GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Gaza Strip is all abuzz about a grisly murder of an elderly couple in a story that brings together drugs, money, the dangers of leaving home and family, and a desperate escape by tunnel to Egypt.
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It’s the routine stuff of tabloid journalism in America and Europe, but here in this tiny coastal enclave, killings like those of Mustafa Huweihi and his wife Salma are quite rare, despite all the violence associated with the ruling Hamas movement and the other Islamic groups in Gaza that are in constant war with Israel.
What is known is that on December 12, the Huweihis, aged 60 and 62, were found murdered in their home. The local police said that their initial investigation pointed to a single suspect, Samer Huweihi, the couple’s 21-year-old son. But Samer had fled to Egypt, so the story was left unsolved.
Spotty media coverage of the murders only whetted the public’s appetite by leaving a wide berth for speculation about who was responsible, the murder weapon and the motive. Some reports alleged that Samer killed his parents with a knife, others that he shot them in the head with a Kalashnikov. All agreed on that the motive was money. But what was the money for? Some reports said he needed it to feed his drug addiction while others said he wanted to travel.
Suddenly, six days later, the police announced an arrest: Samer had been handed over to them across the border at the Rafah border station by Egyptian police. A trial awaits Samer and he faces the death penalty, but the police are firmly convinced he was behind the brutal murders and this is how they have reconstructed the events of December 12, starting at 1 a.m.
“Samer had taken three Tramadol pills [a narcotic-like pain reliever] and then used a AK-47 Kalashnikov and shot his father Mustafa in the head while he was sleeping in their living room,” Ayman Batniji, Gaza’s police spokesman, told The Media Line. “Samer sat near his father’s body for 10 minutes before deciding to kill his mother Salma because she would have discovered her husband’s dead body if she woke up.
“Samer entered his parents’ room and shot his mother in the head. He then went to his room and stayed there for two hours before taking his father’s keys and driving his father’s car to the gas station where his dad works. There, Samer stole 96,000 shekels ($25,500) and then called a friend who owns a cab and asked him to give him a lift to Rafah.”
Getting out of Gaza isn’t easy. Israel maintains a land and sea blockade to prevent Hamas from smuggling arms and fighters in and out of Gaza. Egypt allows a single crossing point on its border, but those seeking passage have to register. So, Batniji alleged, Samer escaped Gaza that night through one of the many tunnels running under the Gaza-Egypt border, which are used to smuggle consumer goods, weapons and people.
Samer reached the Egyptian town of Al-Arish, about 60 kilometers away, where he was arrested for entering Egypt illegally and having a huge amount of money in cash on his person. “Local police in Gaza issued a warrant for Samer’s arrested so when he was returned to Rafah border he was immediately arrested,” Batniji says, ending the story.
Arafat Huwehi, Samer’s 29-year-old brother, said he got a call in the morning from the cab driver who gave his brother a lift to Rafah, telling him that his brother had fled to Egypt and confessed to killing his parents. The driver thought Samer was joking but decided to tell Arafat anyway. Arafat went to his parent’s house immediately to find the lifeless bodies of his mother and father drenched in blood.
Samer himself filled in the details in a statement to the police and in an interview with The Media Line that describes a promising start to life foiled by drugs. He had begun out well enough, winning a scholarship during high school to study at the American University of Cairo (AUC) in Egypt.
“I was very happy. I left for Cairo and started an amazing year in the American university there,” he recalled. “[But] I was taken by the nightlife there and I became friends with a bad circle of Egyptians. I became a drug addict and I started drinking. My grades started deteriorating so I lost the scholarship and came back to Gaza.”
One of Samer’s Gazan colleagues and a friend from his (AUC) days recalled the change in his friend. “Samer was such a polite, clever and hard working student that made us all proud. He was shy yet social and funny,” said the friend, who was hesitant to speak out at all and then only without being identified.
“Everyone liked Samer, then he started changing gradually and next thing you know Samer lost his scholarship. We were all shocked, Samer was the perfect student and such a good guy, but he became friends with a bad crowd who influenced him.”
Back in Gaza, his parents were angry and disappointed with their son. The friend recalls getting e-mails from Samer about how much he missed the freedom he enjoyed in Egypt. But as Samer recounted those day back in Gaza, he was as determined to clean up his act as he was to escape. He applied for another scholarship, this time in America. He succeeded again and was off to the U.S. in 2010, but he repeated mistakes he made in Egypt.
“I became friends with a bad circle there and I went back to drugs and drinking. My grades started deteriorating again. I was involved with girls and my reputation was diminished. I came back to Gaza; my parents were heartbroken and decided they would not let me go back to America. I got angry and began using Tramadol,” he said. “Things became worse from there.”
By his accounting, Tramadol “affects your mind to the extent that it stops working and the drug takes over.” It was about that time that Samer suddenly got in touch with his friend from AUC against after a hiatus of several months. “He said his parents were horrible for preventing him from going back to the States and that he is trying to go back to his old self but that he can’t,” said the friend, who said he was offended by its tone. “He said that he hopes I’m happy because he lost everything and he is back to drugs. He said I was always jealous of him but now he’s nothing.”
His parents had had enough with his Tramadol addiction and refused to
give him money to pay for his habit, which turned out to be a fatal
decision for them. That led Samer to kill them with the aim of getting
the cash he knew his father kept and fleeing Gaza. “After killing them I
felt ashamed and regretful, but it was too late, so I had to flee to
Egypt,” he recalled.
Samer is behind bars now. Local police say they are still investigating
how deeply Samer was the under influence of drugs when he allegedly
killed his parents. Either way, they say, he faces either execution or
life in prison. Arafat, Samer’s brother, has no sympathy and says he
wants the police to apply the harshest punishment.
“I thought I was a good guy, but after being exposed to outside
influences my bad side woke up, “Samer said in his statement. “I had an
inner conflict between my good and bad sides. I wanted to be good but
being bad was so tempting so I couldn’t resist especially when I was