A few days earlier, he was enjoying an evening of relative normalcy, an occurrence all too rare in the life of a Palestinian child. It was the Holy Month of Ramadan, and after spending time celebrating with our family, Mahmoud, along with his friends and cousins, ventured out to a local village pool. After swimming for several hours, the group piled into the car to return home, smiling and fatigued, relishing some relief from the pervasive and cruel conditions of Israeli military occupation. And then suddenly, Israeli soldiers riddled the car Mahmoud was riding in with bullets, hitting several of the children. Four of them are still recovering from their wounds. Mahmoud was killed.
Mahmoud was a gentle child who focused on his studies. He had two great ambitions: to become a doctor and help others, and also to play for his favorite soccer club, Real Madrid. He cleverly planned to attend medical school in Spain so that he could chase both of these dreams at once.
Now he is gone, and the sudden void left in our lives can never be filled. It is still impossible to comprehend. We are left only to ask, “Why?”
The Israeli forces claim they were responding to stone throwers; Israel considers it reasonable to respond to children throwing stones with machine gun fire which is itself an inhumane, extreme policy. But Mahmoud and the other boys were not throwing stones. They were sitting in a car, driving home, wrapped in towels and swimsuits and posing no threat to anyone, when they were ambushed by occupying forces.
For Palestinians, this sort of tragedy is nothing new. I’ve lived under decades of Israeli military occupation, and my children were born into this brutal reality and have known no other life. As a parent, I have struggled each and every day with how much freedom to allow my children, and how to carve out some semblance of a “normal” life for them under wildly abnormal circumstances… My wife and I took the former path and hoped for the best, but now, the worst pain imaginable has arrived on our doorstep…
Time and again, Palestinian civilians — children, women and men — have been killed by Israeli fire in situations where lethal force is utterly unjustified. Recently, the world watched as an Israeli soldier executed a Palestinian by shooting him in the head as he lay wounded on the ground and totally surrounded. Although this cold-blooded murder was caught on video and created controversy in Israel, many rallied to support the murderous soldier, including Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman, who was shortly thereafter named Defense Minister and is now responsible for overseeing the military occupation.
An extremist climate prevails in today’s Israel, and never before has the value of Palestinian life been so cheap. Our bodies, our minds, our passions, our very lives and by extension our deaths are all considered lesser, and nothing makes this clearer to us than our repeated slaying at the hands of the Israeli military and the subsequent refusal to bring us justice. It is important to recall that as the occupying power, Israel is obligated under international law to ensure the well-being of the civilian population – we the Palestinians. Instead, we have witnessed the ongoing and intensifying brutalization of Palestinian bodies, to the point where our lives are treated as entirely expendable…
We Palestinians want a life of peace, freedom, justice and equality. We want the basic human dignity of not having our lives arbitrarily ended. We want to be able to know that if our children leave the house – to do the things children do, like go to school, play soccer, and go swimming – that their lives are not at risk.
So many Palestinian parents have lost their children to Israeli bullets fired in order to preserve an unjust system of military occupation denying an entire nation of people their human rights. Mahmoud is but the most recent innocent victim. I write to you today as a grieving father because you, the international community, who is allowing Israel to sustain its brutal occupation into its 50th year, can help make sure that Mahmoud is among the last of the lives taken. I ask that you demand accountability from both the Israeli government and your own, and stand with the calls for freedom, justice, and peace.”