For You, Palestinian Kid Killed by IDF Was Just a Statistic

Abu Yasser has buried three of his brothers. His tragedy is heartbreaking; ours is that we are slowly losing our humanity.

Reuters

Maybe you sighed. Maybe. But you probably never even flinched. In all likelihood it never registered on your radar. After all, it was just news of another Palestinian kid killed by an Israel Defense Forces soldier.

Mohammed al-Kasbeh, shot in the head and back last Friday morning near Qalandiyah checkpoint, was just another statistic for most people.

Not to me.

Even though I never knew Mohammed personally, I consider his brother, Thaer, my friend. He’s a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who was the kit man for the Palestinian national soccer team during the five months I was making “Pitch Battle,” a documentary screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in April.

The war-torn team had defied all the odds – not to mention the occupation – and qualified for the final spot in the Asian Cup, which was held in January in Australia, a country that still does not officially recognize Palestine.

I was filming a few members of the team, including their media officer, one of the only Palestinians who spoke English. He usually could be found smoking cigarettes with Thaer, known to everyone as Abu Yasser.

It was while filming on Sydney Harbour on a shimmering summer’s day in January that Abu Yasser told me that two of his younger brothers, Yasser and Samer, both teenagers, were killed by IDF bullets in 2001 and 2002 – some 40 days apart.

One died during the siege of Arafat’s compound in Ramallah; the other during clashes between stone-throwing Palestinian kids and gun-wielding IDF soldiers at Qalandiyah checkpoint.

As we glided across the harbor, Abu Yasser showed me photos of his two sons – and told me he had named them after his two fallen brothers, Yasser and Samer.

It explained why he was called “Abu Yasser”; it also explained the melancholy permanently etched on his brow – his grief remained visible more than a decade after he buried his younger brothers.

Days later, in Canberra, he told me that the two-state solution was no solution; he wanted to go home to where his family had their house in a village near Lod and could not accept that while my Israeli cameraman and I could come to Ramallah, he was trapped in Qalandiyah refugee camp, denied the right to go to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Last week Abu Yasser and his brother did manage to breach what they deride as the “Apartheid Wall” and reach Al-Aqsa for Ramadan. Mohammed apparently wanted to go again last Friday. He never made it.

Why Abu Yasser’s 17-year-old brother was shot and killed near Qalandiyah by Colonel Yisrael Shomer, the commander of the Binyamin Brigade, remains in dispute.

Some Israeli media reported he was throwing rocks at a military jeep when he was gunned down; some Palestinian media reported he was fleeing the scene when he was shot.

Israeli officials defended the killing as “self-defense”; the IDF distributed a photo of Shomer’s jeep, showing the shattered windscreen as evidence, and pointed to the fact he fired warning shots first.

“This is how a commander in the IDF should act,” boasted Naftali Bennett on Facebook. “The people of Israel are behind you.” Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan blared in solidarity: “Throwing stones is terrorism. Stones kill. The Binyamin Brigade commander was acting in self defense.”

But if you – like me – have stood at Qalandiyah checkpoint and witnessed this man-made hell (and been hit by tear gas to boot) then I respectfully submit that you – like me – would probably conclude that you too would end up throwing stones. Ehud Barak once conceded that had he been born Palestinian, he too would have come to the same conclusion.

True, the Palestinians cannot be absolved from responsibility for this mess; stone-throwing or wall-climbing kids are not blameless either – Mohammed had been injured previously in clashes with the IDF. But we are so obsessed with blaming them, and so assured of the justice of our cause, that we see no cracks when we look in the mirror.

And then there’s the hubris of our hasbarah. We still trumpet the IDF as the “most moral army in the world.” Once, perhaps, we were able to say with sincerity that we cherished our morality, even in the fog of war. Now we appear to have sacrificed our morality on the altar of security.

The result is that we have neither peace nor security; instead we have a never-ending occupation, whose history is written neither in black or white, but in red – blood red.

Abu Yasser has buried three of his brothers. His tragedy is heartbreaking; ours is that we are slowly losing our humanity. Worst of all, most of us seem unable – or unwilling – to admit it.

Dan Goldberg is an award-winning documentary producer living in Australia. He is the Australian correspondent for Haaretz, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jewish Chronicle.