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An American Dream

Gideon Levy

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This is the story of another boy, the seventh in the past few months who was killed for no good reason, this time in the Qalandiyah refugee camp near Ramallah. It’s the story of another Palestinian who was shot with appalling thoughtlessness by Israeli soldiers, just as Gil Na’amati, a kibbutz member, was shot last Friday by Israeli soldiers while demonstrating against the separation fence - only in the case of the boy there was no public furore in Israel. It’s also the story of an American dream, between Qalandiyah and Jelazoun, which was almost realized but finally was brutally shattered.

Maybe today you'll be lucky. Maybe you wont annoy the soldiers at the checkpoint, or have the misfortune of meeting a psychopath in uniform.

Maybe today you’ll be lucky. Maybe you wont annoy the soldiers at the checkpoint, or have the misfortune of meeting a psychopath in uniform.

In the spring of 1994, this column published the story of Awad Hindash, a car body-worker from the Jelazoun refugee camp, west of Ramallah. He was shot in the back by Israeli troops for no special reason shortly after the postman had brought him the visa to the United States he had coveted. Hindash was going to marry a California woman and start a new life. He was 23 at the time of his death.

Now, nearly nine years later, Ibrahim Abd el-Qadr, a butcher by trade, shows the new passport of his son, Fares, which contains an entry visa to the United States. Not long before he was to travel with his son to America and remove the boy from the hell of life (and death) in this sprawling refugee camp, this American dream was also aborted in the same way. Fares was shot to death by Israeli soldiers. He was 14 and a half when he was killed.

Awas Hindash was Fares’ uncle. Neither of them made it to America.

“Umm Fares” - mother of Fares - is what Ibrahim calls his wife, sending a shiver down the listener’s spine. Wafia lost a brother, and now a son. Ibrahim and Wafia are about 40 years old. For most of his working life the bereaved father has been employed in the Mahane Yehuda produce market in Jerusalem, unloading meat for Rafael Itzikashvili, from Georgia, whose shop is on Heharuf Street, next to the falafel stand. Ibrahim is known as Jimzawi in the market, in memory of the family’s destroyed village, Jimzu, not far from Lod, on the ruins of which the community of Gimzo now stands.

Over the past few years Ibrahim made three trips to see his brother, in Chicago, in the hope of finding work and moving there with his family. He had had his fill of refugee life and of the danger that threatens the children of the camp at every turn. He especially wanted to get his firstborn, Fares, the apple of his eye, out of harm’s way. “I was so afraid for him that I would take him with me to the market, so people wouldn’t fill his head with all kinds of stuff,” Ibrahim says.

“I wanted to safeguard him but I didn’t succeed. I told myself that in another few months he’ll finish school and I’ll take him to Chicago - and halas. But instead, his time came. There isn’t a Jew in the market who doesn’t know that this was the plan. I was so afraid for him. In the market, too, I would sit him down next to me. I didn’t let him make deliveries in the market, so he wouldn’t be in danger. I work like a donkey, and I didn’t want him to have the same hard life. The whole market knew that. My whole life I kept chasing ways to get out of the camp, but I couldn’t do it.”

In the past year Ibrahim decided to leave his job in the market, where he worked hard but made a decent living, he says. “There was tremendous fear lately,” he says, “things are such a mess. I left the market and opened a grocery store in the camp in order to watch over my son. To be next to him and give him a place so he wouldn’t wander around in the streets.” Besides that, he says, “I would board the bus and be ashamed, get off the bus and be ashamed. People didn’t talk nicely. They don’t know that all the fingers of a human being are the same. But I was ashamed.”

The will to resist is strong inside refugee camps, but it is no place for a family, and many would leave if they could find a way out.

The will to resist is strong inside refugee camps, but it is no place for a family, and many would leave if they could find a way out.

His plan was to remove Fares from the narrow alleys of the refugee camp, where danger seethes, next June. Ibrahim had already prepared everything in Chicago: here is Fares’ visa, 2B1-B, good for a year, stamped in the Palestinian passport which now rests behind glass in a cabinet in the family home, another commemorative souvenir. They thought they would spend a few years in America, make a little money and return to buy a home outside the camp. The American dream was woven over years: Two of their children were born in the United States, during their visits to Ibrahim’s brother and sister, and they have American passports. There is no more compelling fantasy than this in the territories for those who want to escape the hardships of life here. Little Rawan even has an American social security card. She’s eating pita with chocolate. Her brother, Mohammed, who is four months old and also the bearer of American citizenship, is wrapped in a pink wool blanket.

On September 21, Ibrahim Abd el-Qadr travelled to Chicago to prepare his son Fares’ new chance in life. He registered the boy in a Chicago school and rented a place for the two of them, $600 a month, together with a friend.

The day of Fares’ death, Tuesday, December 9, was a day of exams, and Fares got up at 7 A.M. and hurried off to school earlier than usual. He dressed, drank a glass of milk and got his bag ready. Not long ago he finished building a small room, just for himself, that’s attached to their small refugee house. Inside is a boy’s bed, a few photographs pasted on the plastered wall, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the profile of a couple against a sunset background. He usually got home from school at 2 P.M., but today he was back at noon: It was parents’ day. Wafia asked her son to seal the leaking roof of his new room - he had moved in only 10 days before and dad was in America. He and his friend Ahmed took 14 bricks to the roof and did a cursory sealing job.

Wafia had the feeling that he was in a hurry. He put on his most tattered shoes - his mother asked him why he wasn’t wearing the new pair from America - and disappeared down the alley. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon,” he told his mother, declining to eat.

He was always home by 3:30 P.M., because at 4 P.M. his sister came home, and Fares, the eldest, waited for her to make sure she got back on time. Here is his sister Ranin, wearing a red sweater, just entering adolescence. Everyone looks after the children in this refugee camp, on the road to Ramallah, whose alleys are embellished with the photographs of many martyrs, most of them children.

At 4 o’clock, Wafia started to get worried. He was never late. For the first time in her life, she says, she went into the camp to look for her son. Wearing a robe, she looked everywhere, with the help of her sister. She feared the worst. She went down to the main road, walked along it, but saw nothing - no crowds and no stones. She went by the camp’s caf?; maybe someone there saw him. No. She went to Fares’ uncle’s house, where he spent much time with his cousin; maybe he came for a visit. Nothing. Wafia tells the story. Ibrahim’s eyes are downcast. He was in Chicago.

After leaving the uncle’s place she met two men, one of whom had blood on his clothes. “When he looked at me, I said: `That is Fares’ blood.’ Don’t worry, he said, Fares is in good condition, with a light wound. I started to scream and shout, until I passed out.” She was taken to the government hospital in Ramallah, where she came to. “I started to scream: `Let me see him.’ Wait, they said, he’s getting stitches and it’s best you don’t go in. But he was no longer alive. Suddenly I saw all my brothers from Jelazoun around me. I grabbed my brother Ramadan and said: `Go and see about the boy.’” Ramadan dragged his sister out of the hospital forcibly and took her home. Fares’ body remained in the hospital morgue until his father could get back from America.

Another light goes out in Palestine. On average, a Palestinian child dies every two and a half days as a direct result of Israeli military or settler violence.

Another light goes out in Palestine.
On average, a Palestinian child dies every two and a half days as a direct result of Israeli military or settler violence.

Ramadan called his brother-in-law in Chicago and told him that Fares had been wounded. “Tell me the truth, is Fares dead?” Earlier, Ibrahim had seen a news flash from Al-Jazeera television reporting the death of a boy in Qalandiyah. Friends from Chicago had called and asked if he had seen the report. The next day he was back in Qalandiyah. Fares was buried on Thursday, December 11, next to the tiny grave of his good friend, Omar Matar. The children were killed in the same way: throwing stones and shot to death. The bullet that was fired at Fares entered his eye and blew up his head. He died instantly.

What actually happened there? According to activists from Machsom Watch, a voluntary group of Israeli women conducting daily observations at military checkpoints to monitor soldiers’ behaviour, on December 9 soldiers opened fire at children near the Qalandiyah checkpoint and killed Fares. He was shot in the head after children threw stones at the former airport of Atarot. The game of mutual provocations between stone-throwing children and armed soldiers is an almost daily occurrence at the Qalandiyah checkpoint. Observers from Machsom Watch were witnesses to the killing of the boy Omar Matar in March 2003 there, in an incident that led to an investigation by the Military Police. In the past week alone, the Machsom Watch group supplied three real-time alerts about similar events to the Binyamin District Brigade, to the emergency hotline of the IDF and to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. Nothing was done to prevent the death of Fares. The killing of the next child is only a matter of time.

The response of the IDF spokesperson: “On the afternoon of December 9, dozens of Palestinian youths disrupted the public order in the area of the security fence adjacent to Atarot Airport. The rioting included the throwing of bricks, stones and hot-water boilers from the nearby rooftops at IDF and Border Police forces that were in the area. The forces used riot dispersal methods, which included also the firing of rubber bullets and tear gas.

“The group of youths, some of whom were in their teens, have been taking part in the disruptions of order there on an almost daily basis in the past few months. A number of IDF soldiers have been wounded in these disruptions of order, and serious damage has been done to the security fence there. Events of this kind occur with the encouragement and support of certain local organizations that make cynical use [of the youths] for their purposes. In the past a number of stone throwers have been apprehended there, and in their interrogation they admitted to receiving payment for taking part in the disruptions of order.

“Regarding the contentions about the boy - they are being examined, and the investigation of the circumstances of the event is still continuing.”

Ibrahim’s version: “The children have nowhere to play. They are bored. So they go to the main road. The Border Police go by. It is a disgrace for me to lie - if the Border Police want to solve the problem, they solve it, and if they want to make trouble, they make trouble. It’s in their hands. Why do they go by there? Why do they get involved with the children? They deliberately stand across from the camp, so the children will start up with them. What do you want from the children? They call out to the children, curse them - `Now I want to bring one of you down.’ The children start to throw stones at them and they start shooting. What will they get out of it? A stone is thrown at them from a distance of a kilometre and they start shooting.

“In my mind’s eye I can see the soldier who shot Fares. The person who killed Fares did it deliberately. He lives in Afula or Hadera, maybe he isn’t a Jew, he is in hell. I have no more to say. Didn’t I work with Jews? For Tnuva, in Mea Shearim, in the market - there’s no place I didn’t work. When I went to Chicago, I asked Moshe if he wanted me to bring him a pair of Levi’s. I like every Jew. I have no problems with them. But whoever killed Fares is for sure not a Jew. A Jew would have taken pity on him.

“We were told that soldiers from the Border Police passed by on the main road and started to curse and call names. The children chased them until the airport [the unused airport is the killing field of the children]. Come with me and I will show you what the Border Police is. Stand at the checkpoint and you will see what they do to our children. Sometimes a soldier gets bored? Is there a shortage of birds in the sky? Aren’t there pigeons in the sky? Why shoot a child?”


Published Sunday, January 4th, 2004 - 03:12pm GMT

Article courtesy of Haaretz

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