The soldier is a human being, isn't he?
August 1st, 2011, at dawn, the Occupation soldiers
murdered Mu'tasem Udwan and Ali Khalifa and seriously wounded
It was the
first morning of Ramadan.
always shocking. And because afterwards there is nothing. But
what shocked me in particular was how Mu'tasem’s mother saw him
very soon after he was murdered, lying on the ground by his
house door, his brain splashed on the asphalt. This is how she
saw him, her son, and somehow this is what shocks me most of
all. Because as soon as he is dead, he is already gone and my
thoughts go to the holes that he has left behind. But this
particular hole, of Mu'tasem’s mother, is what turns off all the
lights for me.
On the one
hand, what happened that dawn in Qalandiya refugee camp is not
extraordinary. Such things happen all the time. The Occupation
soldiers invade one Palestinian locality or another, especially
at night, under this or that pretext, and then they break doors,
and after breaking in they smash things inside the house,
closets and plate glass and television sets, and usually pick up
one or another youth, about whom this or that has been said,
some truth or some falsehood, usually taken as testimony from
another boy under some pressure or other, whereby it is
reasonable to assume that he would say anything he was told to
say and confess anything he was ordered to confess, and usually
there are also stones hurled at the Occupation soldiers and
mostly the Occupation soldiers shoot at the stone throwers who
are usually mere children, and they also fire rubber or teargas
ammunition and even live bullets into homes and on the streets
just like that, and here and there at the end of all of this
people are wounded or killed, and all this is not that
extraordinary. Not in the Qalandiya refugee camp, not throughout
the Occupied West Bank.
murders of Ali Khalifa and Mu'tasem Udwan were cast in the camp
as a unique event and different from all the other events that
have become routine with the dripping of the years.
Again and again
people have been saying, “how could they possibly do this”, and
“why of all days on the first day of Ramadan”, the religious and
the secular ask alike.
And not because
the blood of a person murdered during Ramadan is more precious
than that of a victim on any other day. But perhaps it is only
that people cannot complain to the same extent at any given
moment and shout ‘No!’ and that it is unbearable, unacceptable.
For if they did that, no joy would be left, no endurance and the
ability to exert oneself and bring up one’s children properly in
spite of it all, and live in spite of everything, and also it is
normally too dangerous to revolt, and involves tremendous
But there are
such moments when the truth, always present, emerges and is
heard, and time stops.
Ramadan is such
a symbolic moment. Perhaps because in Ramadan the shops remain
open at night, too, and one has the duty of doing good deeds,
and because people need such moments of shift away from the
everyday, and this is provided by religion and tradition, and
not only for Palestinians under Occupation.
“This is what
happened that night”, says Haitham, our friend. A gentle,
special man from Qalandiya refugee camp. “This is what I heard
“They came for
Muhamad. Muhamad Haitham Khatib. He is a 15-year old boy. More than
200 soldiers came. 200 soldiers to catch a 15-year old boy. 200
soldiers came for one kid and killed two adults. That’s what
come, all the Israeli soldiers, to the camp. They bring with
them all those forces just to pick up a kid or two… And the
Border Patrol and… They keep coming from a thousand ways. From
down here, from outside, from the settlement above. They come
down, or up, and around the camp where the airplanes were (what
used to be the Atarot airfield) and from the main road, from
lots of roads.
This time, too.
They came from near the settlement.
accused - this I heard in the camp - do you know of what? Are
you familiar with the settlement next to the camp? Not Psagot,
what’s it called? Kochav Hashachar. He’s accused of having burnt
With all those
soldiers and Border Patrol and the guys with the guns and jeeps
and fence and guards and cameras all around. He came to them and
burnt a mountain there?
What a story.
Just doesn’t enter one’s head. But that’s what his parents told
me. That this is what he is accused of. That this 15-year old
kid went near the settlement and burnt the mountain.
didn’t know his real address. So they entered more than one
house. And in every house they broke stuff. That’s what I heard.
And it’s normal for them to break stuff. They don’t know any
break the doors with their special machines that they bring.
They don’t knock. Only this way, without saying a word, they
place the device on the door and press a button and - pow - it
opens the door. Always. Not once or twice. Like they did at our
home, remember? People replace doors a lot in our camp
In short, they
came to the camp, and didn’t find the boy. They didn’t find the
So if you don’t
find the boy, you raise such hell? Right, Tammi? You don’t find
the boy so you go ahead and kill two people?
And then what
did they do? What they did was to pick up his cousin. 22-years
old. They didn’t find Muhamad so they took his cousin, and said
that they were taking him until the kid’s father would turn him
And Tamar said:
“It’s shocking, Haitham. Shocking. Not only do they kill them,
they take in his nephew… kidnap…”
Haitham. “And his dad brought him to Ofer prison the next day, I
think. So his nephew would be released… Under what kind of law
do they do this? Taking his cousin, telling his dad if you bring
your own son, you can take back your nephew… What law has such
words… For the father to hand in his own child. In his own hands
he takes his child to prison. And the child knows he’s going…
I can’t lie to
you, stones have been thrown at them. They left Muhamad’s house on
the way to the another one, and stones were thrown at them. But
often they entered the camp and picked the people up, and every
time stones were thrown at them. But they didn’t always do this.
So why did you
come this time, in Ramadan? For a boy no older than 15 or 16?
And you knew there were people in the street because of Ramadan.
And you knew stones would be thrown at you.
And I want to
say something about the stone-throwing thing. Throwing stones,
that’s the maximum. For who in the camp would have the heart to
pick up a gun and shoot at soldiers? So maximum they throw
stones. Say a Molotov cocktail, right, Tammi? At most, a Molotov
cocktail or stones.
So a stone was
thrown, so what. They don’t kill you with a stone, right? A
stone doesn’t kill, only wounds you. So for this you came and
Mu'tasem Udwan, the first fellow they killed. He is my
neighbor,” says Marwan from the camp, whom we have just recently
met. “He lives just 10 meters away. We were all woken up by the
shooting… it was war… I went up to the roof. And there was this
soldier down in the street. His rifle placed on a tripod… And
Mu'tasem opened his door to take a look outside because of the
shooting and the noise. Terrible noise… and teargas and lots of
looked down didn’t notice the soldier. The soldier shot him in
the head, and he fell to the floor.
He opened the
door of his home and the soldier shot him with a live bullet to
the head… and his brain spilt on the ground.
And he didn’t
have a head anymore. He didn’t have a head…
I saw all that
from my roof. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. He had
no more head… and his brain spilt on the floor.
Abu Ali, Ali
Khalifa the second one, he lives down hill. But that night he
was at the camp. With his friends. That’s how it is during
Ramadan. A bit like your Thursday and Friday nights. People
hanging out together. All night. And guys beating traditional
drums to wake people up before dawn so they might still get
bread or other things for the house before the fast.
And then it all
shooting got really heavy he wanted to go back home. To get
away. His car was parked near my house.
He may have
come there because he wasn’t as familiar with the camp as we
are, so he came back for his car.
And he saw
Mu'tasem lying on the ground. All alone. It was just 6 minutes
after he was shot. And he went over, to Mu'tasem, he may have
thought he was wounded, and wanted to help him. He didn’t notice
And the soldier
shot him too. Two bullets. One came out the other side. And a
hole opened up in his abdomen. And then he fell, right by
“That’s how he
went… How Abu Ali went…”
you call him Abu Ali?”
“His name was
Ali Khalifa. But he was called this way. Abu Ali, because his
name is Ali. So you add the Abu. Like that.”
these guys”, says Haitham. “The camp is small, but everyone
knows Abu Ali most.
I knew him
well, the day before I saw him at the gas station, washing his
car. But earlier too. He was with me in prison. As a boy. At the
He was a good
person… He used to help people, the elderly, all of us cannot
believe he’s dead, I swear to you. That he’s gone. Unbelievable.
And he is a Jerusalemite. A Jerusalemite. He lives down the
hill. Not in the camp… His parents pay municipal taxes.
Mu'tasem, too, but not well. He’s a nice guy. Really nice.
Studied at the university. He was about to graduate in a year’s
time. And he didn’t do anything. Doesn’t throw stones. He was at
home. Looking out through his own door and was shot in the
“And the one
who was wounded, Ma’amun Awad, he was shot inside his car”, says
Marwan. “He was trying to get away, and the soldiers wouldn’t let
him pass, and he pleaded, and finally they threw a gas canister
into his car, and smoke broke out, and he opened the car door to
escape the smoke, and they shot him, they had an M-16, and he is
wounded now. Badly wounded.”
“Maybe you know
him”, says Haitham, “this is Ma’amun Awad, whose father owns a
gas station at Semiramis, where the army camp used to be and the
soldiers would throw stones at the taxis, remember? Poor guy.
Got two bullet. Two bullets sitting in his backbone, and the
doctors fear that if they’re removed, he will become paralyzed.
They say if the bullets are taken out, he’ll end up paralyzed.”
And we fell
silent again. Time passed. Then I asked: “Haitham, after that
happened to Mu'tasem, did his family see?” Because I kept
thinking of it the whole time.
“Sure they saw.
He was shot at the entrance to his house.
beginning his mother was upstairs, watching everything. She saw
someone on the ground, his brain spilt… she didn’t realize at
first that it was her own son she was seeing. Poor guy, she
said, poor wounded child, crying for him not knowing it was her
son. But shortly afterwards she knew. And rushed out. She
couldn’t recognize him. his head was blasted, the brain was
spilt on the ground. That’s what they say. And from the eyes up
there’s nothing… And his mother went mad, poor woman. We all
cried for her. Pulling at her hair. She’s ill. She’s ill now...”
“The thing that
hurts you about Mu'tasem is that the fellow was inside his own
home. Standing inside his home. You know what that means, at
home? Where the heart is. That’s the worst. The most painful.
“I couldn’t eat
for 4, 5 days after all of this”, says Marwan, “nor sleep
properly… not after seeing his brain splashed on the ground..
his flesh hot. His and Abu Ali’s, hot… Abu Ali’s abdomen on the
floor… all the flesh, the meat... After the soldiers left I went
down where they lay, Mu'tasem and Abu Ali. I thought I’d pick
all that up from the ground and put it away, on the side. But I
was told not to. That they will take it too, to later sew it
back into their bodies… So we collected all of this and put it
in plastic bags, and it was hot, hot, their flesh was hot.”
“I think they
do it on purpose”, Haitham added. “It’s on purpose. Tammi….
People are sitting like this anyway, and have nothing, and their
life is hard. Such a hard life… So why pack in Ramadan like
this? Why do this and leave people with no illusions?
reason, I say. To take away their illusions. Their… How do you
say this in Hebrew, I’ve forgotten.
To take away
their hope, Aya. That’s the word. That’s the point.
And I’m not
racist. I look at things from many angles. This will happen and
that will happen and I’ll think again and again. And I don’t see
everyone the same way. But they did this out of racism. That’s
what I think. Not because of the stones, and not because of
Muhamad. Because of racism. Otherwise they wouldn’t kill two
racism that got Mu'tasem. And Abu Ali. Their racism…”
“The camp is
very heavy now. Our heart is heavy” says Haitham, after we sat
quietly for some more moments. “And fear. People are walking
around afraid of soldiers, that if they go out at night, they’d
be killed. From far away. And it’s quiet at night. People don’t
open their windows out of fear.
This is the
story of what happened that night of Ramadan in our camp… This
is what happened.”
And this is
what our friend A., another friend from Qalandiya, told us (A.
is a very close friend of ours, and he is always asking us to
keep him anonymous because he is afraid that if the soldiers
find out that he is talking about what happens at the camp, they
would hurt his family). He is the one who first told us about
this all, right after it happened. He called us twenty minutes
after the murder in the camp, to tell, while the calls for the
first prayer of Ramadan were still heard in the background, and
Mu'tasem was already dead, and Ali not yet, and Ma’amun
unconscious, and it all sounded unreal, like a film or a book or
you know, is such a cute guy. He heard a noise… We say “this
guy’s clock is through”. Now he stepped out of the door, the
soldiers standing outside, saw a guy look out, so they shot him.
know, I say this, you know, he’s dead, but someone shot him. The
guy who shot, I mean what is he saying in his own home now?
alone, I think he has kids, he too has a family, or a mother,
brothers, his father… And he’s sitting at home, and saying I
killed a child today. Why? He can’t say why. Because, why? What
did the kid do? What did he do to me? Was he armed? No, he
carried no weapon. Was he, how do you say this, was he one of
the Arab fighters? No, he was not one of those. And I know he
had nothing on him. He didn’t throw stones. He just stepped out
of his home, and suddenly I killed him – the soldier would say.
And I say,
this soldier, what can he say?
If he has a
heart, what does he end up saying?
wow, why did I kill him? That’s what I think. Just like that.
Because, why? What did he do?
said, I think he’s sitting at home and making this… screen…
making up some story for himself.
listen, A. interrupts her. He did this and he knows.
have aimed at the leg, no? He could shoot at the leg and wound
him. If he’d want to. But he aimed at the head.
on their rifle they have this… he sees through his sights… he
looks, he knows. You understand… So I don’t know, I don’t know
what he… how he sits at home, knowing, knowing he killed.
soldier is a human being, right?
He has a
heart, doesn’t he? So what does he tell himself. That I killed a
boy today. What does he tell himself…
Aya Kaniuk and Tamar Goldschmidt. Translated by Tal Haran.