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Death of a Young Man

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December 7, 2007

Death of a Young Man

An Account of the Life and Death of a Resistance Fighter

by A Canadian in Palestine

A man points to bullet holes in the ceiling of a house in Nablus that was subject to search by the Israeli Army on October 16th. Photo: A Canadian in Palestine

“IDF soldiers on Tuesday morning killed the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades commander in the Old City of Nablus, Bassam Abu-Seria, also known as Gaddafi, Palestinian sources reported.”(1)

“Three Fatah members were injured in the incident, two of them critically. One of them, Abed Shinawi, was a senior member of Fatah's military wing.” (2)

“The spokesperson of the Israeli army expressed his sorrow at the death of Abed Al-Wazir. ‘During the military operation in Nablus, armed clashes erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants and the elderly Palestinian citizen received a mortal gunshot,’ he said.” (3)

Abed has died. In the words of the Palestinians, he was martyred.

The notion of martyrdom, in the context of anything Arab-related, is a loaded word for many Westerners. It often has negative connotations, carrying with it an insinuation of extreme ideology, lack of love for life or suicide bombings. A martyr is anyone who has died as a result of not renouncing his or her beliefs or principles, religious or otherwise. A martyr in Palestine refers to anyone who has died as a result of the Occupation and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), as with the 38-year-old, handicapped, wheelchair-bound man killed in an Israeli military incursion in Nablus’ Al-Ain Refugee camp a month and a half ago(4), or the elderly man who was shot in the chest five times during an October 16 Israeli invasion after he opened his door following IDF assurances of his safety.

The October 16 incursion would also eventually claim Abed’s life.

Abed, a martyr, loved life, and this was evident in his words, actions and dreams. He told me once he would love to sleep at night, to walk freely in the hills that surround Nablus, to travel to other countries.

He was one of Nablus’ resistance fighters, living in and defending the streets of the Old City. They do not receive the same glorified status as that of the invading soldiers, and are instead tagged with negative undertones: ‘militant, extremist…’ Yet the new commander of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades related the following in a recent Ha’aretz interview: “We don’t attack civilian targets, we aren’t dispatching suicide bombers. The army wants to get us mainly because of our actions against forces that enter the city. But it is our obligation and our right to hit soldiers who come to Nablus and we will continue doing so.”(5)

The Humanity of a Resistance Fighter

Sami** had known Abed for years and had held him as a brother. He later related to me some of the conversations they’d had. I asked Sami, an avowed pacifist with a vocal distaste for guns, whether he and Abed had ever discussed being a resistance fighter. They had, and Sami had questioned Abed about his pre-resistance-fighter days, which had been just years earlier.

“I asked him: ‘You are a kind, beautiful man,’” Sami recounted. “‘Why do you fight?’”

“Abed told me, ‘I lost my cousins – two cousins – to the IDF and I want to continue their resistance. My family and neighbours are constantly harassed and never feel safe. I have to do something. I’ll never feel good if the soldiers are always entering the Old City and I’m not trying to prevent them from invading homes, kidnapping, and killing people.’”

Sami told me more about Abed. “He was a good man, the children in the Old City all knew him and loved him. They used to make drawings and write letters for him: ‘Mohammed loves Abed. Please don’t die.’ Abed always asked about the poor in the area: Did they have food, milk? He and Qadaffi were always on their mobiles, saying, ‘If people need anything, they should go to my house.’ He wasn’t rich, but he cared about his neighbours.”

Sami told me Abed loved to meet foreigners, which perhaps explains why he was so quick to trust and get to know me. Sami said Abed was always telling him: “If you have a foreign friend, bring him to me.” We met before Sami could introduce us.

A Chance Encounter

Months ago, during one of my first days in Nablus, having heard three building-shaking explosions in the late hours of the previous night, I went looking in the Old City for the consequences of the night before. I had been told that the IDF had laid explosives at the concrete blocks, barring jeep entry to the Old City streets. These blocks, so often seen barring Palestinian entry to Palestinian roads, in this case serve to hinder or delay IDF vehicles. The IDF often bombs them.

I’d also been told nearby buildings suffered damage from the explosions, and so went to see. At the north end of the Old City, I came to one bombed roadblock section. It was there I met Abed, leaning against the concrete blocks with two friends. He explained that this was where the IDF had been the previous evening and we began talking, in broken attempts at one another’s language.

He wasn’t what one would expect of a resistance fighter, after having heard the words ‘militant’ and ‘member of the extremist group X’ tossed about so freely in the press. He was slight, average height, neatly bearded, well-groomed, handsome, and nearly always grinning, inevitably teasing someone.

During the course of my time in and out of Nablus over the months, I often met Abed and his family in their home off an Old City alleyway. They invited me continually to stay the night, but I was usually en route somewhere or had work to do later on. I shared some meals with them; Abed teasing, his little sister defiant and holding her own, his mother likewise punchy, his pretty young wife welcoming and gracious, translating our mixed Arabic-English efforts. In later meetings, their newborn boy was present, tiny, quiet, sleeping or being coddled by Abed or his wife.

He was keen to improve his English and would try to speak in English with me, becoming shy when other Palestinians with a better grasp of English were around. Sometimes he’d type out English phrases on his computer, misspelled but discernible.

His mother spoke in a loud voice, sounding somewhat angry even when not. That was her way. Once, discussing the effects of living in Nablus under constant siege, she described how she and her family were affected. Weeks would pass without seeing her son while he was in hiding from another IDF kidnapping or assassination attempt. Abed’s mother pulled either side of her robes out like a fan, showing how spacious her dress has become because she had lost so much weight. She was nervous all the time, did not sleep well at night, was always worried about Abed, and consequently had dropped many kilos.

Abed’s 11-year-old younger sister, Laila, speaks French. Miraculously, she has travelled outside of Palestine, taking part in a one-year exchange to France. However, bright as she is, her school efforts are now suffering, her attention ever-distracted, her energy fatigued like so many Palestinian children suffering from the trauma of occupation and invasions. Still, she held her own with her big brother, Abed.

The Palestinian resistance fighter Abed, killed by the Israeli Army on October 16th Photo: A Canadian in Palestine

When the Army Invades…

I worried each time I heard the IDF had invaded Nablus again, worried about Nablus residents, collateral damage, house searches and random firing, as with the young woman struck by an IDF bullet while in her home during the same October 16 raid that killed Qadaffi and Abed. I worried about Abed and his friends, knowing they were the targets of such raids. I also worried about their families, knowing they suffered house raids and relentless interrogation, irrespective of age, sex, or health.

Four months ago, we’d rushed from Hebron to Nablus, after the IDF had invaded again and imposed curfew. We’d met withvolunteer medics and joined them on the streets to do whatever we could: deliver bread and food, negotiate passage and accompany people to off-limits homes. All the while I’d worried about Abed. The next morning, visiting houses that had been invaded, ransacked and exploded, I came across Qadaffi in an alley. He assured me Abed was still alive.

Honouring the Fallen

A martyr’s funeral is a morning filled with masses of reverent people gathered in the streets. The procession progresses from the hospital where the body, cleaned and dressed in a Palestinian flag, is carried down the streets to the city centre on the shoulders of closest friends. Shots are fired into the air out of respect, rapid-fire and deafening, filling the void with protest, a homage to the silenced fighter. Mourners sing songs about the fallen, songs about his strength and struggle.

The procession moved from the hospital. Sami had taken me to the morgue where Abed’s body lay blue-grey, his handsome face grotesque in death. Other resistance fighters and close friends guarded his body, as they had while he was still alive and in critical condition in hospital where I’d visited him two weeks ago. That visit had occurred the day after he was hit by an Israeli rocket that tore apart Qadaffi and left Abed without his left leg. In the early hours of October 16, these same friends of Abed had been on a rooftop, resisting the latest Israeli army invasion, this time of a neighbourhood above the Old City, in search of a man on their wanted list. [This man was also on their recently pardoned list, included in a not-to-be-honoured goodwill gesture between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.]

Abed’s wiry frame was small and discoloured amid the hospital whites, unnaturally quiet amid the hospital beeps and mottled with wounds over his chest, arms, and face. Sami, a volunteer medic who had carried the slain body of Qadaffi, had witnessed the various stages of Abed’s deterioration -- from post-rocket-strike to hospitalization, to being transferred anew in his last hours from hiding in the Old City to hospital. Three days after his injury and hospitalization, he had been moved underground due to very real concerns of the IDF raiding the hospital in late- night hours in order to finish their assassination operation. With his sudden worsening hours before death, Sami was called with his ambulance to re-transfer Abed to hospital care.

By that time it was too late.

Today’s procession passed through the alleys of the Old City, past the entrance to Abed’s home. I strayed from the funeral march to visit Abed’s family. Neighbouring women and female family members in black wept for the loss. Tough Laila sat with her mother and sisters in the dining area, slumped in her chair and sobbing loudly, weak from despair. Abed’s mother sat stonily, miles away, eyes vacant and clouded with loss. Abed’s pleasant wife lay unconscious on their bed. She was briefly revived by concerned family, only to pass out anew from grief. Their raw pain tore into me, past the protective barrier one begins to acquire when surrounded by Occupational tragedies.

Recallingour first encounter, Abed had seemed to test me at first, testing my political views, testing my thoughts on resistance. Did I think he was a terrorist? Did I support the media’s twisting of the facts of the Occupation? What did I think of the Machsoms, or the Wall?

I was surprised, but pleased and now honoured, by his trust and friendship. Having stumbled across Abed, I look back now grateful for this chance to know his humanity, the humanity of someone in his position, to glimpse a fraction of the desperation and loss that Palestinians know so intimately. It will never be my own struggle, my own story, but knowing it is important, as is telling it.

**names have been changed to respect the privacy of mentioned individuals.

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous out of security concerns, has lived in various areas of the West Bank for the past six months, volunteering as a human rights worker and witnessing many aspects of Palestinian lives under Israeli occupation. Her daily reports from Palestine can be found at http://opt2007.wordpress.com/

---------------------

1. IDF kills 2 Palestinians in West Bank

2. Soldier injured during Nablus arrest raid

3. Leader of Al-Aqsa Brigades and 70-year-old man killed in Israeli attack in Nablus

4. Army Incursion in Al Ayn refugee camp, Nablus

5. For Nablus' 'Night Horsemen,' the days are numbered

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