Monday, December 05, 2005

Spare Parts

The senseless deaths of children is a painfully frequent theme in accounts of life in Palestine, and few incidents have stirred more controversy than one Jenin family's decision in the wake of their son's murder. Mohammed's report on the range of opinions in Gaza was published by Morganbladet on 2 December 2005.

"Israeli children will never have peace as long as
Palestinian children don't," said Abdelmajeed Al Nems,
14, current head of the Children's Parliament, during
a press conference in Rafah last week. The Children's
Parliament, one of the oldest organizations for young
people in Gaza, is a forum for children and teens to
debate current affairs. Al Nems called the press
conference after the Parliament voted to protest a
Jenin family's decision to donate their only son's
organs to sick Israeli children after an Israeli
soldier shot him in the head on November 3.

"We love peace," Al Nems declared, "and we dream of a
small nation of our own, a place where we can fulfill
the simple dream to live as children live in the free
world. But we do not want to reward our killers by
donating the organs of murdered children. We don't
want anyone to kill us!"

The Children's Parliament press conference was just
the latest round of the huge debate surrounding the
death of 12-year-old Ahmed Ismael Al Khateeb, shot in
the street outside his home in Jenin on the first day
of Eid. The three-day Eid holiday, roughly comparable
to Christmas in its feasting and gift-giving, ends the
fasting month of Ramadan. Traditionally, parents buy
new clothes for their children and on the first day of
Eid, give their children a gift of cash. After
prayers in the mosque, children show off their new
outfits and head for the shops to buy toys and lots of
sweets. Ahmed had returned from morning prayers with
his father and had just left the house with some of
the neighborhood children. Suddenly, convoys of
Israeli soldiers approached from several directions,
raiding the neighborhood to arrest an alleged
militant. The children scattered but Ahmed was shot
down. He sustained irreparable brain injury and
after three days in a coma, was declared clinically
dead. His parents decided to donate his organs in
transplant operations that saved five Israeli
children, plus a 58-year-old kidney transplant
patient. All recipients are recovering well,
including a Druze child and a young Israeli Arab girl
who had waited five years for a heart transplant.

Initially, the Israeli army said Ahmed had been
brandishing a realistic toy rifle, leading the
soldiers to mistake him for a militant. This initial
statement was proven false when it was discovered his
pockets held the entire cash gift from his parents—he
had never reached the shop, never bought anything,
never mind a toy rifle. The children who witnessed
the shooting said the soldiers shot him in the pelvis
and when he attempted to stand, shot him in the head.

Reached by phone at his Jenin home, Ahmed's father,
44-year-old Ismael Al Khateeb, said, "I feel proud to
have made this humanitarian gesture, even though I
know the Israeli army is committing more and more
crimes against us. I hope this initiative will
demonstrate dramatically that we want peace, and help
move peace-making from talk and slogans into actual
implementation. We Palestinians want to live in
peace and freedom, without the constant fear our
children will be killed."

Al Khateeb's decision, and his hoped-for message of
peace to the world, has stirred a storm of controversy
in Palestine. Even weeks after the fact, the topic is
still debated by everyone from school children to the
elderly. Amani Abdullah, 22, a university student,
said, "I think it's not fair that his father donated
his organs to Israelis once he realized the Israelis
murdered his son in cold blood. They should not be
rewarded for their crime," she said. "The organs
should have gone to more deserving recipients." Of
course, feasible transplants are governed by time,
distance and tissue matching. Even more ironically,
due to Israeli restrictions, Palestinian doctors are
rarely able to travel abroad for the specialized
training needed to perform transplant surgery. And
Palestinians needing organ transplants must go through
the labyrinth of Israeli red-tape to receive treatment
outside their homeland.

Amal Salem, a 33-year-old teacher, agreed with the Al
Khateeb family's decision on even more practical
grounds. "Once the lamb has been slaughtered," she
said, "it does him no further harm to use the skin.
Nothing could change the fact of their child's death.
It was all right to donate the boy's organs to Israeli
children. That child's body sent a message from
Palestine to the whole world, and said, 'We
Palestinian children stand for generosity, compassion
and life. We are true Muslims, and do not call for
terror and killing.' Of course," she added, "this is
a message written in terrible pain, and may God help
his parents to handle it." Many Palestinians share
Amal Salem's viewpoint that humanitarian aid can and
should transcend national and political conflicts.

Abdel Al Nems, of the Children's Parliament, feels the
Al Khateeb family's generosity is counter-productive.
"There is no safety for us and our friends," he said.
"Palestinians are being shelled and attacked.
Donating Ahmed's organs will never do any good for the
children of Palestine. It makes it seem as if our
lives are cheap. We love peace, but we refuse to be a
source of spare parts for the children of the soldiers
and settlers who kill us! The occupying forces were
not ashamed to honor the Al Khateeb family, but then
they exonerated the Israeli soldier who killed Eman Al
Hums when she was already wounded and immobilized."

Al Nems was referring to the shooting death of a
13-year-old school girl in Rafah in October 2004 and
the verdict in the criminal trial of "Captain R."
While the court criticized the bungled and possibly
falsified Israeli army investigation, it also cleared
the Captain of all serious charges, a verdict that
prompted widespread outrage in Palestine, and protests
even in Israel. The Israeli Soldiers Breaking Silence
Committee issued a statement condemning the verdict
which said in part: "We are all responsible and
accused of this crime because we allowed the oversight
procedures of the army to collapse before our eyes."
Coming less than a fortnight after the death of Ahmed
Al Khateeb, the verdict freeing Eman Al Hums' killer
on, essentially, technicalities, only inflamed the
debate over the Al Khateeb family's actions. Was
their generosity a well-intentioned but wrong-headed
move that tells the occupier they can kill Palestinian
children with impunity? Or is their returning good
for evil a message that will bring Palestine closer to
a lasting and just peace? The only thing sure is that
the debate will continue, and the answers will be slow
to arrive.

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