Life and Death of a Palestinian Construction Worker

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A’ahed Ma’arouf al Hajj al-Rimmawi, 33, one of the victims of a parking garage collapse on September 5, 2016.
A’ahed Ma’arouf al Hajj al-Rimmawi, 33, one of the victims of a parking garage collapse on September 5, 2016.Credit: Courtesy photo

The family and friends of A’ahed Ma’arouf al Hajj al-Rimmawi, 33, only hope he was killed instantly when the roof of the parking structure in Ramat Hahayal fell on him. That was one of the few sentences uttered Tuesday afternoon in the house of mourning. That house, its second floor still under construction, belongs to an uncle of the laborer who was killed. About 20 men were sitting there, including the father, Ma’arouf al Hajj, who smoked silently. He is also a construction worker, in a Palestinian company in Ramallah. The women were sitting on the first floor of an old house nearby, silent and weeping.

Around 4 P.M., Bassam and Mohammed, A’ahed’s two brothers, came to the house of mourning. They worked with A’ahed at the parking structure. Their father wipes away tears for the first time, after embracing his son Bassam, who was released from the hospital that morning.

When the ceiling fell on them, the three brothers were on the lowest floor of the structure, working on final repairs like filling holes. “It fell completely silently, without any warning,” Mohammed told Haaretz. The floor buckled in the middle, and because he was near the stairwell he managed to extricate himself. Bassam was trapped, but he was in communication with rescuers and was pulled out about two and a half hours later. (Bassam did not want to answer Haaretz’s questions; “I’m too tired,” he said.)

“I called to A’ahed a few times and he didn’t answer,” Mohammed said. Their sister, who lives in Jaffa and heard the news, phoned and reached Mohammed. She gave the bad news to the rest of the family and the village. “We didn’t know what to do with ourselves,” said another relative, Zaher.

Then Tuesday morning came the news that A’ahed’s body had been pulled out. Mohammed was called to identify his brother. It was hard to recognize the face.(“His eyes looked surprised,” he said.) He identified A’ahed by his shirt, but for final confirmation, fingerprints were taken that were compared to those on the biometric card every Palestinian worker must carry.

Ma’arouf al Hajj and his family left the village of Beit Rima in 2002 and went to live in one of the lower-priced neighborhoods of Ramallah due to the policy of road closures at that time. A’ahed began to work in construction at age 16. He has a 2-year-old son and his wife, Rihan, is pregnant. She is from the village of Qibiyeh, west of Ramallah. A’ahed’s two brothers are also married to women from Qibiyeh, which is near the Hashmona’im checkpoint en route to work in Israel.

And so the three brothers rent in Qibiyeh. They would leave home at about 5 A.M. and start work around 7, sometimes coming home at 7 P.M., sometimes at 9. The three of them were saving to build a house in Beit Rima. They received permits to work in Israel about two years ago. They started working on the parking structure for which Danya Cebus is responsible about seven months ago. One of the mourners said A’ahed was injured twice in slight accidents in the parking structure. Mohammed said that wasn’t correct, it was at his previous job that he was injured.

A’ahed’s parents saw him the last time about a month ago. Zaher said that A’ahed “was a good man and stayed out of trouble.” On Saturdays he did construction work for friends in Qibiyeh for free. Mohammed talked about the ride to work on Monday. A’ahed was in a good mood and he’d talked about ways he could avoid working for a subcontractor from Qibiyeh, who had signed the agreement with the construction company. They know that he puts 100 to 200 shekels in his pocket from the workday of every laborer, while each of them nets 280 shekels ($74) a day, Mohammed recalled.

The funeral will take place Wednesday. On the night between Monday and Tuesday the army raided the village and woke people up with stun grenades and banging on their doors. Two young men identified with Fatah were arrested. In the house of mourning, people hoped that on the night before the funeral, the army would not raid the village again.

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