He Wanted to Live the American Dream. He Ended Up Living an Israeli Nightmare.

Iyad wanted to immigrate to the United States, where his wife and children live, but was turned back at the border. When he tried to enter Israel furtively in order to provide for his family, he was shot, wounded and, he says, additionally beaten by Border Policemen.

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Iyad Shammasina (left) and his son, Karam, this week in the West Bank village of Qatannah.
Iyad Shammasina (left) and his son, Karam, this week in the West Bank village of Qatannah.Credit: Alex Levac

Iyad Shammasina walks with a limp. Sitting down, slowly and heavily, he groans with pain. His is a typical story of the regime under which he lives, which is totalitarian, tyrannical, brutal, arbitrary and violent. The regime ruined his past, his present and probably also his future. At 27, Shammasina is one of many young Palestinians like him. His story exemplifies the dimensions of the abuse to which Palestinians are subjected, and the depth of the resulting helplessness and despair.

His father, Ibrahim Shammasina, a member of Fatah, was sentenced to three life terms in 1992 for the murder of Israelis. He was released in the Gilad Shalit exchange deal in 2011 and deported to Jordan. He then moved to Qatar, where he still lives.

Iyad grew up without a father. For eight years, he was not even allowed to visit his father in prison. His mother died while his father was incarcerated. He was raised by his aunt and grandmother in this handsome family house whose living room is painted in shades of purple and has an aquarium and spectacular view. Qatannah is a lovely village, one of a dozen Palestinian communities around Jerusalem trapped in the separation barrier-generated enclave. It’s accessed via a narrow, humiliating, dark road, which runs below the broad, fast highways of the Jews above.

Three years ago, Iyad married a village woman, Maryam, who divided her life between her family in Chicago and her husband’s new home in Qatannah. Iyad, too, dreamed of America. Their first child, Karam, was born in 2014 in the United States. Iyad started preparations to emigrate in order to join his wife and son. He even had a job awaiting him, as a truck driver.

He resigned from his job as a salesman in a Ramallah marketing firm and readied himself for the transition to his new life. He was issued an entry visa by the U.S. embassy, after providing documentation from the Israeli military’s Civil Administration in Bethlehem confirming that he had no criminal or security record. His wife rented a place for them in Chicago. And last November, after a visit to Qatannah by his wife, son and mother-in-law, the family set out, thrilled and delighted, on the way to turning over a new leaf in the United States.

With no explanation, Iyad was summarily sent back from the Jordan River crossing to his home, in shame and despair. It turns out that, despite the confirmation of his unblemished past that he received from the Civil Administration, he is barred from leaving the country. He’s convinced it’s because of his father, but all efforts to receive an explanation were fruitless. He hired an attorney to try and get the arbitrary decision reversed, but in vain. Exit denied. A prisoner of Zion. His dream was shattered, his future clouded over, at least temporarily.

The Civil Administration told Haaretz this week in a statement that, “The resident is prohibited for security reasons from leaving the country, as ordered by the security apparatus. He did not receive a permit to visit the [U.S.] Embassy, and he has not received a document testifying to the fact that he is not prohibited.”

He’s a handsome young man, though the marks of his injury, which we will soon get to, and the maltreatment he endured are still clearly apparent in his muted speech and pallor. Unable to leave, he had to find a good job in order to support his wife – who was pregnant with their second child. He made 1,200 shekels (about $320) a month in Ramallah, hardly enough to provide for a family in Chicago. Iyad decided to enter Israel furtively to find employment. He has a friend who works in a Tel Aviv restaurant and makes a good living, and Iyad thought he would join him for a few months, until his future became clear.

About two months ago, he entered Israel through a breached gate in the water conduit that runs beneath the separation barrier between the Palestinian village of Beit Surik and the Israeli settlement of Har Adar, not far from his home. Iyad worked for a week in the nearby Israeli-Arab village of Abu Ghosh and then joined his friend in the Tel Aviv restaurant. He worked there for about a month and made 6,500 shekels, which he sent to his wife. He returned home for a week to rest and then tried to enter Israel again, like many other young Palestinians. Now he wanted to save up for a plane ticket for his family to visit him.

On March 1, at about 9:30 P.M., he set out for the barrier again. He was alone, he says. This time, the water channel’s gate was locked. Iyad tried to breach it. Suddenly he heard a noise from the other side of the barrier. Then the shooting began. Scared, Iyad started to run back toward the village. He heard four or five shots. A bullet hit him from behind, knocking him to the ground. The shooters were on the other side of the barrier, and it took some time for them to cross it and reach him. He lay on the ground, bleeding and helpless. There were four Border Policemen, who were later joined by four more – including a policewoman – who had been summoned to the site. A bullet had struck Iyad in his posterior and gone on to hit his scrotum. He was in a daze, suffering fierce pain. Suddenly, he recounts, he felt he was being beaten. He doesn’t know whether he was kicked or hit with rifle butts.

A sequence of abuse began that lasted about half an hour, Iyad says, while he lay wounded without receiving medical aid. The troops beat him and threatened to damage his testicles again, he recalls. They dragged him across the ground, made fun of him and stripped him. One of them photographed him naked, with his mobile phone, all the while hurling verbal abuse at him, which Iyad quotes in Hebrew but which cannot be repeated here. He also heard someone say “Well done” to the shooter for the injury caused to Iyad’s testicles. “Enough, he’s wounded,” one of the policemen finally said.

Eventually, a Magen David Adom intensive care ambulance arrived and took him to Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus, escorted by the policemen. He underwent surgery there. He was hospitalized for the next eight days, his hands and legs bound to his bed, tormented by pain, guarded by two policemen night and day. The Border Policemen guarding him continued to harass him verbally, he says, mainly about his wound, mocking him that he would never be able to father any more children.

In the course of his interrogation, which took place in the hospital, Iyad realized that the policemen were accusing him of attacking them. That, he says, was impossible: they were on the other side of the barrier when they shot him, so how could he have attacked them? The fact is that he was shot from behind, as he ran. On his third day of detention in the hospital, his wife gave birth to a girl in Chicago. His attorney brought him a photograph of the newborn, whose name is Yusra. There’s no point elaborating on what he felt.

Dr. Yehiel Gellman, from the hospital’s orthopedic surgery department, wrote: “Gunshot wound, damage to scrotum, tunica rupture of left testicle Shot in right buttock with fracture of ischium and injury to testicle.” Iyad was moved to the Prison Service hospital in Ramle. Over the next 12 days, wounded and bound, he was taken to court five times, on long journeys that caused him searing pain. The indictment against him includes a number of offenses: “Attempt to violate an area closure order Sabotaging an IDF facility – causing damage to the water conduit in the Har Adar area, which is part of the security barrier Attempting to assault a soldier in aggravated circumstances.” According to the Border Policemen quoted in the indictment, Iyad tried to attack them with a “wrench.” Whereupon they shot and wounded him.

Iyad says his lawyer has filed a complaint over the abuse to which he was subjected with the Justice Ministry department that investigates police officers’ actions, and that a department investigator has already taken testimony from him. In the meantime, after being released on bail on March 21, he’s awaiting trial, which will commence next month. His wife, son and new daughter have arrived from Chicago and will stay as long as needed. He doesn’t know whether he will be able to father more children.

“They destroyed my hope and destroyed my future,” he says softly, as his son cuddles him. Karam, a well-groomed young boy with his hair parted on the side, is wearing a T-shirt with an inscription that’s rather ironic under the circumstances: “Choose your own way, every day.”

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