Twilight Zone / They Said They'd Kill Me

He doesn't intend to return to his home until the settlers are evacuated from there. He doesn't want Israeli medical treatment and hadn't heard about the uproar here after the attempt to lynch him. Hilal Majaida speaks.

Here he is - the survivor. His head and arms bandaged, his cheek gashed, his right ear deaf. In pain, weak, exhausted, scared, stunned, angry, bitter. Hilal Majaida, 18, from Muasi. For eight years he hadn't left that area, in the heart of the Gaza Strip. Now he's trying to recover at his cousin's home in Khan Yunis and refuses to think about going home, for fear of the settlers. He won't go back until after the disengagement, he told us this week. Until then he'll stay without his parents, brothers and sisters. They are there and he is here, almost within walking distance, but separated by the Tufah checkpoint. He sought refuge in an office in the city belonging to his uncle, a contractor, after he got fed up with being hospitalized and fled from the hospital in Khan Yunis on Sunday.

Now he's planning to go to Egypt, for an operation to save his ear, which the doctors in Khan Yunis recommended. No thank you, he says: He doesn't want to receive any medical treatment in Israel. "There are enough hospitals in the Arab countries." He hadn't heard about the big uproar in Israel caused by the scenes of the lynch that were broadcast on television. He didn't see the pictures and never wants to: "It will have a bad effect on me." His parents saw. They saw the settlers throwing rocks at him, rock after rock, with fury and murderous intent. "He's a Palestinian! Kill him!" one of them yells as Hilal is lying unconscious behind a gray brick wall opposite the building that was taken over by the settlers - the building where someone had scrawled in Hebrew: "Mohammed is a pig."

A fisherman in a sea where he is prohibited to fish, a truck driver in an area where it's prohibited to move, he was impatiently biding his time waiting for the disengagement, until these uninvited neighbors would finally be out of his life and that of others in Muasi. If Gaza is one big prison, then Muasi is the dungeon - a prison within a prison. Here he spent his empty days and nights, until last Wednesday, the day of the lynch. On the white sand beach, between the Neveh Dekalim hotel - rechristened Maoz Hayam - and the building taken over by the settlers - Tal Hayam (nice shiny Hebrew names to cover acts of theft and exploitation) - sits the Majaida family home.

This past Sunday, it was quiet in this stretch of land, after the Israel Defense Forces employed Palestinian workers to clean the empty apartment house of Mansur al-Bayuk, which the settlers had coveted, of the vicious graffiti that had been sprayed on it. On the sand behind the brick wall, the crime scene, there were also no signs left of what had happened here four days earlier. A few children wandered about idly on the sand, Muasi's summer camp, while vehicles belonging to settlers, the army and the police flew by. The people from Muasi are also allowed to travel by car - one kilometer north, one kilometer south. They are fenced in between one settlement and another - the places that are home to the "victims" who are soon going to be evacuated.

Hilal isn't at home. He's in Khan Yunis whose buildings are visible from here. To get to him, we have to go all the way north to the Erez checkpoint and then go all the way back down south, through the Gaza Strip, on our way to see the survivor of the lynching.

A small office in the middle of the city. The table is piled with mail and cardboard boxes. A picture of Yasser Arafat hangs on the wall. Leaning on his elbows and staring out into space, surrounded by young relatives whom he hadn't seen for years, sits the survivor. He can barely stand up. His voice is weak. He barely glances at the two Israelis who have come to see him. This morning he decided to leave hospital. He'd had enough. He doesn't even have any instructions from the doctors as to how to care for his injuries. He has a dozen stitches in his head. His cheek is bandaged, too, and he can't do much with his hands. He is 18 and has six sisters and six brothers. His father, who used to operate heavy construction machinery, is now unemployed. Hilal also has a license to operate a bulldozer and a truck. Two weeks ago, his cousin, Mohammed Abdel Hamid, was injured by a rock thrown by settlers on the beach.

A fisherman gets up early. Last Wednesday, Hilal got up early to head out to sea. This is what he does almost every day: He stands for a few hours with his net in the water, near the beach, to bring back a kilo or so of mullet, which he later sells in the Muasi market for NIS 30 a kilo. But on Wednesday, the sea wasn't cooperating and he didn't catch a single fish. "It was a little stormy," he says quietly.

It was also a little stormy near his home: There was an exchange of rock-throwing going on between the settlers, who'd taken over the abandoned apartment building four days before, and youths from Muasi, sparked by the "Mohammed is a pig" graffiti that had managed to stir up even these usually docile residents. Hilal says that he ran into the stone-throwing on his way south, en route home. He says he didn't take part in it. But eyewitnesses say they saw him throwing rocks, that he may even have been one of the two main rock-throwers. But what does it matter now?

"One settler came up to me and gave me a blow on the head with a rock. He came up from behind and I didn't see him. After that, I felt several more rocks fall on me. I don't remember anything more. I took a few steps and fell. After another rock, I woke up from the blow. I got up. Afterward there was a settler-soldier who knocked me against the wall and then another rock fell on me and I fell down again. I yelled: `Leave me alone, I want to go home,' and I collapsed on the sand."

His description is jumbled. He says there was also "a religious settler-soldier with a prayer-book in his hand" who took part in beating him. He says that another soldier beat him with the butt of his rifle. Eyewitnesses said one of the soldiers did grab him and held onto him tightly, before he was hurt, to stop him from continuing to throw stones at the stone-throwing settlers. No one saw him getting his head banged into the wall.

The television pictures showed a hapless soldier trying to protect him with his own body, though the soldier didn't appear to do a thing against the thugs who continued attacking him with their rocks.

Hilal says the ambulance that was called to evacuate him was delayed for two hours at the Tufah checkpoint, and that his parents have not been permitted to visit him. Yaniv Alon, spokesman for the IDF's Gaza liaison office, is quick to deny these two allegations. Alon says the delay at the checkpoint only lasted a few minutes because "the boy had no ID" and that his parents are entitled to cross the checkpoint at any time to visit him and that "it's their choice."

The IDF reacted very strongly in this incident - to the point that two senior officers visited the family home in Muasi, something that had never occurred during the present intifada, to express an apology. And workers are already renovating the apartment house, in another unprecedented step on the part of the army, which in recent years has only known how to demolish. Hilal, by the way, didn't know about the officers' visit to his home.

He spent four days in the hospital in Khan Yunis. He won't go home until all the settlers leave. "I'm afraid they'll find me and do the same thing to me again," he says. At night he can only fall asleep with the help of sleeping pills - maybe because of the pain, maybe because of the nightmares. "They're really terrorists. They tried to kill me," he says softly. He has nothing to say to the Israelis who were horrified by the pictures of the lynching. And he isn't interested in the fact that the Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, said the people who attacked him should be tried for attempted murder. What punishment do they deserve? Prison, he says dryly.

He hasn't heard anything at all from the Palestinian Authority. Not a single one of its representatives has come to visit him, or even phoned. Maybe he'll throw a party at his house when the settlers are evacuated and he can return home. The first trace of a smile is visible on his face. It seems that he'd like us to get out of his sight already, too.

The victim of Yedioth Ahronoth