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Our Living Dead

Reham Alhelsi, Palestine Think Tank


August 4, 2008

During a seminar I attended in Germany about journalism and its role in conflicts, some participants were against the idea of TV stations like Aljazeera showing the horrific photos of Palestinian victims. They argued that seeing such pictures would only increase the hate and the anger and fuel the conflict. I was against that, and said that when we talk about the Zionist crimes committed against us, we are either accused of lying or exaggerating, and since the written word in western press is mostly pro-Israeli, we have only these photos left to speak for us. It is because one single such photo speaks a thousand honest words, many prefer not to see them or pretend not to know of their existence. When Palestinians distribute pictures of the victims killed by the IOF to news agencies, they are accused of using their dead for propaganda. But when the Israelis spread pictures of their dead, they are pitied for their loss and their dead are glorified. The world is allowed to see Israeli mothers crying near their dead sons and allowed to see scenes of suicide bombings with blood all over the place, but not that of Palestinian mothers crying the loss of their loved ones, or of the scenes of the various massacres or Palestinian houses covered with blood after an Israeli raid. How come we are not allowed to see photos of Palestin-ian victims who were killed while on their way to school or work, or who were simply killed by an Israeli air strike while sitting in their own living rooms? It has nothing to do with the photos being too graphic, too horrific to be seen, too inappropriate for the viewers or even the excuse that it might increase the hate. It is true that many of these photos are horrific and painful to look at, but they constitute the very few instruments available to us to speak about our suffering in a world that practices a selective freedom of press. And because these photos speak for themselves and on behalf of the victims condemning the killers, they are forbidden. As far as I can remember the Israeli TV was continuously showing films about the Holocaust, the concentration camps and photos of the victims. Western media does the same. Al-most 70 years after the Holocaust, we are reminded of it on an almost daily basis through all forms of media, but there is almost no mention whatsoever in this same media about the Palestinian victims and their ongoing Holocaust.

Photos have their own power and often send a clearer and more honest message than a thousand words. That is one reason why there are lots of things the western media won’t show its viewers or readers, especially when it comes to Zionist terror. For us, these pictures represent a way of saying we will never forget our victims and show our solidarity with the families of these victims. I remember when I was a child we had at home a drawing of Lena Nabulsi by the well-known Palestinian artist Suleiman Mansour. This is a well-known painting in Palestine that hangs on the wall of many Palestinian houses. It shows Lena lying on the ground in a field, with blood streaming out of her head. Lena was a 15-year-old Palestinian pupil who was killed in cold blood in 1976 by the IOF while visiting a friend of hers after school. As I grew up, I often heard the song of Lena at home and at my grandparents’ house. It is as well-known as the painting itself, and especially during the first Intifada one could practically hear this song and others coming from almost every corner and every street in Palestine. The song "Fe Al Daffa" (In the West Bank) written by Hasan Daher and sung by Ahmed Kabour says: Lena was a child making her future, Lena fell, but her blood was singing… was singing for Jerusalem, Jaffa, Jericho… I remem-ber how at night I used to wake up and look at the painting which hung in the bedroom exactly opposite the bed. I used to watch the painting and think about her and how she was killed just like that and for no reason other than that she is Palestinian. Sometimes I would think about how real she looked in that painting, about her lying there in the field, her long hair spread around her face like some halo and her blood watering the earth beneath her. It was as if she would stand up any minute and walk back home. In those moments in the middle of the night, I used to wonder if she would be scared waking up alone at night in that field, so far away from her home. Through this painting and through the song, Lena’s mem-ory is kept alive in the minds of Palestinians and her story will be forwarded from one generation to the following.

In older days, the memory of Palestinian national heroes was kept alive through folklore, especially folk songs and stories. Who among us doesn’t memorize the song of Sijin Akka (Acre Prison)? This song narrates the story of the three Acre heroes: Mohammad Jamjoum, Fouad Hijazi and Atta Al-Zeir who were executed by the British mandate government on Tuesday the 17th of June 1930. This sad song talks about the last minutes of the three heroes, their courage and their love for Palestine which even the gallows couldn’t extinguish, how all of Palestine mourned these heroes and a general strike was declared on the day of their execution. Other folk songs narrate stories of other heroes such as the story of Mish’al, the story of Jafra and others.

When the first intifada began, Palestinians were faced with the daily terror of the Zionist state. We used to see the pictures of those killed by the IOF in Palestinian newspapers and magazines. Almost every day there were new victims, and new pictures. Sometimes it would only be a photo with a condolence’s announcement, sometimes a number of photos would accompany a news article or an interview with eye witnesses, family members or friends. After reading them, I always found it difficult to throw away these newspapers and magazines. At first I started tearing away the pages with the photos of the Pales-tinian victims and keeping them safe in a drawer, but with time I had gathered a huge pile of newspaper and magazine clippings, posters, etc. I started thinking of how best to preserve these photos. These people were victims of the Zionist terror. They should always be remembered and the crimes committed against Palestinians should never be forgotten and the criminals should be brought to justice. Till one day I had the idea of collecting the photos in some sort of album. I bought thick notebooks and started arranging the photos of martyrs and gluing them in the notebooks. With time I had four such albums, all full with photos of the Palestinian victims, Palestinian children, adults, young and old, men and women, pupils, students, teachers, workers, housewives, all killed by the IOF or by the illegal Jewish settlers.

I felt it is some kind of duty, the least I could do to keep the memory of these people, that one day these albums might one day help to convict the murders, i.e. the Israeli army, the illegal settlers and the Zion-ist state for its crime against an unarmed population. Sometimes friends of mine or classmates would give me a magazine or some clippings about this martyr or that to add to my albums. Whenever a story was published with a photo I would add the story to my albums as well. There was a time, when going through these albums I was able to remember the story behind every face, the pain and horror that froze this girl’s smile or that young man’s laugh, the crime committed to end this pupil’s or that shepherd’s life.

One photo that comes to mind is that of Mohammad Abu Aker from Dheisheh refugee camp. This Palestinian legend was a friend of my uncles. I used to see him at my grandparents’ house. Mohammad became well-known after he was shot at by an IOF sniper with a dumdum bullet. Dumdum bullets are designed to cause more damage than normal bullets by exploding inside the body into tiny fragments causing severe injuries and bleeding. On August 6th, 1988 Mohammad, 17 at the time, was on his way to visit friends when he was shot at close range in the abdomen. This high velocity Dumdum bullet virtu-ally exploded inside his intestines and totally shredded the small intestines and the majority of the large intestine and gangrene set in. Mohammad’s digestive system was thus destroyed. Surgeons had cut out his gangrenous intestines and he was starving to death. The doctors considered his case hopeless and predicted at the time that Mohammad had only few days to live. But Mohammad clung to life and Doc-tors and other delegations from all over the world came to see this Palestinian miracle.

This young man, with practically no digestive system at all, who according to modern medicine had no chances, and who was sitting in his Makassed hospital room, knowing he could die any minute, was always smiling, welcoming delegations from all over Palestine and all over the world and would never tire to talk to them about Palestine, our struggle for freedom and the terror committed by the IOF against an unarmed population. He knew he would die, but that never stopped him from hoping and living. Mo-hammad Abu Aker became a symbol for all Palestinians, he became a symbol of our love of life and freedom, and that despite Zionist terror we would cling to the last breath of life. He became the "living martyr of the Intifada". After a lot of efforts from several sides, one doctor from Boston agreed to perform a risky intestinal transplant on Mohammad. He was flown to the States, where preliminary surgery was completed and a catheter was inserted into Mohammad’s chest through which he could be nourished. The doctors then proposed that Mohammad return back home until he was strong enough for the actual transplant. Back in Dheisheh, and despite the protection Mohammad got from the residents and the foreigners, people were still concerned that he might be killed by the IOF soldiers or through exposure to tear gas. Only days after his gall bladder had been removed, Mohammad was arrested by an IOF patrol and was to be held hostage until his wanted brother gave himself up. But the camp residents confronted the IOF and freed Mohammad. Not only was Mohammad himself threatened, other camp resident were told by the IOF that "they will be made like Abu Aker."

I remember the last time I saw him at my grandparents’ house. He came for a visit and everyone gath-ered around him. They were laughing and joking, and I kept looking at this young man, so strong of will, so full of hope, smiling and talking to everyone, and I was thinking what a great powerful people we are, not even death stops us from living and struggling to live in dignity. The next time I saw Mohammed was in hospital, and that was the last time I ever saw him. Mohammad survived one whole year after his injury. His weak body then started giving up, although his spirit never did. I went with a group of friends to visit him in hospital. I feared what I would see, his body being planted with hundreds of tubes, making him look more like a machine than a human being. I feared crying in front of the others. They all grew up in the refugee camp, and as difficult as it is each time to have to say goodbye to a relative or a friend, they are somewhat used to such things. Dheisheh was always one stronghold of resistance against the Israeli occupation and the residents had often to say goodbye to their sons or daughters. They are so strong, I am not as strong. I just hoped I wouldn’t start crying in front of them and in front of Mohammad. He was lying in bed, extremely thin and with a few tubes here and there, but it wasn’t as bad as I ex-pected. He welcomed us with his usual smile; the thing I mostly remember about that last visit. He was talking and smiling as always. He had more courage than all of us. That was the last time I saw Mo-hammad Abu Aker. On October 22nd, 1990, Mohammad died of heart failure at the age of 19. Within minutes, posters of him were to be seen all over the camp, and I believe everywhere in the Bethlehem area. Photos and posters of him were distributed and I tried to collect as many as possible for my Al-bums.

I didn’t know Anton Shomali directly. Maybe I spoke once or twice to him. He was a very good looking young man and was very active politically. It was my first year at Bethlehem University. A new era in my life was beginning in a new environment, with new friends. It was Saturday evening on May 2nd, 1992, and Anton was returning back home alone from a visit to friends. He was stopped by two Israeli border police, and after shoving him against the wall of a neighboring house, one of the soldiers just thrust his automatic weapon into Anton’s back and fired three times. Just like that and for no reason, as often is the case. He was then dragged by the soldiers down a flight of stone steps to a concealed balcony nearby and was left there to bleed to death. A neighbor who saw what happened hurried to help Anton after the IOF soldiers had left him bleeding. He was taken to hospital, but all efforts to save his life were in vain. He died as a result of extensive injuries causing massive internal bleeding. The IOF soldiers had wounded Anton fatally, and left him in a corner to bleed to death: It was murder in cold blood. Another young man killed in a monstrous way and for no reason at all. And another photo to be added to the album that was getting filled quickly with faces of young men and women, who dreamt of a better future, and whose dreams were cut short by a Zionist bullet.

Another group of photos comes to mind: the photos of the victims of the massacre committed by a Zion-ist at Rishon Letzion near Tel Aviv. This massacre took place on a Sunday afternoon, later to be called "Back Sunday". At 18:00 on the 20th of May 1990 when people where preparing to go home after a long day’s work, thinking about their families awaiting their return, the home made dinner and the evening nap after tee. But for several Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip that day was never to end. As they stood at a bus stop waiting to head home, an Israeli soldier came, forced the Palestinians to line against the wall and then started shooting at them. Seven were killed on the spot and several others were critically injured. After hearing the news, people all over Palestine went out into the streets to pro-test against this new Zionist massacre. Another 7 Palestinians were killed by the IOF that day and hun-dreds wounded. I remember seeing the photos of this horrific crime that were published at the time, and thinking about how these people had woken up that morning, gone to work to earn the day’s bread for their children. They were lying there on the ground, with blood all over the place, the plastic bags in which they carry their dinner box laying near by. I remember looking at these photos and thinking: what wrong have these people done to end up like this? They harmed no one, and only wanted to feed their families and live their lives despite the terrorism of the IOF and hoped for a better future for their chil-dren. They were of different ages, some were in their twenties, others in their forties, but they had one thing in common: they were Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, forced to go and work in Israel to earn their living and feed their families because the Israeli occupation left them no other choice.

Less than half a year later, on the morning of Monday October the 8th, 1990 I was in class as usual, when all of a sudden we heard sounds of bullets being shot. The shots were continuous as if from an automatic machine. There was a lot of tension in Jerusalem on that day. A few days before we had heard in the media that the fanatic Jewish group known as the "Temple Trustees" was intending to march to Al-Aqsa Mosque on the occasion of what they called the "Throne Festival", some kind of reli-gious festival. In statements sent to the press, this fanatic group said it was going to place the founda-tion stone for what it called the "Third Temple" and called upon Jews to participate in this march. 200,000 fanatic Jews took part in this march, headed towards Al-Aqsa, aiming at storming it so as to end "the Arab-Islamic occupation of the temple area" as their leader Ghershoun Salmoun said. The Israeli army assisted the fanatics as usual and eased their mission by placing checkpoints and military barriers along various roads leading to Jerusalem so as to prevent the Palestinians from getting to the city and protecting the Al-Aqsa mosque. Nevertheless, thousands of Palestinians had already gathered inside Al-Aqsa since the night before and early morning. It was when the Palestinians tried preventing the fanatic group from placing the so-called "foundation stone" for their so-called temple, that the mas-sacre began. IOF soldiers and the fanatic settlers starting shooting randomly at the unarmed Palestini-ans, not distinguishing between young and old, men and women, and using all the weapons they had at hand, in addition to the military helicopters that were assisting from the air. It was the sound of the con-tinuous spray of machine-gun fire coming from the within the walls of the old city of Jerusalem that we were able to hear in our classroom. Twenty-three Palestinians were killed within half an hour on that day, most of the wounds being in the head and in the heart, and around one thousand were injured. And as if that wasn’t enough, the IOF then started beaten the people with their clubs and rifles. Eyewit-nesses later reported that even those who lie wounded on the ground or in ambulances were shot at. I remember the photos that were published or shown on TV at the time: Blood was everywhere, in the courtyard, on the tiles, on the wide steps, on the doors of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. Reporters said that blood had covered "the entire two hundred meters between the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque" and one report said: everyone "looked as though they were swimming in blood". The Zionist government, in its usual way to trick the international community, announced the formation of an inves-tigation committee. Such committees which are always comprised of Mossad and IOF personnel, have the duty of clearing Israel’s responsibility and placing the blame on the Palestinians. So it was no sur-prise this time too that the victims were blamed for being killed and that the murderers were announced to be not guilty. The committee announced that, "The report confirms clearly that the responsibility and fault for escalating [the conflict] lies on the side of the thousands of Muslim extremists, who were attack-ing the holy place of the Jews."

Many other massacres and many other faces come to mind. All telling the same story: that of the Zionist terror. Now, my old albums are staked somewhere back home in Palestine. Whenever I hear about new victims, Palestinian unarmed civilians being killed by the IOF or the fanatic Jewish settlers, I wonder if somewhere there in Palestine another Palestinian girl is collecting the photos of these victims and keep-ing them for future generations to see them and read their stories. These are not simply photos, but they are the lives of these people. They are all part of a bigger picture, like a mosaic, where every single part tells a story that is different in its one way but at the same time so similar to the rest, completing the whole picture. How many of them wanted to be doctors, engineers, teachers or just housewives and raise kids? How many of them dreamt of building an extra room or two so their kids can have more space and not be staked in one single room like sardines, while their land is being stolen by illegal Jew-ish settlers? How many of them dreamt of the day they would leave the refugee camps and return to their homes, their villages and towns from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948? How many of them dreamt of the day they would leave the refugee camp and go back home to the land of their grand-fathers? And how many of them just dreamt of a decent life and a better future?

During a visit to Palestine in 2003, I remember how my cousins, who were children when I left Palestine, dragged me to one room where they said they wanted to show me something. There, in a corner, I saw a writing table covered with clips and photos and other memorabilia. Upon closer observation I realized it was a shrine built to the memory of friends and classmates killed by the IOF. My cousins, who had grown up quickly in the last couple of years that I almost didn’t recognize them when I first them, started talking simultaneously about this and that friend and how they were killed. It was in that moment that I realized that my cousins were not the little kids who used to wait for me at the entrance of the camp knowing I would bring them sweets, they weren’t these kids anymore. They had grown up and had their own stories to tell and their own albums to fill. Like we used to collect photos of martyrs and hang them on the walls of our bedrooms, or collect them in albums, they collect photos, hang posters on the bed-room walls and make little shrines to the memory of their killed friends.

:: Article nr. 46214 sent on 06-aug-2008 01:42 ECT


Link: palestinethinktank.com/2008/08/05/reham-alhelsi-our-living-dead/

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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