces.
When Jalal Abukhater, a Palestinian writer based in Jerusalem and the West Bank, goes to the wakes of young Palestinians to pay his respects, he said, he often hears their friends talk about following in their ways.
“It is not that they want to die, but it is that they feel that there is nothing else to give to Palestine but martyrdom,” said Mr. Abukhater. “They think that just throwing rocks at the Jeep is the bravest act.”
Some of the farewell messages written by young Palestinians in recent months quoted the words of Uday al-Tamimi, 22 years old.
On the run after shooting at an Israeli checkpoint at the entrance of the Shuafat refugee camp, killing one soldier, he wrote a message in which he said his attack “was a drop in the stormy sea of the struggle.”
“I know that sooner or later I will be martyred, and I know that I did not liberate Palestine with this operation,” wrote Mr. Tamimi, a resident of the camp. “But I accomplished it with a goal in mind; for the operation to mobilize hundreds of young people to take up arms after me.”
Others cited the words of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, 18, a member of a local armed group in Nablus, who left a short voice recording when he was captured by Israeli forces in the moments before he was killed.
Mental health experts like Dr. Jabr and Ayed Houshia, a counselor at a boys’ school in the Dheisheh Camp, said they and others need to help Palestinian youth channel fears or frustrations into productive actions instead of confrontations with Israeli forces that could kill them.
Amr’s parents said they tried to prevent their son from sneaking out at night when Israeli forces raided their town, near Bethlehem.
The Israeli army said it raided Dheisheh the morning of Amr’s killing as part of a “counter-terrorist operation to capture individuals.” It would not say who the soldiers were there to detain, but Palestinian state media reported that the army had arrested an Italian activist.
The military said it was investigating Amr’s killing but gave no other details.
Less than two weeks before Amr was killed, his friend, Adam Ayyad, 15, was shot and killed during a similar army raid in Dheisheh. Like Amr, he would sneak out of his home when the army raided the camp to confront the soldiers and throw stones, his family said.
About a month before Adam’s death, his mother, Wafaa Ayyad, found a farewell message from him. She tore it up and begged him not to write another one, she said.
But he did, keeping it in his pocket, where it was found after he was shot and taken to the hospital.
“I wanted to do many things, but we live in a place where achieving your dreams is impossible,” Adam wrote. “Martyrdom is victory. It is true that your life ends, but at least it ends in happiness.”
Days later, Amr visited Adam’s grave in what is known as the martyr’s cemetery on the outskirts of Dheisheh. He told his friends that he wanted to be buried in the empty lot next to Adam.
Around that time, Mr. Houshia, the school counselor, gathered his students and told them that resisting the Israeli occupation was not just about taking up arms — it could also mean studying and planning for the future. He advised them not to write their own farewell messages.
“Why does a 13-year-old kid think about his death before he thinks about his future?” said Mr. Houshia.
Some of the students pushed back, insisting that a Palestinian homeland requires sacrifice. Others admitted they had already prepared their final messages, said Mohammad al-Afendi, 15, a 10th-grade student who attended the meeting.
After the sessions, he said, Mr. Houshia heard from some parents who reported that their sons had started talking more about their futures and their studies. But such advisory interventions are overshadowed by the daily reality in which young people live, he said.
“We can advise the students, but we cannot stop the army from attacking the camp,” he said. “The occupation is the biggest driver among the young people who ask why they should stop when they are subjected to war and death.”
Months after Amr’s death, his friends often join his mother when she visits his grave, in the very plot where he said he wanted to be buried. It is covered with a sea of flowers, real and artificial, which she carefully tends.
Some of Amr’s friends admit to having already written their wills. There are also other indications that some of them may follow on his path.
On one side of the cemetery, there is a row of empty graves. Like Amr, some of his friends say they have already claimed their plots.