A teenager and his mother are walking, happy and carefree, along the street, together with the boy’s aunt, on the way to buy him a present – a pair of new shoes – as a reward for his excellent report card. As they proceed up an alley, a group of children running for their lives hurtle toward them. Before they can figure out what’s going on, they hear a shot and the boy falls to the ground in the horrified presence of his mother. He screams in agony, as blood streams from one eye.
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Ahmed Mahmoud, a 15-year-old in the 10th grade, a top student well groomed with stylishly cut hair, is on the verge of losing consciousness. He thought he’d lost his sight and was coughing up blood, he recalls now, weeks later. His mother, Esrar, was panic-stricken.
The incident happened on December 5, at about 3:30 P.M., on a street close to their home in the village of Isawiyah, within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Ahmed’s aunt rushed into a nearby house to summon a relative, who took the teen to Makassed Hospital, also in the eastern part of the city. According to his father, Mohammed, who was called to the scene, they were afraid to take him to an Israeli hospital, because he might be arrested there – something that had happened to other local children. But after finding that Makassed wasn’t able to treat him, his parents brought him to Hadassah University Hospital, in Jerusalem’s Ein Karem neighborhood.
The Mahmouds are a modern, affable family. The two parents are 42. Their firstborn child, a daughter, is studying education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was the teen’s uncle, Jamal Aladin, an architect who graduated from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and who was working this week on a project in Modi’in, who apprised us of his nephew’s case.
“I decided to write to you after the doctor at Hadassah informed my nephew that he had lost his sight in one eye [and] another boy lost an eye in the village of Isawiyah after being hit by a rubber bullet fired by the Border Police,” he wrote.
The physicians at Hadassah found that the retina of Ahmed’s right eye had apparently suffered irreparable damage; the left one was not injured.
When Ahmed was admitted to the hospital, where he remained for six days, his parents were asked what happened and related that their son had been struck by a rubber bullet fired by a Border Policeman. About an hour later, two police investigators came to the emergency room to question Ahmed, apparently after being notified of his arrival by the hospital, as is required in such cases. His father asked the two officers if they were from the juvenile unit – a question Palestinians usually don’t dare ask. The policemen then said that they weren’t from that unit, that they were there to question the father. They said they had no information about an incident in Isawiyah.
Mohammed told them what happened to his son. The officers asked the mother and the aunt to go to the Israel Police’s Shalem Station in East Jerusalem the next day to give testimony, and they did so.
In addition to the bleeding retina, the medical staff found a fracture in the eye socket. Ahmed’s mother estimates that her son was shot from a range of about 20 meters. People in the village told them that the Border Policeman who shot Ahmed was hidden behind a wall and was probably a sniper. There have been many recent cases of stone-throwing at policemen, who for some reason often come to Isawiyah at the end of the school day. In the past few months, some eight local children and teens have been hit in the eye with rubber-coated bullets, arousing suspicions in the village that this is the work of snipers aiming at the eyes.
The full extent of the permanent damage to Ahmed’s vision is not yet known; at present, he can barely see with his right eye.
On December 18, a week after his release, Ahmed’s father filed a complaint with the Justice Ministry’s unit for the investigation of police officers. He was informed that they didn’t have an available investigator and that they would call him (which they have yet to do).
And then on December 26, at 4:30 A.M., police officers knocked on the door of the family’s house. Ahmed, still recovering, happened to be sleeping at his grandparents’ home that night. Before going to sleep, he and his grandfather watched an old game with Barcelona, his favorite soccer team, on a pay-TV sports channel.
When Ahmed’s father opened the door, he was confronted by four policemen in civilian attire, backed by six or seven Border Policemen, masked and with weapons at the ready. The officers asked to see some ID and then questioned him about his son. He explained that Ahmed was at his father-in-law’s place. The police showed him a warrant, searched the closets and confiscated two pairs of pants. One pair belonged to Ahmed; the other, to his 22-year-old brother. Mohammed tried to explain, but the police took both pairs.
The pants are apparently needed for identification purposes, based on photographs in the possession of the police. They said that Ahmed was wanted for previous cases of stone-throwing. The officers were about to go to the grandfather’s house, to arrest the teen, but his father persuaded them to hold off, since he was recovering from his injuries and needed to sleep.
Mohammed was told to bring his son to the Shalem Station at 9 A.M. Mohammed went to his father-in-law’s home to wake his son, to tell him – in order not to frighten him – that they needed to go to the hospital for an x-ray. But Ahmed overheard his father telling his grandfather that he was wanted for questioning by the police.
When they arrived at the police station, Mohammed was informed that his son was under arrest. He tried to protest: The form he had been given beforehand stated that the boy was wanted for questioning, and they hadn’t even started. He also tried to explain that his son had a hospital appointment. To no avail.
“I didn’t do anything. Why should I be afraid?” Ahmed says now, when asked if he was frightened during his detention. The next day, the police prosecutor, seeking to have him remanded, would tell the Magistrate’s Court judge that he had thrown stones at the security forces in November and in early December.
Ahmed relates that he was beaten during his interrogation: He was made to lie on the floor and was kicked for about 10 minutes, to force him to admit to throwing stones. He also says that the interrogators cursed his mother and threatened to arrest her if he didn’t confess. They also threatened to bring in his school principal unless he confessed. He was given a Hebrew-language form to sign but he refused to so, he says.
The interrogators told him they had a photograph of him throwing stones; he asked to see it, but it was not shown to him.
Mohammed is convinced the arrest happened only because he had lodged a complaint with the unit that investigates police officers.
On the night he was arrested, Ahmed was taken, hands and feet shackled, to Hadassah hospital in order to get a medical authorization of his condition. According to Ahmed, he was deprived of food for hours. His family tried to send medicines and ointment for his eye, but the main police station in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound told them to send a prescription, and he would get the medicines there. Nonetheless, Ahmed says he wasn’t given any medication during his four days in detention. His father notes that his eye was red and swollen when he was released.
After being detained for two days, the police asked to keep Ahmed for another four days; the judge gave them another two.
Ahmed was released on bail of 1,000 shekels ($250) to house arrest of one week. It’s very doubtful that he will be brought to trial.
The spokesperson for the Jerusalem District Police stated, in reply to a query from Haaretz: “The suspect was arrested and interrogated by the Kedem division [of the Jerusalem force] because of his involvements in incidents in which there was a disturbance of peace. During them, he participated with others and was documented throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police forces in Isawiyah. During his interrogation, the court extended his detention and he remained in custody at the Russian Compound, which is under the auspices of the Israel Prison Service. At the end of the investigation, his case was transferred to the prosecutor’s office for consideration and a decision. In addition, it is necessary for the claims brought by the suspect to be discussed by the proper authorities.”
Although his house arrest ended at 8 A.M. on Wednesday of last week, Ahmed isn’t going to school, for fear of hurting his eye. His mother casts worried glances at him and straightens the sweater he’s wearing. At night he sleeps by her side in his parents’ bed, instead of his father. Esrar says he tosses and turns.
This week, he finally got the shoes she and he were on the way to buy a month ago, with his aunt. Ahmed is wearing them now – fashionable Australian boots. His uncle Jamal is trying to allay his fears about not being able to see with his right eye.
“Look at Moshe Dayan,” he tells the boy, “look what he did with one eye.”