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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Translated by Tal Haran