Cry the Beloved Country, the Children of Palestine
My daughter Sarah happened to share her 12th birthday this week with the 15 year old Palestinian boy Muhammad Tamimi who was shot in the face by an Israeli soldier last December. Tamimi, who went through his third facial surgery three weeks ago at the Sandton medi clinic, travelled to Pretoria to share with me his horrifying story.
Never did I think my daughter would be exposed to the evils of humanity at such a young age. But while eating her birthday cake at the Jam and Daisies cafe she listened to how Muhammad, who had been playing soccer with his friends last December, had climbed up a ladder to peer over a wall to find out why the shooting of the Israeli soldiers had suddenly fallen silent.
A soldier who was hiding on the other side of the wall shot Muhammed in the face. Muhammed fell backwards to the ground, the ladder falling on top of him, and his friends screaming and scrambling to carry him away, his face bleeding profusely as the rubber coated steel bullet had shattered his jaw, entered his eye socket and was lodged in his brain. That was cold blooded murder, and to this day nothing has happened to that Israeli soldier, nothing at all.
Twenty-five minutes after the shooting, the Israeli soldier and his friend had walked past the home of Muhammad’s 16 year old cousin Ahed Tamimi – the blond Palestinian girl who has now become the poster child of the Palestinian struggle. Ahed had been told that he was the soldier who had shot her cousin in the face, which is what led to the altercation in which she slapped the Israeli soldier’s face – a scene that went viral and was played on social media around the world.
Ironically the slap became the story and not the shooting of Muhammed in the face, probably because that moment wasn’t captured on video and failed to capture the world’s imagination the way a blond Palestinian girl with her flailing hair slapping an Israeli soldier did.
Muhammad’s fate almost became a non-issue as Israelis from all political persuasions began to debate on social media whether Ahed should be prosecuted, with the right wing Israeli Minister for Defence Avigdor Lieberman saying that Ahed “will get what she deserves.” Apparently the Israeli soldier would never get what he deserved because in the Palestinian occupied territories it is only justice for the occupiers. The media hype around the slap was a convenient way for the Israelis to detract attention away from the real crime that had been committed – a cold blooded assassination of a Palestinian boy who had been playing soccer with his friends and was then lying in a coma with a bullet in his brain.
But the story doesn’t end there. As Muhammed was rushed by ambulance passed checkpoints to get to hospital, with his father who is a taxi driver in hot pursuit of the ambulance with his son dying inside, the Israeli soldiers refused to allow the father through the checkpoint. “Go back to Nabu Saleh and tell the people to stop demonstrating and then we will let you through,” they said.
Muhammed’s father had to drive an additional 40 kms to take another route to get to his son. The doctors got the bullet out his brain but had to remove a third of his skull to allow for the swelling of the brain. For four months that boy was at home without his full skull, but more drama was yet to come. Some weeks later, still without a skull and on seizure medication, Muhammad was asleep in his family home, when at 3am 30 Israeli soldiers stormed his house and forced the family out into the rain while they searched the house, destroying furniture in their frenzy. A scene right out of apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.
When they were done they blindfolded and handcuffed Muhammed, with a third of his skull missing, and forced him to walk for 2 kms in the rain to a watch tower from where he was taken in a bus to a military camp. For the next five hours they proceeded to interrogate him, refusing to give him his seizure medication. What they wanted was for him to sign a document saying he was injured when falling off a bicycle.
Slapping and punching his shoulder, they also wanted the names of children in the village who throw stones. Muhammad’s father was even called and told to come and watch the interrogation of his son, but when he arrived they refused him access.
Muhammed never capitulated to their demands. Regardless, the Israeli military general heading the coordination of the army in the occupied territories claimed that Muhammad’s injury occurred while falling off a bike, until the doctors supplied the general with a video of them extracting the bullet from his brain, which was also posted on facebook.
The intimidation continued and in June plane clothed officers kidnapped Muhammed as he walked towards his family home, and proceeded to beat him during interrogation, in an attempt to get him to confess that he was involved in stone throwing. He was released at midnight after significant pressure from the family and on social media.
As if that was not enough trauma, in the month of Ramadan Muhammad’s cousin was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during the school holidays while his parents were at work. After his cousin was shot the family was denied access to him, and the Israeli soldiers delayed getting him to a hospital, ultimately putting him in a jeep and leaving him for dead at the hospital.
This is a never ending trail of trauma, and yet another generation of Palestinian youngsters are growing up knowing nothing other than brutality and repression. Cry the beloved country of Palestine, the country that is still to be born, or was born but never recognised by a world that so easily ignores what is happening right under their noses.
Shannon Ebrahim is the the Foreign Affairs Editor for Voices360.