Blond, that’s how the Israelis remember the children from Nabi Saleh, who don’t greet the armed soldiers invading their homes with flowers and chocolate. So for a start, here are three facts. One, there are also children with brown hair and green eyes. Two, Israel has stolen and is continuing the steal the village’s land and springs, by means of the Halamish settlement. And three, as I’ve written in the past, the people of Nabi Saleh are real jokesters.
They joke about almost everything (Bassem Tamimi, a few hours after the arrest of his daughter, Ahed: “The Zionists are finished interviewing me. Now I have time for you.” Then there was the time, during the second intifada, when a Border Policeman caught Abd al-Rahman, a man from the village, driving on a road that was off-limits to Palestinians. He ordered him to stop and asked for his address. Nabi Saleh, came the reply. The name rang a bell for the soldier. “Yeah, we spent a few days there in a military post in a house that we seized,” he said. And Abd al-Rahman answered: “Right, I’ve come to collect the rent.” The soldier burst out laughing and let the kidder go on his way.
It was from them that I heard this historical joke: The first Tamimi came from Saudi Arabia. Before Islam, he had been a winemaker. The Prophet Mohammed was trying to convince him to move to Hebron, to help him spread his message there. What will I find in Hebron, Tamimi asked. They grow marvelous wine grapes there, came the persuasive answer. And thus the Tamimi family settled in Hebron and spread from there throughout Palestine.
I didn’t hear any jokes at the hospital where Mohammed Tamimi has been for over a week. On Friday, December 15, he was shot in the face with a rubber-coated metal bullet, at very close range, by an unnamed soldier. This doesn’t upset the Israelis. The boy had climbed a ladder leaning against on the wall surrounding a vacant house, in whose yard or shed soldiers were posted. When Mohammed’s head poked over the wall, he was shot; the entry point of the bullet was just below his left nostril.
As the bullet made its way through his cheek, stopping behind his ear, Mohammed fell from the ladder, which was at least two meters high. He was unconscious and bleeding so badly that those around him, no strangers to shootings, were terrified. Two teens started shouting “Mohammed is hurt” and word reached his parents’ home. They ran to get him and drove him to the village of Beit Rima, which has an intensive care ambulance. On their way to the hospital, they came across a mobile army checkpoint. At first the soldiers wouldn’t let the ambulance through, Mohammed’s father, Fadel, says. Then the ambulance crew opened the door and the soldiers saw the wounded youth. Yallah, get going, they said, the father noting panic and urgency in their voices.
The Istishari Arab Hospital is on the northern side of Ramallah, on the edge of the suburb of Rehan. It is new and private, founded by a number of Palestinian businesspeople. The view from the windows is of a hilly landscape with fields and orchards and village homes. The rooms are spacious, and the reception area of each ward is furnished with comfortable chairs for visitors. Mohammed’s family sat in one such waiting area while seven surgeons worked to save his life.
The operation began at 9:30 P.M. and continued until 4:30 A.M. Mohammed’s mother, Imtithal, didn’t eat or sleep for two days. On Monday, the doctors brought Mohammed out of sedation. As soon as his family saw that he recognized them all, they began to smile again. Had the bullet hit just a half-millimeter to the side, they wouldn’t have had a son at all, or he wouldn’t have been himself anymore.
In the comfortable waiting room, his brother offers visitors coffee and chocolates. Mohammed can only have visitors twice a day, for one hour in the afternoon and one hour in the evening, and only two people at a time. On Wednesday afternoon, his mother sat with him for half an hour, then came out of the room, happy as can be. “He’s in a hurry. He wants to go home,” she said with a smile. One of his brothers came out of the room and said, “He wants to see Iman,” the eldest brother’s fiancée. Everyone smiles. Mohammed speaks in a weak voice, his face still heavily bandaged. He also sprained his right shoulder when he fell and it’s hard for him to move his arm. But he knows everyone by name and remembers what happened.
The flow of visitors never lets up. From the village and from neighboring villages, from work, friends, cabinet ministers, ordinary folk. They sit for a little bit and then leave. All day long, the father answers phone calls. “Everything’s golden,” he says, “Mohammed improved 100 levels today.”
After construction began on Halamish, on the lands of Nabi Saleh and other villages in 1978, an American journalist came to interview the villagers, they say. “How long have you been here,” he asked the village elder. The elder took the reporter by the sleeve and led him to the top of a hill overlooking a green, cultivated wadi. “You see the wadi, young man? When Adam and Eve were frolicking there below, we were already here.”
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