Twilight Zone / Only twelve years old
Hanan Anami wandered into an unmarked IDF firing zone to graze her sheep. The result: one bullet in the head.
At 6 A.M. the shepherd girl wakes up, grabs a bite to eat, readies the sheep and heads for the pasture, together with her grandmother and her cousin. Two hours from Tel Aviv, 2,000 years from Tel Aviv, there are two tents in the middle of nowhere, made out of old bags of plaster, a family of horses, a makeshift sheep pen and a water tank. Every morning the three shepherds - the grandmother, Fadiya Anami, 60, the cousin, Salama Anami, 12, and Hanan Anami, also 12 - take the sheep out to the pasture, which is near the tent. Salama and Hanan no longer go to school in the unrecognized Bedouin village of the Abu Krinat tribe in the Dimona area, which is far from the pasture.
Last Wednesday the three shepherds set out as usual. In the winter months they take their animals farther north and west, near Kibbutz Tze'elim and the adjacent army training base, where the grass is greener. They say they have permission from the Agriculture Ministry. They pitch tents and remain until summer, when the grass withers. A man from the tribe brings supplies. They spend their days and nights between the pasture and the tent, without electricity or running water - without anything. A grandmother and two granddaughters, with a few herding dogs watching over them and the flock of 120 sheep.
Last Wednesday began like any other day. The sheep fed on the grass, now abundant, and the three shepherds sat a few hundred meters from each other. The field of blooming squill was crowded with flocks herded by Bedouin.
On the ridge opposite stood, as usual, a row of camels. We saw them last Sunday when we visited the site with Abed Anami, Hanan's uncle and Salama's father. Abed Anami, 38, comes occasionally to visit his mother, daughter and niece. His brother, Yusuf, Hanan's father, also comes occasionally, as he did last Wednesday. As Yusuf made his way to the tents that day, a neighbor who passed him on the road flashed his lights, and called out: "Your daughter Hanan was wounded in the head."
The road to Tze'elim is littered with yellow warning signs mounted on concrete cubes - "Danger, firing zone" - in three languages, along with the terrifying image of a skull. But on the descent from the road after the Basor wadi there are no signs, only a warning to bicycle riders coming from the north about the road.
We followed the blue Subaru until it suddenly stopped. Abed emerged from the car, followed by "the old woman," as he called her, his mother, Fadiya, covered from head to toe. We followed her until she abruptly lay down on a mound of sand. Here, she said, in a whisper, Hanan fell.
It was about 3 P.M. last Wednesday, when Salama suddenly noticed small objects falling on the sand and kicking up little clouds of dust. Salama told her father later that she had no idea what they were; she had never seen a volley of live bullets. A few minutes later she saw her cousin Hanan slump to the ground, a hole in her head. In a panic she left everything and ran to the tent camp, about three kilometers away, to summon help.
In the meantime, other shepherds rushed to the wounded girl. She was unconscious. They put her into a van and drove quickly to the main road. Someone had called an ambulance, which picked up Hanan on the road. Yusuf reached the ambulance while the medics were still treating his daughter. She was seriously hurt. Yusuf says she looked "almost dead."
Fadiya sits on the mound of earth, which is strewn with sheep droppings, and is silent. A vulture circles overhead. Over the hill is the Tze'elim army base, hidden from view. Between the main road and the earth mound we couldn't find even one firing zone warning sign - either from the direction of the road or near the tents. All we saw was a van of the "Green Patrol" of the Israel Land Authority. Abed says that since the tragedy, the Green Patrol has been warning shepherds not to approach the firing area. Nevertheless, shepherds were there with their flocks on Sunday.
Under a spring-like sun, we followed the Subaru to Fadiya's two tents. The lambs bleat in their pen, the dogs bark at the strangers and the horses - mother, father, foal - are doing their thing. Suddenly a flock of sheep appears, their full udders swinging to and fro, as is the bell hung on the neck of one of them. The sheep make a mad rush for the pen; each knows its offspring. The lambs rush to suckle. Only the noise of an Israel Air Force plane overhead drowns out this desert cacophony, an earsplitting chorus of sheep and agitated dogs.
On the way back, we pass the orchards of Kibbutz Tze'elim - green, dense, cultivated, with a sophisticated irrigation system. "I blame the Israel Defense Forces for not warning us," says Abed.
Her swollen eyes shut, a kerchief on her head, her skin pockmarked with white spots - a beautiful girl who lies in the neurosurgical ward of Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, her parents by her side. Only now, four days after the incident, did Yusuf Anami let his wife, Maryam, visit their daughter. Before entering the room he cautioned her to be strong. The kerchief covers a scar that splits Hanan's skull, which is held together by metal pins. The couple have eight children; Hanan is the firstborn.
Yusuf quotes eyewitnesses as saying that a great many bullets were fired that day into the pasture area.
The IDF Spokesman's Unit issued the following response: "Within the framework of staff work that was done in regard to the firing zones, all the zones in Israel were mapped and it was decided which can be entered and which cannot. The Bedouin tribe to which the citizen belongs knows that entry to this zone is forbidden. Additionally, a few months ago, following a deliberate incursion into this zone, the Green Patrol removed the Bedouin from the area by force. Metal signs in three languages (English, Arabic and Hebrew), stating that entry is forbidden, have been placed at the entrance to the zone."
Not a word of regret. Nor did the IDF think to send a representative to visit the girl its soldiers wounded. A Bedouin activist, who asked not to be identified for fear of being harmed told us this week: "It is not by chance that no one from the army has come to visit her and support the family. Wouldn't a soldier who was wounded by accident be visited? There was a mistake, and the IDF says the girl is to blame - let's say - but not to visit her? That attests to a policy of abandonment. They are abandoning the Bedouin. Everything here is deliberate. If the girl had been in an educational framework, none of this would have happened. She dropped out of school and no one cares."
It's not hard to guess what would happen if a girl from nearby Kibbutz Tze'elim had been wounded by friendly fire. Says the father of "the citizen," as the IDF calls the girl: "No one told us not to go out with the sheep. There is no sign there. You didn't see any sign, so how could the girl have seen one?" Again, an examination by Haaretz this week found not one IDF warning sign.
Yusuf has not budged from his daughter's bed. Now both parents are in the room, staring at their sleeping daughter. When she arrived, her chances of survival were "less than 1 percent," says Dr. Vladimir Merkin, the neurosurgeon who operated on her. "The situation was critical, judging by all the parameters. Statistically, her prospects of making it were even worse. If a bullet passes one of the midlines of the skull, the chances are 1 percent, and in her the bullet passed two lines, meaning less than 1 percent."
The bullet entered Hanan's head from the direction of the ear and stopped at the frontal lobe, where is will probably remain for all time. Nevertheless, a miracle occurred and Hanan began to recover.
"To our surprise, she is conscious, and after two days she started to talk, even though the bullet passed through the part of the brain that is responsible for speech. She has a weakness on the right side of her body, but not paralysis," says the doctor, "and that is very surprising. Her eye was damaged, but it's too early to say for certain. The cognitive functions may have been damaged, but it is too early to say for certain."