Shaban Qarmout, a 65-year-old farmer from the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, got up early on Monday, 10 January and headed out to his farmland as he usually did, accompanied by his 22-year-old son Khaled. Their land is located about 500 meters from the boundary fence with Israel, near the Agriculture School in the town of Beit Hanoun. At about midday, as the two were working, a bullet fired from an Israeli watchtower ripped through the elder Qarmout’s chest, wounding him fatally.
Khaled Qarmout told The Electronic Intifada what happened: “My father and I were working normally, clearing some rocks from the land using a cart. At noon a number of people from a relief organization came to see my father. One of them wanted to take some pictures, but my father refused. He told them it might expose him to some danger from the Israeli military post nearby. Of course the area is dangerous, and my father was always keen to avoid any trouble with the Israelis.”
After the visitors left, Shaban Qarmout resumed his work and Khaled moved about a hundred meters away. “Suddenly I heard my father screaming, ‘Khaled!’ and I rushed to see what happened. I found him silent and blood began to drip from his mouth,” Khaled recalled.
Asked if he had observed any trouble or activity near the boundary, Khaled replied: “I kept silent, and looked around to see what was going on, but saw nothing. Then with the help of some neighboring farmers we carried my father on a bulldozer for a distance of about 300 meters until he was taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance. He died a few minutes after he was shot from the Israeli watchtower.”
At the Jabaliya refugee camp home of Shaban’s son Shaker, family members were gathered, including Shaban’s wife Umm Khaled, daughters Khulud (15), Rana (26), and daughter-in-law Umm Thaer.
Shaban Qarmout had a small house on his land, but the family left it two years ago during Israel’s winter 2008-2009 assault on Gaza and moved to Jabaliya refugee camp. Despite this, Khaled told The Electronic Intifada that he and his father continued to work their land during the past two years from the early morning until evening. According to Khaled, the Israeli soldiers at the watchtower that is close to their land know them well, yet, Khaled says, they shot his father in cold blood.
“Almost two weeks ago, my father received some financial assistance from a relief organization and he asked me to keep the small amount of money at the house on the farmland, telling me, ‘My son, maybe we will need this money some time in the future, so it is better that we keep it rather than spend it.’ He said these words as if he were aware that his destiny was awaiting him,” Khaled said, surrounded by family members in the home.
Umm Khaled spoke to The Electronic Intifada, her face pale, about what she called the “martyrdom” of her husband: “Let me tell you that my slain husband has been there in the same farmland for about 45 years and I personally spent almost half of this period with him along with our children. I am wondering why they killed him; I am sure they know him.”
One week after the Israeli assault started in December 2008, Umm Khaled recalled, the Israelis using loud speakers ordered them to leave the area, and that was when they moved to Jabaliya.
“Shaban, my husband, was a very kind-hearted father,” Umm Khaled said. “He was so kind to his children and generous towards other people. When we used to live in the house on the farm, before the war broke out, Shaban used to welcome all the relatives who used to spend some time with us among the citrus trees, to the extent that he always insisted to serve them food. May God accepts him as martyr and believe me I wish I were martyred along with him.”
“My father was the kindest to me,” said 15-year-old Khulud. “I am his youngest and I never felt deprived of anything — tenderness, food, pocket money or anything else. My father used to give me whatever I wanted and always cared for me.”
Reflecting on those who took her father away from her, Khulud added, “I don’t believe there is a chance for coexistence with such killers, the Israelis! Why did they kill him? Did he shoot at them with his 45-year-old axe?”
Rana spoke of her father as she held his infant grandchild in her arms and as neighbors and relatives came to offer condolences.
“My father used to be very generous with me and his grandsons despite the fact his economic situation was not that good,” Rana said. “Every now and then, he would give me some money to spend on my children, for he knew my husband is jobless. During Ramadan, he used to invite me and my children to iftar [the breaking of the fast], showing a great deal of kindness to us.”
Umm Thaer, Shaban Qarmout’s daughter-in-law and niece, said that her uncle was like a father to her. His loss was not the first tragedy she has suffered. On 29 December 2008, her 16-year-old son Thaer Shaker Qarmout was critically wounded in an Israeli missile strike. He died of his injuries on 4 January 2009. Two friends who were with Thaer, Muhammad Madi and Tareq Afani, were killed instantly.
On the terrible day her son died, Umm Thaer remembers her uncle Shaban telling her, “Dear daughter, Thaer has gone to the best place, to paradise, and believe me, may God take us the same way he took Thaer.”
It seems that God heard Shaban and in the same month in which Thaer went to paradise, his grandfather followed him two years later.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.