Gideon Levy: The 406th Child
- The 406th child
By Gideon Levy - Ha'aretz, April 4,2003
On the morning of her death, Christine Sa'ada woke up a little
earlier than usual. A strong wind was whistling outside and she
wanted to stay curled up in bed, but she had to get up for school.
Her father was a strict school principal. And so she didn't argue
with her mother and got out of bed at 6:30, like always. She got
dressed, organized her school knapsack, took the sandwich her mother
had made for her and left the house with her father George, and her
sister Marian. Every morning, George Sa'ada drove his two daughters
to the St. Joseph School in Bethlehem before going to the Shepherd
School in Beit Sahur where he was the principal. The girls' mother,
Najwa, remained at home.
Christine wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. When she got home
from school that afternoon, she was excited by the aroma of pizza
wafting from the kitchen. "You're such a good cook!" she said to her
mother, who can't help crying at the recollection. Then she did her
homework and studied for an upcoming math test. As they did most
days, at four in the afternoon, the family set out to visit Najwa's
parents, who also live in Bethlehem. After all the months of curfew
during the past two and a half years, Christine loved to get out of
the house and to ride around town a little in the car.
The Sa'ada family's home is located opposite the Al-Aza refugee camp,
near the shambles of the Paradise Hotel. It is in a part of Bethlehem
that has been a center of the fighting and the family has spent many
anxious days there. They were without water or electricity for weeks;
the house was partially destroyed and the Sa'adas ended up moving in
with Najwa's parents for extended periods of time. But now things
were quiet in the territories and last Tuesday, they thought they
could safely make the trip over to the grandparents' house.
George and Najwa and their daughters piled into the family car, a
Peugeot 306 with a cross on a wooden chain hanging from its mirror.
They spent about two hours with Najwa's parents before heading home
again toward evening. When they were just a minute away from home, by
the entrance to the now-closed restaurant of the Shepherd Hotel,
their car was ambushed by soldiers who fired upon it from all sides.
Now Christine is buried in the Greek Orthodox cemetery in the city,
George is hospitalized in serious condition in a surgical ward at
Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem, Marian is in an orthopedic
ward and Najwa can't stop crying.
Christine lived between two wars: She was born during the first Gulf
War and killed during the second. According to data from a
Palestinian human rights group, she is the 406th Palestinian child
killed in this intifada at the hands of the IDF.
`When will salvation come?'
The Syrian Orthodox church in the center of Bethlehem is crowded with
people - men in dark suits and women in black dresses and white
kerchiefs. They've come to a memorial service for their young
congregant, Christine, whose smiling face fills the photograph that
has been placed in front of the raised podium and surrounded by four
Najwa is Syrian and George is Greek Orthodox. Services were held in
both churches, one day after the other. Incense sweetened the air as
the choir sang. The altar boys wore white robes. Father Yaqub
Yitzhak, the congregation's priest, in a green robe adorned with gold
flowers and purple trim, delivered a sermon. "Let the children come
to me, because they are all mine," he quoted from Luke 18.
The church bells ring. "We live in very difficult times and we call
on God to come to our aid," the priest continued. Christine is the
congregation's second child to be killed by the IDF: 13-year-old
Milad Shahin, who'd gained renown as a supplier of stones to be
thrown at soldiers, was a casualty of the first intifada. "Comfort
us. Stand by our side in our hard times," the priest says, and the
faithful make the sign of the cross.
Most of the Syrian-Orthodox Christians now live in Iraq, having
migrated from Dir Bakhr in eastern Turkey, where the American air
force currently has an air base from which it is dispatching bombers
to liberate Iraq.
The memorial service ends. Najwa cries and leans down to kiss her
daughter's photo, unable to let go. Relatives line up outside the
church - men to the right and women to the left - to shake the hands
of the many people who have come to express their condolences. An
altar boy distributes holy bread. Najwa is the only one crying.
At the Holy Family maternity hospital, they're repairing the statue
of the Virgin Mary on the roof that was damaged in the shelling. The
traffic lights on Yasser Arafat Street are all destroyed. Then you
turn left onto Gamal Abdel Nasser Street - and come to the spot where
Christine was killed.
"It's good that you came - so the Israelis will know," says one of
Christine's relatives at the house of mourning. A red trickle flows
out of the garage beneath the stone house - they've just finished
washing the death car. The Peugeot is pocked with bullet holes and
its front and rear windshields are shattered. Christine was sitting
in the back behind her father, who was driving. Marian was sitting
behind her mother. The rubber mat onto which Christine fell has not
yet been cleaned. The blood is still visible.
Najwa Sa'ada with a photo of Christine. Her daughter yelled from
the back: "Dad, stop!"
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