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More of Abu Omar's Troubles

It is usually said of women. She's a mother. And this is how mothers are. Mostly. Perhaps it is evolution. When they become mothers, this is their deepest, most absolute inner place. In their innermost circle. All the rest remains in other circles. Abu Omar is such a father. It seems. Perhaps that's why he is so appealing to me.
Not just this, but it is the first thing I noticed about him.
For example when he speaks of his children - and not about their achievements or troubles, just about them - and they are held in the words that are held in the eyes and the swells of the telling voice, charged with such emotion, thick and deep and absolute.

Abu Omar, almost forty years old, and above and beyond anything else, and especially deeper than anything else – a father. He is the father of Nur, Usayed, Qassam, Suhayeb, Alaa' and Omar. He married at nineteen. The family told him to get married, that way he will be less hassled. That way his head will be in the right place. And so he did. And rightly so. His children are his world. His fatherhood is his identity. Really.

We sat in the small living room of his home at Qalandiya refugee camp. He sat next to Qassam, close. Their hands touching. Fleetingly. Solidly. No room for doubt: this is his son. And he is his father. Flesh of his flesh. A father and his son.

On Friday, May 11th, 2007, soldiers waited in an abandoned house at the edge of Qalandiya refugee camp. Five soldiers with guns and bats. The children gathered at the corner, as they always do. M. was selling coffee at the parking lot and O. was selling coffee to drivers lined up waiting in their cars. The army jeeps and humvees had been circling since morning, waiting. There were no more than twenty children, the eldest fifteen years-old, the youngest around eleven.

It is hard to be a parent in Qalandiya.

For several Fridays in a row Abu Omar had taken his family out to have a good time. This time they didn't go. No money for outings that week. But everyone was home together. Until three thirty. Qassam had just fixed a flat bicycle tire, and Abu Omar went to play football. The dangerous hours were over, he thought. Now it was already late. Nothing will go wrong. And all the children are at home. This time he wasn't worried.

Some time ago Qassam had to quit school, in spite of Abu Omar's protests and pleas. He had called me then and said he had something terrible to tell me. He was weeping. He said, "I failed. The child no longer wants to go to school."

Qassam is fourteen now. When he was eight years-old, while standing at the edge of a demonstration, he was hit by a live bullet. It struck the metal post he had been leaning against with his head, and sustained shrapnel wounds. Since then he has lost his learning capacities, suffers pain when the seasons change, his head is deformed. This is another reason he left school. He had had it. Kids make fun of him there, Abu Omar said, they say he has two heads. Retarded. Stupid. He was also having a hard time studying. Failing. He remembers how he had been before he was hit. Good. And then nothing has remained of that. This is how he feels. So he doesn't want to go there any more. No more. And the school didn't really want him either. They didn't insist. He'll help his father sell cakes with his cart, said the child. That's what he wants. And that's what he does. Every day. Abu Omar gives him one tray and he goes around selling.

For several years now, the same ritual has been perpetuated. Children throw stones, the soldiers chase them and shoot and the children get hit and they die. Five have already been murdered on the same spot, soldiers fired and they died. I have no idea how many have been wounded, how many crippled. Many. When the children don't throw stones, the soldiers ride around the camp in their jeeps and Humvees in gleeful provocation until the stones start flying. Once we saw how, when the children did not throw stones, the soldiers themselves started throwing stones in order to provoke the children, so they could shoot at them. Not that they need an excuse. Apparently it's just a part of the game.

Lately it has been happening on Fridays afternoons, after the one-o'clock prayer.
It began then, around the demonstrations protesting construction work at the Moghrabi bridge, and has become the set day and hour for this horrible game, with children and teenage boys at the one end and armed soldiers at the other.
Sometimes the soldiers await them earlier, in the morning. It depends. The children don't disappoint them, usually. They arrive, and throw, and if they don't throw stones, the soldiers goad them long enough to start. We have seen this happen time and again.

Abu Omar worries most about Qassam. Because he is hurt, and unpopular, and insecure, and – Abu Omar fears – "wants to be a man", perhaps. Wants to resist the Occupation…

It must have been around four or four-thirty in the afternoon. That morning the soldiers had been there since nine o'clock. We saw this. There were only young children around.
Nothing had started yet. The soldiers hadn't fired yet, the children hadn't thrown stones yet, said our knowledgeable coffee vendors.

And then, the soldiers who had apparently been hiding in the abandoned house at the edge of the camp suddenly came out just beside the children's gathering spot. Qassam was caught immediately. An eighteen year-old boy from Bethlehem just arrived, all dressed up, got off a cab not far from them, on one of the camp's access alleys, on his way to visit some relatives living in the camp. He was also caught immediately, had no idea what was going on.

Most of the children managed to escape but five were caught, the youngest of whom was twelve and a half, and fourteen year-old Qassam, and another two fifteen-year olds, and the fellow from Bethlehem who didn't understand what this was all about.
I am not from here, he kept repeating, in vain. The soldiers beat them to a pulp, said the children. With wooden sticks. These are bats, explained Abu Omar. They beat them on their backs and hands and heads and with rifle butts and the children screamed.
One soldier crushed Qassam's damaged head with his boot and said, 'Let's see you a man now". One child had been holding a stone. Qassam said he was beaten especially hard. They smashed him up and he ran and they shot him as he was running away.
He wasn't hit.
The bruised and terrified children were handcuffed behind their backs, stuffed into a jeep, pushed on its floor, in a pile. The soldiers sat on the two side benches, the children in a pile on the floor, between them. They continued battering them as they lay there shackled. Qassam, lying on the bottom of the pile, perhaps because he is heavier, big for his age, was beaten on his head with the vehicle's fire extinguisher. We saw the wound. They drove them to the checkpoint, several dozen yards away, blindfolded them and took them into some room.

It all seemed to happen very fast. Each was taken separately somewhere to be photographed. Then they took Qassam, he says, into another room and said "you threw stones". He said he didn't. "I was with the bicycle. I help my father."
Okay, said the soldiers. They showed him photographs of other boys and said, "Tell us who throws stones and we'll let you go." He told them he didn't know.
At this point Qassam was separated from the others who were taken, so he says, in a large vehicle. I think that the fact that they separated Qassam was because at that point we had pulled strings to release him. At first we only mentioned him, we did not know of the others yet, for we only knew him and that is why we heard about this. We were worried about him and his head full of shrapnel.
What we did, in fact, was to exercise our hegemonic, 'white' privileged power, a function of the system, of the reigning inequality, discrimination, racism. We, the visible, the proper, the over-privileged, made Qassam visible in the eyes of the Occupation forces. With his big head. His young age. His wounds. His precarious medical condition. Simply by our knowing him. And they realized that Qassam was not alone. He was made real. Given a name.
Qassam assumed the others were taken to Ofer Detention Camp because that is what the soldiers had threatened. But actually they were taken to another installation. Not so faraway.
After Qassam was released, and we were a bit reassured about him, we learned about the others and tried to intervene on their behalf as well. And it is likely, that again, for all the obvious and wrong reasons, and not as in the numerous cases of children taken away for days and months, the others – after being beaten including the twelve year-old – were released at midnight. And returned home.

Later we heard that when the children came to Abu Omar's house to tell him that Qassam had been beaten, and taken away, he was not home. Suhayeb, his not quite seventeen year-old son was. And he ran off with all his might to try and save his brother. You took my brother, he told the soldiers. My brother is retarded. My brother does not throw stones. The soldiers waved their rifles at him, threatened him. He left and called his father, who could not believe his ears. This couldn't be, he kept saying. That they took Qassam. I saw him just a while ago. He said he'd stay home, fix the bicycle. Somehow, Abu Omar – for all the reasons that parents always have – thought that this time it wouldn't happen. Not today. Today is okay, he thought.
He ran to the checkpoint as fast as his feet could carry him. My son, he cried. You took my son. He ran from side to side, looking for someone who would listen. The jeeps and the humvee were still standing there in the middle of the road, with their antenna-tiaras and guns, inherently provoking response to their brutal, alien, superfluous might.

He approached the humvee. My son is wounded in the head, he said. Where is he? Where is my son? he begged. They said, "We don't have your son."
He repeated, "Where is he? Tell me where to go." Then one of the soldiers came out of the humvee, Abu Omar says, and struck me. Said 'Your son threw stones'.
My son threw no stones, I told him. My son's crazy. 'You're a son of a bitch, a bastard', the soldier said. Abu Omar blushes as he quotes him, the words come hard. He whispers them. Obviously unbelieving they were actually said.
I talk to him and he pushes me. Swears at me. I said, you swear like that because you have a gun. 'I'll kill you', the soldier said to him.
I said, okay. go ahead. Don't swear at me. Then he spat at me. His spit hit another soldier. There was shouting. Wow… I thought this was the end.

Suddenly a jeep came, and then another. And Suhayeb, my son, said there were jeeps so I went there. There was an officer, and I said I was looking for my son. My son is sick in the head. The officer said, 'are you Abu Omar, Qassam's father? Your son threw stones.' Then I saw Qassam in the other jeep. He saw me and was crying, afraid I'd think he threw stones. I told the soldier he was crazy. 'Look at him, he's sick. He doesn't throw stones.' Qassam got out of the jeep, crying, and said again and again,
"I didn't throw stones", speaking only to his father. "If your son's sick, take him, put him in school, keep him with you when he plays football", the soldier said, and I said yes… I also told him what that soldier did with the gun and the swearing and the pushing and the spitting, and he said, show me who. But I thought Qassam is here, that's what counts. I said, never mind. My son's here and he's alright.

That night, Qassam cried. Afraid to sleep alone, he cuddled up next to Abu Omar. Until morning. In the morning Abu Omar took him to the UNRWA clinic at the camp. The doctor bandaged him up as best he could.

Three weeks ago, on one of those doomed Fridays, Abu Omar's family went to the Dead Sea. Ever since the soldiers shot his son, Abu Omar has been prevented entry to Israel, where he had always worked, and so for the past four years he has been working at the checkpoint, pushing a porter's cart from one side of the checkpoint to the other. Now he sells sweet cakes in the area. He earns between fifty and a hundred shekels a day. He works from morning till night.
They took off. They had never been there. Years ago they went to Jaffa, to the beach. The children no longer remember. The Dead Sea is the only place where the children of Palestine can still have some fun. He paid a lot. Four work days' worth. And they went. It was the 20th of April. Two families. They got to Kaliya and had a great time. Only the little one, four years-old, didn't understand why the water was so salty.

Since they were there, Israel has decided to prevent Palestinians access to the Dead Sea. A checkpoint has been placed on the road. Palestinians are sent back. Israelis proceed. The right to go to the Dead Sea – it, too – is for Jews only.

The same policy, I think, that sends its soldiers to wait for Qalandiya children with pointed guns, eager to provoke them into throwing stones and shoot them as they runa way, is the same system that has placed its soldiers on the road so that when cars arrive bearing Palestinian families out for a day at the only seashore left for them, tiny as it may be, it turns them back only because they are Palestinians.

Qassam is alright now. Also less afraid at night. And the wounds have almost healed. And the other boys too, we were told, are fine. I mean, their wounds have healed. This time.

But I think that even though Abu Omar has been through a lot – his father was run down by a settler-woman and killed, his old and nearly blind father, who was later accused that he had thrown stones, as though things are connected or meaningful, his mother, trying to extricate his younger brother from a demonstration near a checkpoint was murdered by a soldier who thrust teargas at her face and she choked to death, and then they shot his eight year-old son Qassam six years ago and the bullet hit the iron post next to his head and the shrapnel entered his brain that was damaged forever – and now, lately, nineteen year-old Omar has been suffering for over a year from high blood pressure, he bleeds from the mouth and nose, and is afraid he's dying. There are two places he can be treated, say the concerned doctors: Hadassah Ein Keren and Jordan. But he is not allowed into Jerusalem. Since soldiers hit Qassam, the whole family is prevented. The children too. Omar, too. They won't let him get to Hadassah. In order to get to Jordan he needs to get on a very long waiting list. Amongst other Occupation victim, limbless and dying, a youngster with high blood pressure is at the end of the line. Although the Occupation has robbed him of his livelihood, his freedom of movement and his personal hope, more than everything else, more than the burden of history and the unbearable endless toil, Abu Omar's tragedy is that he cannot protect his children. That he cannot be a father. This is what the Occupation has done to Abu Omar.

But in spite of what he thinks, and grieves, he is a wonderful father. As I said, this is the first thing I noticed about him. Then I also saw everything else about him that is also beautiful.
Such is Abu Omar.

Aya Kaniuk.  Translated by Tal Haran


Omar and Ussayed


Qasssam and Abu Omar


  Abu Omar


Kifah. Um Omar


Nur and Alla'




Suhayeb and Nur


Suhayeb and Nur


Nur and Usayed


Abu Omar

Abu Omar

Usayed and Nur

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