Two Palestinian Boys, Two Eyes Lost to Israeli Army Gunfire

Two Palestinian Boys, Two Eyes Lost to Israeli Army Gunfire

Two Palestinian boys, aged 11 and 15, each lost sight in an eye after being shot by Israeli soldiers. The younger one has been denied entry into Israel to receive medical care because he is a ‘security risk.’ The older boy traveled to Jordan to try to save his eye.

by Gideon Levy and Alex Levac, reposted from Ha’aretz, September 16, 2022

They live a kilometer apart, have never met and probably never will. One is from a family of refugees and he lives in one of the grimmest, poorest and most crowded camps in the West Bank. The other, a few years older, lives with his mother and siblings in a relatively spacious home in an adjacent town.

The father of the former is the camp imam. The father of the older boy has been living in Houston, Texas, for the past four and a half years, in the hopes of improving his life and obtaining U.S. citizenship for himself and his family, and securing a future for his children. For the boy from the refugee camp, however, there is neither a present nor a future.

The main thing these two young people have in common, other than being Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation, is the sad fact that each of them recently lost sight in one eye after being shot by soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. Safi Jawabra, the 11-year-old, lost his left eye; Ziad Abu Ayyash, 15, was shot in the right one.

Something else the two share relates to Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, one of Israel’s most wanted individuals until he was shot to death by Israeli security forces in Nablus on August 9. It was on that same day, during a demonstration protesting Nabulsi’s killing held in Beit Ummar, his town, that Ziad Abu Ayyash was wounded. For his part, Jawabra today wears a photograph of Nabulsi in a pendant dangling from a chain around his neck.

Al-Aroub evokes Gaza-like images of a refugee camp. Narrow alleys crowded with hordes of children after school, garbage rolling about in the streets, abject poverty, a hodgepodge of structures, with houses on top of each other, and jobless men, idle and listless. And as though all that weren’t enough, a fortified concrete IDF tower lords it over the camp, while troops man the checkpoints posted at each of Al-Aroub’s two entrances from Highway 60, between Bethlehem and Hebron.

Safi Jawabra lives on the second floor of a building at the far end of one of Al-Aroub’s narrow alleyways. It’s a meager home, whose entrance has also collected garbage, although a desperate attempt has been made to alleviate the drabness in the form of sofas of faded crimson velvet in the living room. Jawabra, dressed in fashionable jeans, is an appealing boy, with two dimples and a winning smile. He’s the youngest of seven in the family; it’s his father, Ahmed, 65, who is the local imam.

Jawabra wears a photograph of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi in a pendant dangling from a chain around his neck.
Jawabra wears a photograph of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi in a pendant dangling from a chain around his neck. (Alex Levac)

The youth is initially embarrassed when asked about the pendant and tries to hide it. But when we switch to other subjects, he turns out to be quite self-confident for someone his age, and answers our questions about why Ibraham al-Nabulsi is important to him. “He was a hero who fought the Israeli army bravely,” he replies in his soft voice.

Indeed, across the West Bank, children are wearing pendants with the portrait of the shahid – martyr – from Nablus.

On May 29, Jawabra, who is now in sixth grade, had a test in mathematics, after which he set out for home. There were confrontations in the camp at the time, between soldiers who had invaded it and young people throwing stones at them – an almost daily occurrence in Al-Aroub.

On the way home that day, Jawabra relates, he encountered such a clash.

The soldiers were shooting rubber-coated metal bullets and tear-gas grenades, and he says he was about 20 meters away from a group of them that had emerged from an ambush in a nearby alley. They fired in Jawabra’s direction and suddenly he felt a very painful blow to his face, as blood began flowing from one eye.

A relative who was on the street nearby carried the boy to a private car, which rushed him to a clinic in the nearby town of Beit Fajar. Jawabra says now that he didn’t cry, even for a minute. A Palestinian ambulance then evacuated him to Al-Hussein Governmental Hospital in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, and from there he was taken to another local hospital. He underwent surgery there on a broken bone in his face.

Four days later, Jawabra was transferred to Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem, where doctors tried to save the sight in his left eye. They discovered that he was suffering from a torn retina. “The examination indicates a blunt injury, very serious, to the retina, with extensive commotio retinae [severe trauma to the eyeball], multiple areas of ischemia and a vitreous hemorrhage,” his hospital discharge letter states.

At this stage there wasn’t much that could be done for him, and he was released a minute before midnight on June 3, according to the letter.

Jawabra was asked to come back to Hadassah for follow-up treatment a month later. However, at checkpoint No. 300, outside Bethlehem, he was told that his father could enter Israel but he could not: He was on the Shin Bet security service’s “denied entry” list, the 11-year-old was informed. Following a series of phone calls, he was allowed in, but a month later, when an additional appointment had been scheduled, he was turned back at the same checkpoint and missed it.

A spokesperson for the Civil Administration, the Israeli authority that administers the West Bank, told Haaretz this week, declaiming the usual regulations: “The exiting of minors needs to take place with the accompaniment of a parent/guardian. Safi Jawabra is 11 and is denied entry on security grounds.”

With no other option, the youth is now under the care of an eye doctor in Bethlehem, Dr. Wahal Jabri. His evaluation is that there is nothing to do until Jawabra is 18; while the eyeball was not torn out, he barely sees anything with it, only shadows. The scar above his eye is a reminder of the operation he underwent to mend the broken bone in his face.

In a photo taken on July 24, 2022, commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade Ibrahim al-Nabulsi walks in the West Bank city of Nablus.
In a photo taken on July 24, 2022, commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade Ibrahim al-Nabulsi walks in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AFP)

About a kilometer south of the refugee camp is the town of Beit Ummar, with its own armored IDF watchtower looming over it. The Abu Ayyash family, with six children, lives in a stone house here with fruit trees in the yard and a clutch of pine trees down the road. Ziad, a 10th-grader, wears glasses. About a month before he was wounded, his mother took him to an eye doctor, who prescribed them.

Now, ironically, his right eye is now half shut, red, sunken, blind; it will soon be replaced by an artificial eye. His mother, Asil, who’s 37, has blue eyes, the same color as her son’s. Her husband, Mohammed, owns a computer store in Houston and is waiting to receive a Green Card.

Ibrahim al-Nabulsi was killed on the morning of August 9, in Nablus. In Hebron that day, one person had already been killed by that time and another wounded in disturbances with Israeli forces, when Abu Ayyash went to visit his grandfather, who lives on the other side of Highway 60, the main West Bank thoroughfare.

When he returned, an hour later, he found himself caught between soldiers and a large crowd of Palestinians who were heading out of Beit Ummar toward the highway to protest Nabulsi’s killing. The teenager tells us that he tried to hide in one of the alleys.

Asil tells us at first that she doesn’t want her son to be photographed. She’s apprehensive that we will write a “symmetrical” article that would describe in the same breath Palestinian victims and settler victims of violence, as though symmetry could ever exist between occupier and occupied. She is particularly worried about any “normalization” of the occupation or of her own people’s suffering and casualties.

Eventually, she gives her consent: We assure her that we would never publish a so-called symmetrical article – for exactly the same reasons that troubled her.

Ziad Abu Ayyash.
Ziad Abu Ayyash. (Alex Levac)

Trapped between the soldiers and the demonstrators, Abu Ayyash took shelter behind a fence around the yard of a house and occasionally peeked out. He says he did not take part in the stone throwing.

But at one point when he looked out he heard an explosive sound and felt a sharp pain in his eye, which began to bleed. He’s not sure what hit him – a rubber-coated bullet or a fragment from the wall of the house that was dislodged by a bullet.

The teenager was thrown backward. When he tried getting up, his eye felt like it was burning; he then lost consciousness for a few minutes.

When he woke up, he was being carried by a few young men to the town center, from where a Palestinian ambulance took him to Al-Mezan Hospital in Hebron; from there he was transferred to the city’s Alia Hospital.

He remained there overnight, before being taken to the Hebron branch of the East Jerusalem-based Saint John Eye Hospital, and then was moved to the main branch in Jerusalem.

The physicians at Saint John wanted to remove the youth’s eye, but his mother objected. She said that if there were even the smallest chance of saving his sight, it would be best to wait.

She then arranged to take her son to a hospital in Jordan that also specializes in eye surgery. The doctors were able to reconstruct the eyelid but could not save his vision.

He was sent back to Saint John, not before being detained for several hours at the A-Zaim checkpoint east of Jerusalem. He was discharged a few days later.

On October 17 young Abu Ayyash is scheduled to undergo surgery in Jerusalem to remove the eyeball and have a prosthetic inserted.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit this week responded to Haaretz’s query concerning the cases of both youths: “On May 29, 2022, a violent disturbance took place in the village of Al-Arroub, in the area of the IDF’s Etzion Territorial Brigade, during which stones were thrown at Israeli vehicles traveling on Highway 60.

An IDF force that rushed to the site responded with riot dispersal means, and it was noted that someone was hit.

“On August 9, 2022, a violent disturbance erupted in the town of Beit Ummar, in which stones, fireworks, burning tires and Molotov cocktails were thrown at an IDF unit, which responded with riot dispersal means, and it was noted that someone was hit.

“No complaints were received in regard to the incidents.”


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