Twilight Zone / An American dream
By Gideon Levy - Ha'aretz Dec 31, 2003
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 furor in Israel. It's also
the story of an American dream, between Qalandiyah and Jelazoun,
which was almost realized but finally was brutally shattered.
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,"
"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."
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 traveled 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.
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
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' behavior,
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
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 kilometer and they start
"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?"
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