A young man hobbles about with a walker in his small living room, moving slowly, dragging his paralyzed left foot, his right hand dangling by his side. His appearance is heartbreaking. His head is scarred and has been stitched up all over. His face is swollen and distorted – the right side sunken where a bullet entered his skull, his mouth contorted. His speech is slow and labored.
Twenty-one-year-old Khalil Mahmoud lives with his parents in the beleaguered neighborhood of Isawiyah, in East Jerusalem, adjacent to Mount Scopus. Four years ago, Border Policemen shot him the head, leaving him severely disabled. Last Thursday, a large police force arrived at his home to arrest him.
A faint smile crosses his lips as we enter the small, cramped house, early this week. His father, Ahmed, escorts him gently to the sofa. The bullet to the head, the severe incapacitation, the police invasion of his home and the summons for questioning of this disabled, house-bound person while stubbornly refusing to explain what he’s suspected of – everything is accepted in this place of suffering with a smile: All is from Allah.
Ahmed is 48, a house painter and father of six. Khalil, the second oldest, was shot in the head on October 9, 2015. He was 17 at the time, a high-school student. It was during what’s been dubbed the “intifada of knives,” and Isawiyah was roiling. Khalil’s aunt had died two days earlier, and the mourning family was receiving condolence calls in the neighborhood divan. That evening, his father asked Khalil to go to the neighbors to return money he had borrowed from them. That five-minute walk sealed the teenager’s fate. Khalil ran into a confrontation between local young people and a Border Police unit – a clash in which he had no part, he says now, his speech slurred. He was shot with an M-16 rifle, a bullet slamming into the right side of his skull, where it remains lodged to this day.
“The bullet is in the parking space,” he jokes. It’s a long-term parking lot.
In the past few months, Isawiyah, a poverty-stricken neighborhood that looks like a refugee camp, has been subjected to systematic and almost relentless abuse by Jerusalem District police. On the way to the Mahmouds’ house, in the upper part of a narrow alley, an elderly man, Kayed Mahmoud, leaning on a cane, pants as he struggles up the slope. Two weeks ago, we were told, police officers arrived at his house and warned him that if anyone from his family was caught throwing stones, he would lose his residency rights in Jerusalem. Another resident, Abd al-Iyan, who’s about 50 and must be accompanied at all times by a tank of oxygen, was also summoned by the police for questioning about two weeks ago. It’s not clear why or for what. Such is life in Isawiyah.
A few minutes after Khalil was shot, Ahmed tells us, young people came and told what had happened and said his son had been taken to Makassed Hospital, which is also in the eastern part of the city. By the time Ahmed got there, Khalil was already in the operating room. He would spend the next four months in the hospital and undergo seven operations. Throughout that entire period he didn’t move or speak. After the physicians in Jerusalem announced that they could do no more for Khalil, his father transferred him to a military hospital in Amman, Jordan, together with another teenager, Bilal Nahleh, from the Jalazun refugee camp in the West Bank, who had also been shot in the head by Israeli troops and was in a similar condition. Ahmed and his wife, Maida, accompanied their son their, leaving their five other children behind in Isawiyah with their grandparents.
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After 25 days at the hospital in Jordan, Khalil spoke for the first time after being shot. But after another four months, the Jordanian physicians, too, declared that there was no more they could do and discharged him. An uncle who said he knew a French doctor promised that, through the organization Médecins Sans Frontières, Khalil would be able to continue his rehabilitation in France. The family rented an apartment in Amman and waited three months for all the arrangements to be made, but finally despaired and returned to Isawiyah. By then, it had been nearly a year since Khalil had been wounded. (Nahleh, from Jalazun, remained in Jordan for treatment until recently.)
Khalil later underwent rehabilitation at Hadassah University Hospital on Mount Scopus. He’s been waiting for two years for plastic surgery at the hospital’s other branch, in Jerusalem’s Ein Karem neighborhood.
Other than feeding himself, says his father, Khalil isn’t capable of doing anything on his own. Recently the wheelchair that was loaned to him for a limited time from the Yad Sarah volunteer organization was taken away, and it’s very difficult for him to leave home – although Ahmed has managed to take him to Jaffa, to look at the sea he loves so much.
Khalil says he would like to study something, but is having trouble finding a framework. The Jerusalem Municipality’s social welfare department arranged for him to attend a weekly course in English for disabled individuals that’s held in nearby Beit Hanina. He spends his days watching television and perusing social media. As the years pass, the once-frequent visits from friends are dwindling in number. Next month he’s due to go back for another round of rehabilitation.
Last week on Thursday, Khalil was home as usual, together with his mother, his eldest brother Salah, 23, and his younger brother Bakher, who’s 12. Their father was at work. Khalil slept late that day; after all there’s no real reason to get up in the morning. At about 11 o’clock, he tells us, he was awakened by noise outside the house. He then heard knocking on a door, but thought it was coming from the neighbors’. Bakher opened the door. A large force of policemen – some of them from the Israel Police, others wearing Border Police uniforms – spilled into the house while others surrounded it outside. Khalil suddenly found himself encircled, in his room. There were a great many policemen, he said, “maybe 30.” A few wore civilian clothes, perhaps they were detectives. The others, clad in protective vests and helmets, were armed from head to foot, as though a daring operation against the enemy were afoot.
The “brave” officers scattered though the crowded rooms of the house. Having ascertained who Khalil was, they conducted a search of his room, confiscating four shield trophies made of olive wood, which Khalil had received from various Palestinian NGOs as tokens of esteem and solidarity with his suffering. He was handed a copy of a document: “Report of search, not including penetration or search of computer materials.” The materials seized? “Four shield trophies of different types.” The undersigned, on the yellow form: Rotem, Erez, Motti and Tanat. The confiscators apparently have no surnames.
“Why does Khalil look like that?” one officer asked Salah, who replied, “Because the Border Police shot him four years ago.” The police told Salah they intended to arrest Khalil. “How will you arrest him?” his brother asked, outraged. “He can’t walk and he can barely talk!” The officer said he would phone his superiors and check, and went outside. When he returned he announced magnanimously that instead of being arrested, Khalil was being summoned for questioning on Sunday of this week in interrogation room No. 4 at the Russian Compound in West Jerusalem. He asked Salah whether anyone in the family had a driver’s license and a vehicle, as otherwise the police would come to take his disabled brother.
He then handed Khalil a form: “Summons to appear before the police. Room 4, Muskubiya [Arabic name for Russian Compound]. Sunday, January 19, 2 P.M. Regarding: Questioning. Please ask for Captain Regev and bring ID and this invitation.” At the bottom of the form is is space for the stamp of the police unit doing the summoning, but there is no stamp. Nor do the rank and serial number of the officer who scribbled his name on the form appear there – although they are required. When the police officers realized that Khalil would not be able to come alone and that he can barely speak, they issued an identical form to his father. At no stage did they explain why Khalil was being summoned.
An Israel Police spokesman told Haaretz this week: “The investigative file is still open and, by the nature of things, we do not provide details about ongoing investigations. We will emphasize that the Israel Police respects the rights of the disabled and makes an effort to facilitate things for them as much as possible. It the same time, the police seek to investigate every offense thoroughly, with the aim of arriving at the truth.”
The spokesman did not provide any information regarding the suspicions relating to Khalil Mahmoud.
The police force was in the house for about half an hour, Ahmed says, adding that he decided that they would not report to the police station this week. Says Khalil, very slowly: “Why should I go for an interrogation? I didn’t do anything.” His father adds, “Yes, why go?”
Ahmed is convinced that the attempt to arrest his son and his summons for questioning is meant to send a message to Isawiyah in general: Even the disabled will be arrested or taken for interrogation. Apparently everyone in Isawiyah is on the line, even a severely disabled young man who was shot in the head with live ammunition by police officers and paralyzed for life.