Selected Articles from Ha'aretz
September 1, 2000
The soldiers ordered
Muhammad Sa'ad to clear the street of stones. Afterward, he was pushed
into an army jeep and driven away. An hour later, battered and
unconscious, Muhammad was found on the side of the road. Last week, after
more than nine years as a vegetable, Muhammad died, the latest casualty of
One wonders how the soldier,
perhaps he's an officer, is doing these days - the one who put Muhammad
Sa'ad in his jeep, took him to wherever he took him, did to him what he did,
and then left him by the side of the road like a sack of garbage.How does he
sleep at night, this soldier or officer, who apparently is a reservist? Does
he ever think of that particular summer night - May 24, 1991? Does he
remember the blows that he inflicted upon Sa'ad? Especially the blows to the
Do images from that night ever flit through his dreams? Does he ever think
of Sa'ad at all? Do his memories trouble him? Has his victim's fate
disturbed his peace of mind? Does he know that this young man, who was
healthy and in one piece when getting into the jeep, was no more than a
vegetable after he was thrown out of it?
What has become of this soldier since then? Did he go to school? Make a
career for himself? In high-tech, perhaps? Does he have a family? What has
he told his children about his military service? That Dad was a hero? In a
combat unit? That he defended the country? What will he tell them when they
grow up? Has he told his wife? Has he told her that he once beat someone to
death? How does he explain it to himself? That Sa'ad deserved what he got?
That we deserve soldiers and officers like him? That it's the Arabs' fault?
And whom has he been hitting since then, if one may ask? More Palestinians?
Just Palestinians? Maybe he's vented his wrath at home as well. While
waiting in line, perhaps, or maybe a little bit at home, on his wife and
children? After all, that night, he had no problem beating up a helpless
And what does he know of the suffering that he caused the victim's mother
and brother, who for more than nine years cared for their stricken loved one
in their poor home in the Askar refugee camp, not far from where he dumped
Sa'ad? Does he know that Sa'ad died last week, nine years and three months
after his brain was destroyed by the blows? What does it do to him? What
does it say to him? When, for God's sake, was the last time he gave Sa'ad a
Yusra Sa'ad crosses the room with difficulty, leaning on the plastic chair
that now serves her as a walker. Until last week, they used to sit Muhammad
on this plastic chair in the bathtub, where they bathed his withered body
once or twice a week.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Muhammad's elderly mother, who raised 16
children, mourns for her beloved son, who died a vegetable. A picture of him
as a handsome teenager hangs on the wall in the entrance. And there are
other pictures taken a year before he died - to be more precise, the year
before he was beaten. Nine years and three months passed from the time his
brain died until his body died. A young man in a black leather jacket, a
young man with a bird on his shoulder, and a young man in a T-shirt - these
are the only remaining photographs of him.
No, they don't have any photo of him lying in bed as a vegetable; the bed
has now been moved to the storeroom. It was an old hospital bed with a
water-mattress meant to ease pressure sores. Muhammad spent the last nine
years of his life in a room with his sister and his elderly mother. In his
final month as a man and not a vegetable, he was looking for a bride. Then
25, he had already met three or four women, say his brothers. But none of
them were right for him.
He had owned a small grocery store on the main road of the Askar refugee
camp on the outskirts of Nablus. His mother still remembers how she was
expelled from Lod as a young woman, just 20 days after her wedding.
"It was Ramadan and the Jews came by on Friday morning, and said that
anyone who didn't leave the house would be killed." They traveled on
foot to Gimzu and from there to Na'alin, where they slept on the streets
until trucks came to take them to Askar. Her eldest son was born a year
later and lived for only 40 days. His name was Fayiz; several years later,
she gave birth to another son, who lives today in Amman, with the same name.
Muhammad, Yusra's 11th child, was born in August 1966. Until 10th grade, he
studied at the school in the refugee camp. Then he left to work in Israel to
help support his family. He was a painter who did odd jobs in Tel Aviv and
Fruit and stones
What did he want to be when he grew up? A storekeeper, just like his father.
From this perspective, his life was a success. He had realized his dream.
When he was 19, he and his brother Sultan opened their own store. The
brothers arose each morning at six. Sultan went to the wholesale produce
market to buy fruits and vegetables, while Muhammad went to open the store
where they worked until late. It was different during the Intifada, when the
stores were forced to close at noon. But Muhammad and Sultan used to leave
the door open a crack for customers who needed something in the afternoon.
That was the case on May 24, 1991. That day, the camp leadership had
announced an intensification of tactics. Lots of tires were burned and lots
of stones were whizzing through the streets of Askar. Muhammad and Sultan
closed the store at about 5 P.M. When they went out to the street, it was
already covered with stones. The local mosque was being renovated at the
time and the pile of stones meant for the minaret were hurled at the Israel
Defense Force jeeps that passed by. These were especially large and heavy
Jerusalem stones, and the street became blocked to traffic.
Muhammad, whom his brother, Hisham, describes as a careful dresser, went
home and changed clothes. Then he went to the neighbor's house that
overlooked the main road, which had been strewn with rocks. He often spent
his free time there with his friends, Imad and Ibrahim Al-Ahwal. They would
sit on the roof, surveying the scene and chatting. Muhammad's brother,
Hisham, was still sitting in the doorway to their house at the top of the
alley leading off the main road. He saw a group of soldiers get out of a
jeep and go up to the roof of the Al-Ahwal house, where Muhammad and Ibrahim
The soldiers took the two young men's ID cards and ordered them to come
down. It was the kind of typical Intifada scene that has already been
forgotten: soldiers ordering young men to clear a stone-strewn street,
confiscating their ID cards in the meantime.
The rocks were large and numerous and the camp mukhtar (head man), Mahmoud
Shakukani, who happened to pass by on his way to the evening prayer at the
mosque, heard the desperate Muhammad tell one of the soldiers that he knew
someone who owned a bulldozer who could get the job done in no time. But the
soldiers brought more and more young men, and the work was all done
manually. When the mukhtar left the mosque, the street was already clean. He
saw four young men standing on one side of the road and Muhammad standing on
the other side.
The mukhtar described the ensuing sequence of events in a signed deposition
taken in December 1991: "I went over to him and asked him why he was
standing here. Muhammad replied that the soldiers had asked him to. He asked
me to take the keys to the store and give them to his brother. When I took
the keys, a soldier came over and asked him to get in the jeep. I asked the
soldier where he was taking Muhammad. He answered that he wanted to speak
with him. I asked the soldier to let him go, but he insisted that he wanted
to speak with him. Muhammad got into the jeep and they drove off."
Muhammad's uncle, Sa'adu Faiz Sa'ad, who was also on his way home from the
mosque then, gave a similar statement. The mukhtar, his uncle and his
brother, Hisham, were the last ones to see Muhammad Sa'ad healthy.
Once the military jeep had headed down the road leading to the Elon Moreh
settlement, the soldiers took two other young men from the street-cleaning
group - Muhammad's friends, Imad Al-Ahwal and Nasser Al-Nakib - to the yard
of the local school. Imad realized that the soldiers intended to beat them
behind the school walls. He tried to argue with them and to resist. A crowd
began to gather and the two were let go after just a few blows.
At the same time, Hisham rushed to his old Opel, and tried to take off after
the military jeep in which his brother and the soldier were riding. It
seemed to him that the soldier was an officer. But the jeep had already
passed through the IDF checkpoint and Hisham returned home. By this time, it
What happened next? Apparently, the only one who knows is the soldier who
was sitting in the jeep. He alone knows what led up to Muhammad being tossed
on the side of the road, battered all over and unconscious.
Hisham went to the military authorities to find out what had happened to his
brother. The soldiers checked and told him that Muhammad had not been
arrested or interrogated, that he was not being sought nor was he being held
by them. Around 11 P.M., a neighbor came and said that a rumor was going
around the camp that someone from the Sa'ad family had been found injured at
the camp exit.
A woman from the Sabah family later testified in a Jerusalem courtroom, when
the Sa'ad family sued the state for damages, that she had seen a bundle
tossed from the military jeep to the side of the road not far from her home.
No one knows for sure if this was Muhammad. Shortly afterward, soldiers
knocked on her door and asked where to find a doctor. She directed them to
the home of Dr. Jouad Bitar on the other side of the street.
Dr. Bitar, in his statement: "At around 10 or 10:30 P.M., two soldiers
came to my house accompanied by my neighbor, Hassin Abdel Aziz. The soldiers
asked if I was a doctor. I said 'yes,' and they told me to come with them
immediately. I asked what had happened and they answered that there was a
young man lying on the road. I walked with the soldiers and the jeep
followed us. When I got to the main road, it was pitch black outside and I
couldn't see a thing. The soldiers turned on a flashlight and showed me the
young man who was lying on the sidewalk. As soon as I went up close to him,
the two soldiers got in the jeep and disappeared."
What happened? Did the soldiers happen upon Muhammad by chance and then
summon the doctor? Was the soldier who did the beating among them, and was
his conscience perhaps bothering him? And why didn't they take him to the
hospital? Who knows? Maybe the state's astounding version of events as
presented at the legal hearing - the despicable assertion that Muhammad was
actually beaten by his friends from the refugee camp - is correct. Could it
be? After at least three people saw him being pushed onto the IDF jeep?
'Only' pain and
In its defense, the state also argued that Muhammad was insane, maybe even
homosexual, and that's why he was beaten. The same claims have been made in
more than a few other similar cases. At its height, the hearing was held
before District Court judge Dr. Awani Habash. The family's lawyer, Eli
Sharaz, explained this week that Muhammad's death will make the chances of
his family receiving compensation even tougher: "Now they can only sue
for pain and suffering, which, relatively speaking, means very small
In response, the IDF spokesman says: "The incident of the beating of
Muhammad Sa'ad was investigated by the military police at the time. In
February of 1992, the IDF Central Command's attorney presented a legal
opinion that ordered the closure of the investigation. It seems, from this
opinion, that there was no substantiation to the claims that Sa'ad was
beaten by IDF soldiers, and the suspicion even arose that he was beaten by
local residents. Therefore, the military police closed the investigation.
Information regarding the identities of those who beat Sa'ad was transfered
to the jurisdiction of the Israeli police on the grounds that local
residents were involved."
Either way, Muhammad's plight was already grave when he was lying by the
side of the road. Dr. Bitar, whom the soldiers had left in the darkness with
the injured man, was able to ascertain that Muhammad was unconscious by
examining his ears with a flashlight. His pulse was weak, his pants were wet
and he was drooling.
The neighbor called an ambulance and Muhammad was taken to Al'Ittihad
Hospital. That night, they sent him to Ramallah for a C-T scan, which showed
that he was suffering from severe internal bleeding in the brain. His
brothers, Hisham and Sultan, who had meanwhile come to the hospital, saw
that Muhammad's head was swollen and that his eyes were shut. They noticed
all the bruises, but did not see any bleeding wounds.
The next day, Muhammad was transferred to Hadassah Ein Kerem, where he
underwent brain surgery. Afterward, the doctors explained to the family that
the damage to his brain was irreversible and that they would have to take
him home as he was, with no hope of recovery. Muhammad spent another five
and a half months at East Jerusalem's Al'Muqasid Hospital before being
returned to his home in the Askar camp, six months after he went out to have
some coffee with the neighbors.
Three or four times a day, members of his family dripped food that his
mother had pureed for him in a food-processor into his mouth, or else fed
directly into his stomach by means of a tube threaded through his nose. They
bathed him once or twice a week.
Muhammad never regained consciousness. He did not move, did not react, did
not control his bowels, and did not utter a sound, apart from a few grunts.
His eyes gazed opaquely at his surroundings.
As often happens in such cases, family members thought they noticed some
signs of consciousness - a weak squeeze of the hand, a nod of the head at
the sound of his name. And once it seemed to them as if he were struggling
unsuccessfully to say something. But the fact is that his brain died once
and for all that May night. And he lay there ever since, for nine years and
three months, in his family's poor but well-tended home.
Two weeks ago, he began vomiting and his temperature rose. They took him to
the Al'Watani Hospital in town. Last Monday at 11 P.M., as his brother,
Hisham, was sitting by his bedside, the nurse came in to check Muhammad's
"Are you his brother?" she asked Hisham. "Your brother is
New pink-and-gray paving stones, installed by the Palestinian Authority, now
cover the sidewalks of Askar's main road. Here, where Muhammad sat on the
roof, two more stories have been added to the house. Two more stories have
also been added to what was once his house. The family has, meanwhile, moved
to another house nearby. And here is the mosque renovated with the stones
that Muhammad was ordered to clear. It has a new name: the Mus'ab ibn 'Umayir
The street is crowded with people, including children who weren't yet born
when the last martyr was taken from the camp. One boy takes a flyer out of
his pocket and unfolds it: "The Fatah movement regrets to announce the
death of hero and victim Muhammad Sa'ad, after 10 years of suffering and
Not far from here is the spot where Muhammad was dumped. Here, too, there is
a new sidewalk. Also, an old sorghum field and a new checkpoint - manned by
the Palestinian Authority. So much has changed since then. Elon Moreh looms
even larger from the mountain. The doctor's shingle has rusted.
And at the doorway of the store that once belonged to Muhammad, his friend,
Sami Al-Ahwal, the brother of Imad who was detained together with Muhammad
that day, says, "Do we need to know how that soldier has slept at