Family members of a Palestinian American teenager who was fatally shot in the occupied West Bank demanded on Saturday that authorities find the killer of the 17-year-old, who was hit by a barrage of gunfire, his cousin said, as the two were setting out to have a picnic near their village.
The death of the teenager, whom the family identified as Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, came as tensions have been rising between Israel and the United States. The State Department confirmed that an American was killed in the West Bank on Friday without releasing identification and called on Israel to provide more information about the death.
Without naming the teenager or confirming his death, the Israeli police said in a statement on Saturday that they were investigating the shooting. The police said that an Israeli civilian and an off-duty policeman had fired at “individuals purportedly engaged in rock-throwing activities.”
The Israeli army was investigating whether a soldier was also involved in the shooting, according to a military spokesman. The military and the police did not respond to requests for comment beyond their initial statements.
A distant cousin, Mohammad Ejak, 16, said Tawfic was shot while driving to a grove of olive trees owned by the family, about a 15-minute drive from their village of Al-Mazra’a ash Sharqiyeh, near Ramallah.
“We did not throw any rocks at anyone’s car, and we didn’t even get out of our own car before the shots were fired at us,” said a visibly shaken Mohammad, who attended Tawfic’s funeral on Saturday. Mohammad said he did not know where the gunshots came from and ducked below the dashboard when he heard the gunfire.
Tawfic was born to Palestinian parents and raised in a suburb of New Orleans, where he attended the Muslim Academy Gretna Islamic School. The family, who have four other children, decided to return to live in the occupied West Bank when Tawfic was 16, about a year and a half ago, family members said.
“Where is my son’s killer?” asked Hafeth Abdel Jabbar, Tawfic’s father, during the funeral. “He is an American citizen who was shot in cold blood, and as an American, he should be protected.”
Nabil Abukhader, the principal of the Muslim Academy in Gretna, La., and the head of the local mosque that the family attended, said the teenager had hoped to improve his Arabic while in the West Bank.
He described him as a quiet, polite and “very respectful” teenager who helped his father with his shoe and clothing stores and often took his siblings to school. The young man was planning to study business administration at the University of New Orleans, to help grow his father’s businesses, said Mr. Abukhader, who spoke with The New York Times from New Orleans.
The West Bank has been increasingly on edge, as violence and Israeli military raids have spiraled since the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel. More than 340 Palestinians in the territory have been killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers and civilians since Oct. 7, according to the U.N. A two-day raid by the Israeli military killed at least eight people this week.
John F. Kirby, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, said in a State Department briefing on Friday that the United States had extended its condolences to relatives of the American who was killed, without directly naming the person, and was “working to understand the circumstances of the incident.”
“We’re seriously concerned about these reports,” Mr. Kirby said. “The information is scant at this time. We don’t have perfect context about exactly what happened here.”
But, he added, “We’re going to be in constant touch with counterparts in the region to get more information.”
Anushka Patil and Gaya Gupta contributed reporting.