Gideon Levy
Selected Articles from Ha'aretz

Every Child is a VIP

August 10, 2001

Majad Jalad at Sheba Medical Center: "There was a soldier ... and he took the happiness of this boy." (Photo: Miki Kratsman) 


A smiling Majad in a family photograph last winter. 

   Here is a list of the organs that were damaged in the small body of Majad Jalad, a 5-year-old boy from Tul Karm in the West Bank, when an Israeli officer shot him in the stomach as he traveled in a car with his grandparents and two other children. Dr. Ze'ev Rothstein, the director of Sheba Medical Center: "The boy was injured by a bullet that passed through his body laterally, struck his wrist, struck his liver, struck his stomach, struck his intestines, struck his pancreas and struck his spleen. A great deal of damage was caused to the stomach cavity." At mid-week, the boy's life was still in danger, with doctors especially concerned about his pancreas. 

The officer who fired at the grandfather's car at the makeshift roadblock later said he had thought the car was booby-trapped. 

A grandmother, a grandfather and three children in a booby-trapped car? If they thought the car was booby-trapped, why did the soldiers let it get away immediately after they opened fire on it? Why did they fire into the car, and not at the tires? If they fired "a warning shot in front of the car," as they claimed, how could it be that Majad, who was standing up in the back seat, was hit in the stomach? Why was it initially reported that the soldiers thought the driver was going to run them over, with the IDF spokesman later changing the official version to a "booby-trapped car"? Will the chief of staff cite this incident, too, to prove the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is "the most moral army in the world"? And does the young officer know what he did to this little boy? 

These difficult questions make no difference to Majad, who is now sedated and hooked up to a respirator at Sheba Medical Center; whose lovely, round face is now covered with pipes and masks. He lies still, hovering between life and death, with his grandfather at his bedside. 

Last Friday, at about 4 P.M., Majad's grandparents, Jamal and Faida, decided to visit their family in Balaa. Jamal said that Majad had just woken up from his afternoon nap and was delighted at the prospect of a trip. The siblings of Majad's grandparents live in Balaa, and Majad has cousins of his age there, with whom he likes to play. 

The boy's mother, Abir, was a battered wife who divorced her husband about a year ago. Majad is Abir's only child. He was staying with his grandparents while Abir studied for her final exams in computer studies at the Jerusalem-based Al Quds Open University in Tul Karm. Abir, 25, plans to remarry soon; she is engaged to Omar Shahrour, a house painter. After they marry, Majad, under Islamic religious law, will have to sleep in the home of his grandparents, lest he sleep, heaven forbid, with his stepfather. 

Omar Shahrour was engaged once before to Abir, but then she married Amjad Shahrour, a shirt peddler, who hasn't seen his son for the past few months. Omar has been waiting six years for his beloved. Now he is building a house for her, but Majad won't be able to live in it. 

Jamal Shahrour, the grandfather, owns a lumber warehouse on Paris Street in Tul Karm. He has always kept his distance from politics. "From home to work, and from work to home, no Fatah and no Hamas," he says. His grandson attended a kindergarten run by the charitable committees of the Islamic Movement. Now, during his summer vacation, the boy spent the days at his grandparents' home. A trip to his cousins in nearby Balaa, a 10-minute drive away, was a happy departure from the routine of a Palestinian boy in a city under siege. 

Last summer, before the start of the Intifada, his grandparents occasionally took him to the beach in Netanya, a quarter of an hour from his house. But those days are gone. There were no cars at all at the roadblock at the entrance to Tul Karm this week: no one enters and no one leaves. 

Last Friday began as an ordinary day. Jamal went to pray, Abir studied for her exams, Majad played with his cousins, 10-year-old Omar and 8-year-old Arin, his grandparents' children. His grandmother made stuffed squash. They ate lunch and lay down for a nap. Some time after 4 P.M. they got into Jamal's 1997 Daewoo Lanos; Faida in the front seat next to her husband, the three children in the back, and off they went to Balaa. Abir stayed behind to study - her exam was scheduled for Tuesday of this week. On Sunday, with her son lying in hospital, seriously hurt, she asked for a postponement. 

On the way to Balaa they passed the dirt roadblock the IDF had set up at the start of the siege, next to Nur al-Shams refugee camp, on the main road to Nablus. Now the place is a "breathing roadblock": by the side of the mound there is a narrow passage for cars. There are usually no soldiers at the site, Jamal says, as was also the case on that Friday afternoon. They turned left to Balaa just before Anabta. 

Faida and Jamal were born in Balaa, and their families still live there. They make this visit once every week or two, making the rounds: a half-hour at the home of Jamal's sister, a half-hour at the home of Faida's brother, and then on to her sister's house. Majad really enjoyed himself, his grandfather says. When the muezzin called the faithful to evening prayer at around 7:45 P.M., Faida and Jamal placed a mat on the floor of the house, and after they finished praying they prepared to go home. The cousins gave them dates and prickly pears from their garden, enough for the whole week, and the family set out in good spirits. 

Majad was standing on the back seat, holding onto the driver's headrest. He is small, and standing up, he could see the road. It was dusk, not yet dark, but the light of day had already faded. On the way from Balaa to Tul Karm, there is a bend in the road at the end of which is the dirt block. After navigating the bend, Jamal suddenly saw an armored personnel carrier by the roadside and a group of five soldiers standing on the road. By now it was about 8:15 P.M. Jamal says that only his headlights lit up the soldiers. The IDF would later maintain that "the roadblock was illuminated." Nor did Jamal hear the soldiers issue any order. In his rearview mirror he saw another car, about 200 meters behind him. He says he did not see the soldiers until he was about 30 meters from them, at which point he braked hard, tires screeching. It's difficult to imagine any other scenario: a Palestinian driver who spots soldiers at a roadblock will always stop immediately, certainly if he has three young children in the car. 

The shooting started only after the car had already stopped, Jamal says. Four bullets passed to his left, one of which entered the trunk via the front windshield. The IDF says that the officer fired only two bullets. Be that as it may, the bullet that shattered the windshield grazed the grandfather's left shoulder, wounding him lightly. Stunned, Jamal shifted into reverse and drove quickly backward. The shooting immediately stopped. In the back seat the children were screaming hysterically, his wife was screaming on the seat next to him, but no one noticed that Majad had been hit. Jamal estimates that he stopped the car after about 50 meters and was about to make a U-turn, to return to Balaa as fast as he could and as long as he was still able. It was at that moment that Faida saw that her grandson was bleeding badly. 

Majad was lying on the back seat, blood spilling from his stomach onto his shirt and staining the seat. "The boy is hurt!" she cried. Jamal made for nearby Anabta as fast as he could. Majad groaned on the back seat. He didn't cry. His grandmother tried to talk to him, but he didn't reply. His two cousins were crying. Jamal saw the lights of the car that had been behind them speeding after them and was certain that it was the soldiers, in pursuit. The children were petrified. 

The IDF spokesman's response: "In the wake of the incident on Friday in northern Samaria, in which a Palestinian boy was wounded by IDF fire, an investigation was conducted which indicated that the force at the roadblock acted correctly, the roadblock was illuminated and the soldiers signaled oncoming vehicles. The car in question sped rapidly toward them. The soldiers thought it might be a booby-trapped car and that their lives were in mortal danger. The soldiers used their discretion, and only the officer fired two warning shots in front of the car. The IDF is sorry that the boy was wounded." 

"Where is there a clinic here?" Jamal shouted at passersby from the window as he drove through Anabta. "I have an injured boy in the car." He was directed to the room of a medic in the municipality building. A passerby on the street lifted the boy out of the car and carried him up to the second floor, to the medic's room, but there was nothing the medic could do. Someone else called the Red Crescent in Tul Karm and ordered an ambulance. Two minutes later, Majad was in a taxi and on his way back to the roadblock where he had been shot, there to await the Palestinian ambulance. His grandfather didn't dare return to the site of the incident, driving instead via a back road, through Balaa and Dir al-Jasun, trying to get to the small hospital in Tul Karm as fast as he could. Here, too, he encountered a roadblock. "ID card," a soldier said. Jamal showed him the document, saying nothing, and was allowed to pass. 

By the time they reached the hospital, Majad was already in the operating room. (Dr. Rothstein, from Sheba Medical Center, later said he was favorably impressed by the surgery performed on the child.) Some four hours later, a doctor told Jamal that Israel had offered to treat the boy in one of its hospitals. The Tul Karm doctors recommended that he accept the offer, and the grandfather gave his consent. 

"They must have felt they had done something wrong," Jamal says now, "and they wanted to make up for it, somehow." 

What does he think about it all? Jamal sighs: "I think they wanted to tell us: We're sorry that this happened and we want to give you back the boy the way he was, ya'eini [so to speak]. I think they did the right thing. But it's not enough. It's not enough if I put a bullet into a boy and then pat him on the back. When I was there they should have asked me to get out of the car, they should have examined the car - but to shoot at me when I was standing, no one does that. 

"These children, every child in the world should have protection as though he were a VIP. Every child in the world is a VIP. And if something like that would happen to an Israeli boy, what would Israel do? Israel would get up and not sit by. Because it's a boy. And this boy doesn't have a stone and doesn't have a gun. He doesn't have anything. All a boy like that needs is a game, a toy, we'll give him a shekel to go to the supermarket and buy a sweet. That's what he understands. There was a soldier and he took all that from him. He took the happiness of this boy." 

Why do you think the soldier opened fire? 

"I don't know. I didn't do anything. The next day I heard from people that the soldiers said I tried to escape, and that when I was escaping, they shot at us. That is not true, because the bullet came from the front. It's also not true that I tried to run them over. My wife, my children and my grandson are in the car - and I am going to run over soldiers? Do you think anyone would try to run them over like that? If I want to do something like that, if I have a bomb, I will come alone, not with my wife and little children. That makes sense, right? Maybe he didn't see the boy, but if they couldn't see, it was wrong to shoot. Maybe it was hatred that made him shoot. I don't know. But anyone who does something like that is inhuman. He's not a human being." 

At 1 A.M., a Palestinian ambulance carrying Majad arrived at the Tul Karm-Netanya roadblock, where an Israeli ambulance was waiting to take Majad to Sheba. Grandfather Jamal has been by his side ever since, and Abir, his mother, also visits. In her home in the center of Tul Karm she still has a photograph from last winter: Majad in a corduroy suit, his hair slicked down, parted on the side, and he's smiling.

Caricature by Omayya Joha



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