Half a head.
The left side of his face is twisted, swollen, fragmented, scarred; there’s congealed blood by his nose, stitches in his face; one eye is shut, a seam line stretches across his whole scalp. A boy’s face turned scar-face. Some of his skull bones were removed in surgery and won’t be returned to their place for another six months.
Mohammed Tamimi, just 15, and he is already a disabled shooting victim and a released prisoner.
That’s life under the occupation in Nabi Saleh, where people are occupied with the struggle. About an hour after Mohammed was shot in the head at short range by an Israel Defense Forces soldier (or a Border Policeman), his now-better-known cousin, Ahed Tamimi, went to the yard of her house and tried to forcibly expel the two soldiers who had invaded her turf, while the camera rolled. It’s a reasonable assumption that she tried to vent her wrath on the soldiers in part because of the shooting of her cousin an hour earlier.
Only a few dozen meters separate the place where the soldiers shot Mohammed and Ahed’s home; only an hour separated the two events. People in her family relate that Ahed, 16, burst into tears when she heard that her cousin had been shot and was in serious condition. From the window of her home at the edge of Nabi Saleh, a small village near Ramallah, you can see the stone wall that surrounds the luxurious building, under construction, that Mohammed climbed in order to get a view of the soldiers who were still inside. At that point he was shot in the head with one bullet from a distance of a few meters, and fell bleeding to the ground from a height of three meters (nearly 10 feet).
Now Ahed is in detention and Mohammed is recovering from his shattering head wound. This week, Mohammed still didn’t know about the arrest of his cousin, who has become an icon. In view of his condition, his family hasn’t told him.
We meet him in his uncle’s house, which is adjacent to his own home. He speaks softly, occasionally runs his hand across the scars on his head, lies down from time to time on the sofa to rest. He’s in the 10th grade in the village’s coeducational school, where Ahed is a student one year ahead of him. His father, Fadel, is a taxi driver; his mother, Imtisal, a homemaker. Last year, he spent three months in an Israeli prison.
At 2 A.M. on April 24, 2017, soldiers broke into their home by force, entered the children’s room, snatched Mohammed from his bed, handcuffed him and took him into detention. He wanted to get dressed before being taken to prison; the soldiers initially refused but then consented, he says now. Tamimi was suspected of throwing stones at an army jeep that had broken down next to the gas station at the village’s entrance a few days earlier. He was taken to the Etzion police facility for interrogation, which took place without the presence of a lawyer, as the law stipulates. After all, what does the law have to do with the interrogation of a 14-year-old (as he was then) Palestinian boy? Nor did anyone tell him that he had the right to remain silent. At some point, the interrogators also wanted to get him to sign a form written in Hebrew. Since he does not speak the language, he refused. He says that he wasn’t afraid during the questioning.
After three months of interrogations and hearings, Mohammed was sentenced in a plea bargain to three months in prison and a fine of 3,000 shekels (about $860) – the prosecution had asked for a jail term of a year and a fine of 15,000 shekels. Tamimi was released two days later, as by then he had already been incarcerated for three months. Throughout the period, his parents weren’t allowed to visit their son even once. They only saw him in the courtroom, from a distance, but weren’t allowed to speak with him, or even ask how he was feeling. Routine procedure.
Mohammed was released on July 19. What did you find hardest in jail, we ask. The hardest thing for him, he says, was not being able to fall asleep at night for worrying about his family. IDF and Border Police troops raid Nabi Saleh almost every day and night, and Tamimi was concerned about his parents and his brother. Sharef, his 24-year-old brother, and their father, too, have been arrested quite often and also injured. In 2015, for example, a few people who introduced themselves as employees of the Electric Corporation arrived at their home. It was during the day. They turned out to be mista’arvim, undercover soldiers. They locked everyone in the house in one room. Mohammed managed to escape to his uncle’s house next door, and to report that strangers had invaded the house. His cousin, who is also named Mohammed Tamimi – there are apparently about 100 people in Nabi Saleh with that name – says that at first they, too, didn’t know who the interlopers were. They’d come to arrest Sharef, who wasn’t home. The soldiers waited for him. Sharef was sentenced to two months in prison. This situation of the kidnapping of his brother is also part of Mohammed’s childhood memories. Now he wants to lie down to rest a little again.
After Mohammed was released, he went back to taking part in the village’s regular demonstrations – “because they took our lands,” he explains now. Most of the land of Nabi Saleh either was plundered in order to build the settlement of Halamish, on the other side of the road, or simply cannot be accessed because of the presence of the settlement.
In the past three months, the hand of the Israeli security forces has become even heavier in the village. According to Iyad Hadad, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, the IDF and the Border Police have raided Nabi Saleh 70 or 80 times in the past three months. Sometimes the soldiers shut the yellow iron gate to the village, so that residents are unable to reach the main road. They do this most frequently in the early morning hours, when the workers head for their jobs, the patients for treatment and the students for school. The village attributes this policy to the new army commander in the region, whom they know simply as “Eyal.”
Friday, December 15, was another unquiet day in Nabi Saleh. It was a week after U.S. President Trump’s declaration about Jerusalem. As on every Friday, a protest march was set to take place. Tamimi relates that he went that morning with a group of his peers to see whether there were soldiers lurking in ambush, ahead of the march, which always makes its way toward the IDF’s fortified watchtower at the village’s entrance. There were five or six youths. A short time later, they saw about a dozen soldiers who’d come from the south and were trying to take cover in an ambush position. Mohammed and a friend shouted to them: We see you! The soldiers hurled tear-gas grenades at them. In the meantime, the marchers were drawing closer.
The military force positioned itself in the “villa,” a splendid but not yet finished wall-enclosed stone structure at the edge of Nabi Saleh, built by an affluent Palestinian exile who lives in Spain. It’s meant to be an alternative-health clinic, but its opening has been delayed because of the situation. Dozens of villagers surrounded the “villa,” knowing there were soldiers within.
Mohammed Tamimi approached the wall of the building, then climbed it. He wanted to see whether there were still soldiers inside, in the wake of a rumor that they had left. But the instant he appeared above the wall, he was shot in the head with a rubber-coated metal bullet from a distance of a few meters. Tamimi managed to see the soldier aim his rifle at him, he recalls, but that’s all he remembers. He fell to the ground and the other youngsters rushed over to him.
Tamimi was unconscious when he was carried to a private car and driven to the clinic in the village of Beit Rima. His cousin Mohammed Tamimi, a student in his 20s, was with him. The cousin relates that his namesake received first aid at the clinic, where the staff suggested that he be taken to the clinic in the town of Salfit. The cousin refused, thinking that because of the severity of the wound, the clinic would not be able to treat him properly. The driver of the Palestinian ambulance warned that if they encountered an IDF checkpoint, the soldiers were liable to arrest the wounded teen.
The soldiers at the checkpoint at the exit from Nabi Saleh ordered the ambulance to stop. Tamimi the cousin recalls that they were aggressive and extremely edgy, and aimed their weapons at him. They saw the boy’s condition; the cousin told them, “You have 30 seconds to decide: Either you take him to an Israeli hospital, or you let us pass.”
Tamimi relates that a military ambulance was parked next to the checkpoint. One of the soldiers consulted with someone via his radio, and then ordered the ambulance to head for Ramallah, declining to allow its patient to enter Israel for medical treatment. “Get going,” the soldier snapped, when Tamimi tried to persuade him to allow his cousin to be transferred to a hospital in Israel.
The ambulance sped toward Istishari Hospital, a new private institution in Ramallah. Mohammed’s parents, who had in the meantime gone to the Nabi Saleh checkpoint in a panic, were turned back by the soldiers at gunpoint, even after trying to explain that their son had been seriously wounded. They had to take an indirect route to the hospital.
Tamimi’s condition looked serious; he was suffering from intracranial bleeding. Both his cousin and his father say now that they were certain he wouldn’t survive. Specialists were summoned, and they decided to operate. No one knew then how much brain damage he had sustained. A Facebook request for blood donations brought many people to the hospital. The surgery lasted six hours, through the night. Photographs of the boy lying unconscious in the hospital, hooked up to tubes, were disseminated on the social networks the next day. About 24 hours later, Tamimi began to regain consciousness and could soon identify those around him. Now everyone is calling it a miracle.
Mohammed Tamimi was discharged to his home about a week later. As far as is known, he suffered no motor or cognitive damage.
The IDF Spokesman’s Unit this week told Haaretz: “On Friday, December 15, disturbances erupted, involving some 200 Palestinians who set tires alight and threw stones at IDF forces near the village of Nabi Saleh. The troops used crowd-dispersal methods to break up the gathering. We are aware of the claim by the District Coordination and Liaison Office that a Palestinian was injured and evacuated for medical care in the village.”
Tamimi is cuddling next to his father, who’s come back from work and is fawning over his son. The boy soon drifts off. The neighboring house on the hill, the home of Ahed Tamimi, is deserted. Ahed and her mother, Nariman, are in detention. The father, Bassem, is with them in court, to boost their spirits when the serious indictment against them is read out.
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