Posts Tagged ‘Palestine and Israel’

Ahmed’s Gift of Life (Faith)

September 6, 2012

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Ahmed’s Gift of Life (Faith)
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Tags:  Guardian, Ahmed, Middle East, reconciliation, peace

Ahmed Khatib’s death was tragically unexceptional: the 12-year-old Palestinian was shot by Israeli soldiers while holding a toy gun. But what happened next was not. The boy’s parents donated his organs to six Israelis. They tell Chris McGreal why their decision was a gesture of both peace and resistance

  • · The Guardian, Friday 11 November 2005

For once, the circumstances of a young boy’s death from an Israeli bullet are not in dispute. The army concedes that one of its soldiers shot 12-year-old Ahmed Khatib in the head during a raid on Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank last week. Other Palestinian children playing with Ahmed have backed up the military’s statement that he was waving a toy gun that looked, to the soldier who shot him, remarkably like the real thing.
The army apologised with unusual speed. The armed factions entrenched in the Jenin camp made no calls for revenge.
But it was the reaction of Ahmed’s parents that caught everyone off guard. As life slipped away from their son in an Israeli hospital at the weekend, Ismail and Abla Khatib decided that some good could come of his death. The Palestinian family donated Ahmed’s organs for transplant. The boy was in an Israeli hospital and his parents understood that their son’s body parts were most likely to save people routinely spoken of as “the enemy” in Jenin. Within hours, Ahmed’s heart, kidneys, liver and lungs were transplanted into six Israelis, four of them Jewish.
The move was hailed by stunned Israeli leaders as a “remarkable gesture for peace”, particularly given the circumstances of Ahmed’s death, and a bridge between warring communities. Ariel Sharon’s closest cabinet ally, deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert, telephoned Ismail to praise his “noble gesture”. The speaker of the Israeli parliament praised the Palestinian family for its “remarkable humanity”.
The Khatibs say that peace and a desire to alleviate the suffering of others was uppermost in their minds. But, looking exhausted and still stunned by the twin demands of Ahmed’s death and the Israeli embrace, they also speak of their decision as an act of resistance and anger. And they have found an ally in the armed men who more usually fight back by blowing up Israelis.
To give away his organs was a different kind of resistance,” says Abla. “Violence against violence is worthless. Maybe this will reach the ears of the whole world so they can distinguish between just and unjust. Maybe the Israelis will think of us differently. Maybe just one Israeli will decide not to shoot.”
It is not the first time that victims of the conflict have given life to people on the other side of the Arab-Jewish divide. Three years ago, a 19- year-old Jewish religious student from Scotland, Yoni Jesner, was murdered in the bombing of a Tel Aviv bus. Part of his body went to save the life of a Palestinian girl from East Jerusalem. But it is the first time that the organs of a Palestinian child killed by the army have given life to Israelis.
Ahmed – the third eldest in a family of four boys and two girls – was killed on the first day of Eid el-Fitr, among the most important of Muslim holidays. “He woke up at 5am before his brothers and sisters. He helped me make tea. He always tried to help me because he felt sorry for me having to do all the housekeeping and cooking,” says Abla.
Ahmed dressed in new clothes traditionally bought for the holiday and left the house after dawn for the mosque and to visit Jenin’s “martyrs’ graveyard” where armed men killed in the intifada are buried. Like many boys of his generation confronted by routine violence, he regarded such men as heroes. As a nine-year-old, Ahmed saw the destruction of the heart of the refugee camp just a few blocks from his home during the fierce Israeli army assault on Jenin in 2002 that left considerable damage and 59 Palestinians dead. They were mostly armed men and their deaths are still commemorated in the memorial posters that paper the walls of the camp.
“Ahmed collected martyr posters because he knew them,” says Abla. “He used to see them in the street and he admired them. He used to like fighter martyrs and these things used to scare me. I used to throw the posters away because when the soldiers come and they see them, they beat you or take you away.”
The dominant faction in Jenin refugee camp is al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, led by Zakaria Zubeidi, a strange, clownish 29-year-old with a face scarred by mishandling a bomb. Ahmed admired Zubeidi in particular and a few weeks ago sent him a drawing of a heart with the name of al-Aqsa’s leader’s name written underneath.
Ahmed also had encounters with Israeli soldiers. Two years ago, one of them grabbed him and a couple of other boys, gave them a broom and told them to sweep his tank. But usually when the boys saw an Israeli patrol, they stoned it.
“To be honest, he did go out and throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. It was a game for them,” says Abla. Ahmed was playing the game when he was shot. “He was bragging about his new clothes. He looked at his brother’s new clothes and said they were very beautiful but his were better,” says his mother.
Then Ahmed heard the Israeli army was in the camp in search of his heroes. Children poured out on to the street. His mother said he did not own a toy gun and was not carrying one when he left the house. But others had them and a friend, Ahmed Tawfi Krehen, says that Ahmed was carrying an imitation weapon by the time the pair of them spotted the army jeeps.
“The gun looked like an Uzi. He was playing with it. The Jews thought he was a fighter and they shot him. I was standing next to him, just one metre, when they shot,” says the 11-year-old. Ahmed was hit by a bullet in the back of his head and another in his pelvis.
“Some boys arrived at the house and said Ahmed was shot and was taken to the hospital,” says Abla. “When I got there, all his clothes were covered with blood. I realised immediately he was dying. He was not moving at all. He was taken to the operating theatre and they decided he had to be transferred to Israel because his situation was so critical.”
Abla says the doctors told her that both bullets exploded inside her son, causing considerable damage to his brain and body. It is one of the issues she returns to in anger and suspicion. “His body was full of fragments. Part of his brain was on his clothes,” she says. “Did they have to shoot him twice? Couldn’t they just have shot him in the leg?”
Ahmed was moved to an Israeli hospital in Haifa, but by then his mother had given up hope. “I told the doctor that Ahmed was dead but the doctor would not declare him dead. He tried to do more tests. They kept his heart beating but I knew he was not alive,” she says.
When Ahmed died two days later, his father had already decided what to do. Ismail’s brother, Shokat, died in 1983 at the age of 22 of kidney failure. “I saw my brother in the flesh of my own son. My brother had kidney failure and since we didn’t have the proper treatment for him, his situation deteriorated and it affected the second kidney and that lasted for 15 years,” he says.
“I donated blood to my brother every time he needed it. I lived the whole ordeal and I wanted to stop others suffering like that. I told the doctors I wanted to donate Ahmed but first I had to consult from a religious point of view, and my family and my society.”
Ismail first asked his wife. Her wait in the hospital left her in no doubt. “We saw a lot of painful scenes in the hospital. I have seen children in deep need of organs, in deep pain. It doesn’t matter who they are. We didn’t specify that his organs would go to Arabs, Christians or Jews. I didn’t want my son to suffer, I didn’t want other children to suffer regardless of who they are,” she says.
“My son was dead but at the same time maybe he could provide life to others and maybe he could reduce their pain. Of course my son was martyred and they were the criminals and they took his life away but we are the ones who could give life back to them. And maybe my son is still alive in someone else.
“It was a message from us to them, a message of peace for them. We are the ones who want peace and love and they are the ones who break their promises and who don’t want peace.”
Ismail sought an assurance from the mufti of Jenin that there was no religious objection. Transplants are a divisive issue within Muslim communities but the mufti said he saw no obstacle to donating Ahmed’s organs or to them going to Israelis and Jews.
Then came what Ismail calls “society”. In Jenin, that is not so much the neighbours as those who control the streets, principally the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and Zubeidi, who has dispatched his share of suicide bombers into Israel.
“When we heard Ahmed’s father decided to donate the organs, we blessed the step,” says Zubeidi. “Despite Jenin’s reputation for the suicide bomber and the bomb belt, the people of Jenin camp love life and granted life to five or six children and didn’t distinguish whether they were Jewish or Muslim or Christian because our problem is not with the Jewish people as the Jewish people, but with the occupation.”
Ahmed’s heart was transplanted into a 12-year-old Israeli Arab girl, his lungs into a Jewish teenager suffering from cystic fibrosis and his liver was divided between a seven-month-old Jewish girl and a 58-year-old mother of two suffering from chronic hepatitis. The kidneys were divided between a three-year-old Jewish girl and a five-year-old Bedouin Arab.
The girl who received the heart, Samaah Gadban, is from Israel’s Druze community in the Golan Heights. She is named after a brother she never knew who died of the same genetic heart condition before she was born. Samaah waited five years for a donor. Before the operation, she was so weak that she stopped going to school because she was unable to walk more than a few yards at a time. Her father, Riad, called the donation “a gesture of love”. Her mother, Yusra, was overwhelmed as she waited at her daughter’s bedside.
“It was shocking to know that young boy died like that so Samaah could live,” she says. “I have lost a son and it is impossible to describe the suffering I know Ahmed’s mother is feeling. But I am also happy that my daughter has the chance to live. I am very grateful that in their pain they thought of our pain.”
The other families have chosen not to speak in public as yet. At the hospital, the orthodox Jewish parents of one of the recipients who did not wish to be identified said that once their child recovers from the transplant they intend to travel to Jenin to thank Ismail and Abla.
They, like many Israelis, were surprised and impressed by the Khatibs’ humanity. The stereotype of Palestinians as Jew-haters, as an explanation for the violent resistance to the humiliations and controls of occupation, is now so dominant in Israel that news of the Khatibs’ decision was greeted with astonishment.
Senior Israeli politicians hailed it as “remarkable”. The mayor of Haifa called as did Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister, who apologised to Ismail for the killing of his son, an unusual gesture in itself. “I am very moved by your noble gesture, which affected me profoundly,” he told him.
Olmert invited Ismail to visit his office in Jerusalem. “I will go if it will promote peace,” says Ismail. “I will tell him one thing: children have nothing to do with this conflict.”
The organ donation did not meet with universal approval in Jenin. Some of the Khatibs’ neighbours asked how they could give their child’s body parts to the people who killed him. But Abla says she was also visited by more than 10 mothers who lost young children in the conflict who offered their support.
Crucially, the Khatibs’ decision was given the public endorsement of the al-Aqsa’s brigades leader, Zubeidi, who helped carry Ahmed’s coffin at his funeral on Sunday. He acknowledged that giving life might be a better way of winning Israeli understanding for the Palestinians’ plight than blowing up children on buses.
This kind of action is a form of resistance. Six Israelis have a part of a Palestinian in them and we don’t think those people would come to kill a Palestinian person. And I don’t think their family members would kill a Palestinian child,” he says.
It is what Ismail hopes to have achieved. “The hope is that those people will learn the lesson from what I have done, those six people will learn the lesson that we are human beings; their families, even if they were serving in the army, will consider what I have done,” he says.
But Ahmed’s father also wonders if his son would have grown up to make such a decision. As a motor mechanic inside Israel, Ismail spent many years working with Jewish Israelis. Like many of his generation, he distinguishes between what is done by the government and the military and his daily encounters with ordinary people. It is part of what helped him decide that there was no contradiction in donating his son’s body to save the lives of people whose army killed the child.
But that bridge is increasingly difficult to cross at a time when the two communities are ever more separated by barriers, checkpoints, fear and politicians. Today Jenin is sealed off from the Israeli town of Afula, a few months ago just a 10-minute drive to the north, by the vast West Bank barrier and a large yellow metal gate under army guard. Ismail has tried to keep his job just the other side of the barrier by travelling to Jerusalem, crossing through the city and making his way north – typically, a five-hour journey to reach a destination he can see from the edge of Jenin. And soon that route will become all but impossible as the wall and checkpoints are built through Jerusalem.
With the increasing separation, and contact largely limited to the humiliations of checkpoints, Ahmed was growing up with a single view of Israelis as “enemies and killers”.
“Take a boy like my son, who was 12 years old. He was born between two intifadas. What does he know but tanks and soldiers and jet fighters? He only meets Israelis who are soldiers. He thinks all Israelis are soldiers. This does not help us. Seeing each other as human beings helps us,” says Ismail.

*            *
Ahmed’s gift of life
This article appeared on p12 of the Comment & features section of the Guardian on Friday 11 November 2005. It was published on at 23.59 GMT on Friday 11 November 2005. It was last modified at 14.32 GMT on Wednesday 18 February 2009.

Life and Hope Flow From Palestinian Boy’s Death
In Peace Overture, Family Donates Organs to Israeli Patients

By Scott WilsonWashington Post Foreign Service

Saturday, November 12, 2005

JENIN, West Bank — A photo of a slightly smiling Ahmed Khatib has joined the martyr posters on the walls of the refugee camp here. But the 12-year-old boy is shown cradling a guitar instead of the assault rifles brandished in the grim tributes around him. A large red question mark appears at the bottom.
“Why the Palestinian children are killed?” it asks in stilted English.
Ismail Khatib and his wife, Abla, have offered a response that has drawn praise from Israeli leaders and challenged Palestinians in this cramped refugee camp, a focal point of Israeli-Palestinian violence for years.
Ahmed, the couple’s son, was shot twice last week by Israeli soldiers in what the military said was a mistake made during the heat of street fighting near their house. The boy had been holding a toy gun. He died two days later in an Israeli hospital, and the Khatibs made the surprising choice of allowing his organs to be harvested for transplant to Israelis.
Six people, including five Israeli Jews, have received the boy’s heart, lungs, liver and kidneys since then. The recipients range from a 58-year-old woman to a 7-month-old girl, who died two days ago after failing to recover from surgery that gave her half of Ahmed’s liver. The rest are recovering.
“My son has died, God rest his soul,” Abla, 34, said Wednesday in the family’s small living room, filled throughout the morning with women paying quiet condolences. “Maybe he can give life to others.”
The donation, which the mechanic and his wife have described as a peace overture that others should emulate, has at least momentarily transformed a persistent conflict between two peoples into a shared drama of ordinary people looking beyond a war that Israeli human rights groups say has killed 672 Palestinian and 118 Israeli minors in the last five years.
Israel’s finance minister, Ehud Olmert, called quickly to apologize for Ahmed’s death and to thank the family for its decision. Members of the Israeli parliament, particularly the Arab bloc, have praised the gesture. Ismail Khatib was summoned Wednesday to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who he said told him, “What you have done serves our cause.” Even the guerrillas here say the family’s sacrifice has proved more potent than their armed operations.
“This kind of action is a form of resistance,” said Zakaria Zbeida, leader of the ruling Fatah movement’s armed wing in the Jenin refugee camp. “Five members of the Israeli community are now carrying part of a Palestinian. I don’t think someone with a Palestinian organ will now kill a Palestinian. Not to mention, these families now have a family in Jenin.”
The Israelis who received Ahmed’s organs are still recovering in intensive-care units in Israeli hospitals, including an 8-year-old boy whose ultra-Orthodox parents say they intend to visit the Khatibs here as soon as possible. Fewer than half of families in Israel agree to organ donations, many because of religious convictions. More than 500 people are waiting for kidneys.
But Riyad Ghadban is watching his 12-year-old daughter, Samah, gradually recover with Ahmed’s heart beating inside her frail chest.
“It’s like she has changed her whole body,” Ghadban, 55, said from his daughter’s bedside at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in the Israeli city of Petah Tiqwa. “She is feeling very nice, smiling and beautiful.”

Life and Hope Flow From Palestinian Boy’s Death

A bus driver for nearly three decades, Ghadban is an Arab Druze from the northern Israeli village of Pekiin. For the past four years, his daughter’s genetic heart defect prevented her from attending school or playing outside. Tutors and friends visited her in her room. Ghadban received the call Saturday evening that a heart was waiting.
“About my daughter I feel wonderful, but about this boy I feel very sad,” said Ghadban, who is trying to secure permission from Israeli authorities for the Khatibs to leave the West Bank and visit his home. “I believe in one God in this world, and that we are all family.”
Ahmed, a seventh-grader at the U.N. school in the Jenin camp, rose before his five siblings on Nov. 3. It was the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day feast celebrating the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. He dressed and left his house on a steeply sloping alley to pray at a nearby mosque and make the customary feast-day visit to the Martyrs’ Cemetery. He would be buried there three days later.
According to his family and friends, Ahmed returned home and helped his mother prepare tea for the family. Then he changed into new clothes he received for the feast, crowing that “he looked like a groom.” His cousin Tamer arrived, and the two boys disappeared out the door.
To the youths of Ahmed’s neighborhood, the gunmen staring from the posters or swaggering around the streets were heroes. Ahmed collected the martyrs’ posters, bringing them home only to have his mother tear them up. He threw rocks at army Jeeps. A few days before he died, he left a drawing of a heart on Zbeida’s doorstep, said the guerrilla leader, who helped shoulder his coffin to the grave.
“Yes, he liked to do these things,” Abla said. “Whatever the older guys did, he liked to do as well.”
Not long after he left to play that day, several dozen boys arrived at the Khatib home, bustling with people gathering for the feast. They told Abla that Ahmed had been hurt by Israeli soldiers a few blocks away. The family rushed to the hospital to find Ahmed had been shot once in the head and once in the pelvis.
His mother said she knew there was no hope for him. “I saw his clothes full of blood,” she said.
The boy was taken to an Israeli hospital in Haifa. But doctors there were unable to detect any brain function, and it was only a matter of time before he succumbed. In the meantime, Ismail asked his wife if she would “mind someone touching her son” to allow his organs to be harvested. Moved by the children suffering in the same hospital ward, Abla agreed to the donation after Ismail called the mufti of Jenin and the Muslim cleric gave his blessing.
“I don’t have much to offer,” Abla said. “This is what I had.”
Ismail’s motives were personal. As a boy, he watched his brother, Shawqat, die after a 15-year battle with kidney disease. That was 22 years ago.
“The moment the doctor told me my son was dead, I saw my brother in the flesh of my son,” said Ismail, 39, a tall, wan man with charcoal circles under his eyes.
Abla, her soft, round face framed by a pale-blue head scarf, also wants the choice she made about her son to stand as a political statement.
“This is a message from us to them: that we are the ones who want peace and they break their promises,” she said. Later, she said, “In our nature, we do not like the Jewish people because they are the occupiers.”
On the streets of the Jenin refugee camp, Ahmed’s friends appear uncertain about the family’s decision.
“I say it’s forbidden to donate your organs to Jews,” said Imad Bitawi, 13. “Tomorrow they will kill us. If it were Arabs, it would be easier.”
Ahmad Tawfiq, 11, was standing three feet away when the bullets struck Ahmed that day. He said Ahmed held a toy gun shaped like an Uzi and that the boys stood among five Palestinian fighters exchanging gunfire with Israeli soldiers in Jeeps.
“The organs were given to the enemy that killed him,” Tawfiq said. But he added that Jewish children deserved Ahmed’s organs.
“The children, like us, have nothing to do with this,” Tawfiq said.

Dedicated to those working for, striving for and those dedicated to the pursuit of a more peaceful world (thanks Katherine Bigelow)

Shared by “just another armchair warrior for peace”

About the submitter:
Craig likes (no loves) to share information and insights to encourage
others to be all they are capable of being. He’d love to try to ‘build bridges’ (not metal or wooden ones, thank goodness!) between people, firmly believing that what we share is way more important than what divides us. He loves sharing stories of ‘ordinary’ (what’s that?) people doing exceptional things to make a difference in the world …and so a better place

Craig’s new manuscript, ‘A New Dawn’ is set in the Middle East: In it he attempts to find ‘common ground’/principles between different religions and cultures and to try to make some difference in building bridges in an ever more dangerous, turbulent and uncertain world. A passionate story of inspiration: hope, faith, peace and especially love

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“Most of us cannot do great things, so let’s just do the little things in a great way.”

– Mother Teresa

“When people’s hearts are filled with love, the world is full of hope”

– c

“Whilst we can (and should) celebrate our differences (unique), let not our varying beliefs divide us, but let the Spirit of our shared humanity be what defines and unites us all as common citizens of our planet.”