Your eyes that see
Muhammed Jabar, 10, Farid Suleiman, 18, and Sa'id
Salem, 47, were injured in the recent disturbances in the
territories. Each lost an eye. Missing eyes - one of the
cruelest symbols of the Intifada - again.
By Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz Magazine 05/30/2000
The eyelids are hidden behind the bandages. They are stitched shut - forever. What's left is a gloomy one-eyed stare and the hand that slips up to cover the empty, destroyed eye socket. Their new disability still embarrasses them.Muhammed, Farid and Sa'id lost an eye when they were shot by IDF soldiers. They are just three of the hundreds of Palestinians who were injured last week in the disturbances in the territories - protests that, for a while, threatened to ignite a new conflagration.
Jabar admits he threw stones at soldiers, but then, he's ten-and-a half years old. Sa'id Salem did not throw stones - at 47, he's too old for that sort of thing - he went to the demonstration to pick up his young daughter. Teenager Farid Suleiman may or may not have thrown stones. He says that only his friends threw them.
Whatever - not one of these three Palestinians deserved to lose an eye. They paid with their eyes for the stones that they or their friends threw or didn't throw at soldiers, and because of the ease with which the soldiers fire rubber-coated metal bullets. These were referred to in the terminology of the occupation simply as "rubber bullets" as if they were some kind of kid's toy. Once again, this "rubber" has gouged out eyes. This rubber can also kill.
Dozens of the 1,000 and more Palestinians injured in the disturbances are still in Palestinian hospitals. Some suffered more serious injuries than the three who lost an eye. But missing eyes - especially on children's faces - were the harshest symbols of the Intifada, and now they're back again.
"We want to return to our homeland," reads a new mural at the entrance to the Deheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem. The return is the newest leading trend in graffiti themes in this place. The Pope visited here not long ago, but that's the past, and the morning wind once more stirs up its clouds of sand, dust and garbage, and desolation is wherever you look.
"We want to live in Dir-Aban," says the graffiti on the side of Sa'id Salem's house. A gaunt, dark-skinned scaffold worker and father of eight, Salem was born in this refugee camp. According to the book "All That Remains" ("Kol Ma Shenish'ar") by Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, the ancient village of Dir-Aban had 1,200 inhabitants in 1945. Now Beit Shemesh and Tzar'a are built on where it stood. An abandoned well covered with a rusty sheet of tin, a few fragments of stone walls, and the refugee children in Deheisheh, are all that remain.
Salem's children, grandchildren of Dir-Aban refugees, wrote the graffiti. Salem has never been in trouble or arrested. His young son was arrested once about nine years ago for throwing stones and was fined NIS 1,500. The family couldn't afford to pay and the boy remained in prison for a week.
On the day of the Nakba commemoration, Salem woke later than usual. It had nothing to do with the special date - severe back pain kept him from going to work so he went to see the camp doctor. "I understood that school children were gong to be marching from the camp to Rachel's Tomb," he says. Concerned for his children, he approached the checkpoint in his car, parked and went out into raging street. He says he wanted to see which of his children was marching and to try to get them out of there and take them home. Only his daughter Nasrin was there.
He never managed to find her. As he started to cross the street, he suddenly felt a sharp blow to the head and fell down on the road, blood pouring from his eye. At the hospital in Beit Jala, they didn't know what to do to save the eye, so they sent him to St. John's eye hospital in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
There, the doctors whispered to each other in English and asked that a family member be called. They told Salem that the eye was useless and that it had to removed; the metal object that penetrated it had caused irreparable damage. "There is God in heaven and there are you, the doctors," this son of refugees from Deheisheh mumbled as he was wheeled into the operating room to have his eye removed. The bullet was left in the hospital. Salem's wife and eight children waited at home in their cramped apartment. "I couldn't support my children when I had two eyes. What's going to happen now that I've got only one?" Salem asks.
A few flies buzz around the Jabar family's pleasant living room in Beituniyeh on the second floor of an apartment building that indicates both relative prosperity and chronic neglect. Muhammed stands on the balcony of the apartment watching what's happening below in the street. Maybe he's testing out his remaining eye. This ten and a half-year old with neatly combed hair lost his eye and part of his world last week. He has two brothers and two sisters; his mother, Amal, is a housewife and his father, Faisal, works in the family banana-ripening business. He buys green unripe bananas in Tiberias or Haifa, puts them in his artificial ripener and then sells the ripe bananas in the Ramallah market.
Faisal has been shot twice. In 1988, he was shot in the shoulder by a settler aiming for some people who had thrown stones, and in 1991, a stray bullet hit him in the leg. Two weeks ago Thursday, Muhammed was sleeping over at his grandfather's house. Every Thursday, he goes straight from school in Beituniyeh to his grandfather's house on Ramallah's Jerusalem Street.
He loves to sleep over there with Naizeh, his mother's father. The next day, Friday, the weekly day off - three days before the big Nakba demonstrations - Muhammed got up and took a sherut taxi to his uncle's home which lies on the way to Beit El. Muhammed frequently visits there to play with his cousins. But this time, the game was more dangerous than usual. A demonstration was organized on the main road and Muhammed's young cousins joined in. They threw stones at the soldiers at the checkpoint.
Muhammed threw some, too. Why? "To liberate Palestine," the boy quietly answers. The soldiers began shooting in their direction. Muhammed says that he tried to run for his life after he noticed a soldier just tens of meters away aiming his weapon toward him. All of a sudden, he felt as if his eye was pushed inside his head; blood flowed from the wound. His friends held him up so he wouldn't fall, then he was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He was transferred twice until he finally reached St. John's hospital in Jerusalem, where they removed his eye and where, several days later, he met Salem, who had also just lost an eye.
Despite his father's efforts to cheer him up with presents, the boy is extremely dejected. He barely speaks and frequently covers his empty eye socket with his hand, as if attempting to conceal his disability. He won't be going back to school this year.
There is a one-story stone house in the middle of a cucumber field in Kafr Beit 'Or Al-Tahta, close to the Green Line. The skyscrapers of Modi'in are in the distance. Farid Suleiman lies on the couch in the living room, covered with a tattered blanket. Eighteen years old, he is in the twelfth grade at the village school. Some of his family's lands were left behind near Ramle. With some pride, he shows me his UNRWA refugee card that he keeps wrapped in plastic.
On the day of the Nakba commemoration, Farid went to Ramallah to buy some textbooks. The bagrut examinations are coming up. To his surprise, he found that the store was closed. That's when he realized that it was the Nakba day and that there was a general strike throughout the town. He returned later to see if the store had maybe opened. When he found it still closed, he went to a friend's house.
The friend suggested that they go together to the demonstration near the IDF checkpoint on the way to Beit El. He stood there for four hours and says he only watched the rock throwers. He says that he is far from politics. "Why didn't you throw stones like your friends?" His older brother hastens to reply: "Because he thinks that throwing stones is not the right way." And Muhammed adds: "There are negotiations and everything should be solved through negotiations." "So why did you stay there for four hours?"
"For the action," he responds succinctly. And then, just when he began to
think about going home, he was injured. He has no idea why. Bullet
fragments in the eye, leg and hand. "In my head, I had the sense that this
was death. I thought it was the end for me." At the Ramallah hospital,
they removed the two foreign metal objects from his eye; the eye had to
be removed. The bagrut examinations commence on June 8. Farid says
that he'll be ready for them, even with just one eye.