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How Mohammed, 12, became martyr to the cause, Phil Reeves

2 octobre 2000


The Independent, London


IT IS AN image that will haunt the world as painfully and powerfully as any of the pictures that emerged when the children of the unborn state of Palestine took on Israel’s well-armed troops during the intifada.

An utterly terrified 12-year-old boy huddles on the ground against his father’s side, vainly searching for protection as bullets thud into the wall behind him and finally, fatally, into him.

The last moments of the life of Mohammed Jemal al-Durah were caught on television, so none of the spin-merchants or fantasists that thrive on this dispute will be able to say he was brandishing a gun or posed any threat to the Israeli soldiers in the well-fortified towers of an army post near where he died.

Another Arab child - Samir Tabangi - died yesterday after being shot in the chest during running battles between Israelis and Palestinians in Nablus on the West Bank. He was 10 years old. But it is the sickening death of Mohammed - repeatedly broadcast on Palestinian television throughout Israeli-occupied territory yesterday - that will stand out as the most searing and pathetic example of the latest waste of life in a flare-up which was long-simmering, but was triggered last week by the recklessness of Ariel Sharon, the head of the right-wing Israeli Likud party.

According to his grieving relatives, Mohammed and his father Jemal, 36, had been returning from Gaza’s popular used-car market and were trying to get home to the Buriej refugee camp, the home of many thousands of Palestinians in this rubbish-strewn, fenced in, overcrowded oblong of Mediterranean coastline.

When they arrived at Netzarim junction a battle was underway; the place is one of the worst flashpoints on the Gaza Strip as it is the intersection between a Palestinian-controlled main road and a route controlled by the Israeli army that leads to an illegal Jewish settlement. Mr al-Durah, a painter and decorator who works in Israel, decided to try to find a path around the trouble-spot on foot.

Within minutes the two were pinned down in the middle of a gun battle, trying to shelter behind a concrete drum. Mr al-Durah - who was badly hurt in the shoulder, arm and legs - later said they were trapped for three-quarters of an hour. During this time, the boy was shot and killed. His father has claimed that ambulances were unable to reach him for half an hour because of the gunfire.

Yesterday efforts to visit the spot failed as another full-scale gun battle was underway. The terms generally used in reporting these events - "clashes" between "Palestinian police" and Israeli troops involving "exchanges of fire" - fail to capture the ferocity of it. The usual, deliberately limited, weapons of this dispute - the Israeli army’s rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas, and the rocks and Molotov cocktails of their young opponents - had been replaced by a more lethal arsenal.

Machine-guns were pounding away. There was a constant clap of explosives, with one detonating every few seconds. Both sides were blasting each other with live ammunition in a full-scale battle. As we ran away along with a crowd of Palestinian on-lookers - after the bullets came too close for comfort - Palestinian security forces were running towards the heart of the battle, automatic weapons at the ready.

The impact of this heavier weaponry was on grisly display at Gaza’s main hospital, al-Shifa. Officials said by early evening, they had taken in 30 casualties, of whom one - a man in his early twenties - had died.

According to Mauawiya Hasannein, director of the casualty unit, he was killed by an explosive bullet. Mr Hasannein said three others were critically hurt - one with shrapnel wounds, and one who had been shot through the head by a "rubber bullet". There is an Israeli military post diagonally across the road from the place where Mohammed was killed. The Israeli army say he was caught in "crossfire" and that it doesn’t know who fired the fatal bullets; the Gazans point out that bullets were striking the wall behind him, which appear to have been coming from the Israeli army position.

What is clear, though, is that the boy has become a martyr in Palestinian eyes, who will be remembered in a way the others who have been killed in the last few days - all Arabs, apart from a couple of Israeli soldiers - will not. This was confirmed by the big crowds who turned out in Gaza to carry his broken body through the streets at his funeral on Saturday night.

"His blood is sacrificed for the home country and for Palestine," his mother Amel, 34, said yesterday. Speaking from hospital his father was more explicit. Mohammed - one of six children - had died for "the sake of the al-Aqsa mosque", the holy site in Jerusalem seen by the Palestinians as both sacred and sovereign territory, and which they feel was deeply violated by Mr Sharon’s visit.

One other thing is clear: this will do Israel no good at all. For now the horrors of past Palestinian attacks in Israel are forgotten; it stands accused of igniting a fight over holy sites in which small children are getting killed. Even Ehud Barak’s expensive image- makers will find it hard to put that right.

Phil Reeves

Copyright 2000 Newspaper Publishing PLC

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

Mis en ligne le 29 septembre 2007, sur le site