Interview: Disabled activist continues struggle in Bilin

Jody McIntyre (left) with Rani Bornat (right) at a demonstration in Bilin. (Hamde Abu Rahme)


The Electronic Intifada contributor Jody McIntyre recently interviewed Palestinian activist Rani Bornat about his life after being shot by the Israeli army.

Rani Bornat: My name is Rani Abdelfatah Ibrahim Bornat, and I’m 29 years old. I’m from the village of Bilin, west of Ramallah. I was shot in the throat on the first day of the second intifada.

Jody McIntyre: How was your life before you were injured?

RB: Before it happened, my life was like any other young person. I used to study, go horse riding, herd my goats, ride donkeys … do all the things farmers do. My dream was to finish school, but I was deprived of it. I was to become an electronic engineer, and I was also deprived of that. God willing, I will be able to help my children study to become engineers instead.

It was while I was waiting to hear back from universities about continuing my studies, when the al-Aqsa intifada broke out in Palestine …

JM: Tell me about how you were injured.

RB: It was Saturday, 30 September 2000, the first day of the uprising. We marched to one of the checkpoints near Ramallah to protest against Sharon’s entering of the al-Aqsa mosque. It was a nonviolent demonstration, like the ones here in Bilin, with people chanting and holding up posters. But the soldiers didn’t respond with tear gas or rubber bullets, only live ammunition, because it was their aim to kill as many Palestinians as possible.

I wasn’t shot with a normal bullet, but a special “butterfly” bullet, so-called because of the way it spins as it flies through the air. It entered my throat and cut the artery that connects and nourishes my body and brain. Now I have an artificial artery. Because the artery was cut, and I had a blood clot in my brain, they had to tie two ends of the artery together. I had a stroke on my left side, and my right arm was left paralyzed.

It was a very dangerous situation — I was taken to a hospital in Amman, where I stayed for seven months. For the first two months I was in a coma. I was operated on many times … life-threatening operations. Everyday, people were just waiting for the moment I would die. At first, on the news they said I was a martyr; my father heard on the radio that his son had died. Later, they changed the report, and said that I was a “living martyr.”

When I recovered from the coma, I was struggling to speak, I had lost my memory and I couldn’t move my arms or legs.

JM: How did your family and other people from the village react to what had happened?

RB: When the people from the village saw me come home, still alive, they were so happy, because everyone thought that I would die from my injuries. Some of the family were crying with joy! All my friends were coming to visit me and stay with me … sometimes I had to tell them to leave because I was tired and wanted to sleep! I told them to act like before, so that I could continue with my life as normal.

JM: Do you participate in the demonstrations at the wall here in Bilin, or are you too scared after your past experiences?

RB: Firstly, I would like to tell you that I have been shot many times in the demonstrations in Bilin. Secondly, I would like to tell you that the best person to ask is Jody; he will tell you if I’m scared or not!

JM: So you’re a little bit scared?

RB: I’m not scared.

These are peaceful protests; if we don’t fight for our land, then who can? If we don’t fight for the truth, then who can? If we don’t stand side by side and resist this occupation together, then who can? Peaceful demonstrations don’t hurt or kill anybody; they are only there to serve the oppressed. We must tear down this wall, so that we can live with peace … and freedom.

JM: Has your wheelchair ever been broken during a demonstration?

RB: Once, we had a demonstration in Bilin for disabled people, which I organized. Normally, we would protest right up at the wall, but on this occasion, the soldiers started shooting tear gas before we were even within sight. They started to shout that “after today, there will be no more demonstrations in Bilin” … it was because the week before, they had shot an Israeli lawyer who was participating with us. So they wanted to stop the demonstrations because they were afraid of killing Israelis, not Palestinians! But that was a few years ago, so they haven’t done a very good job on the “no more demos” promise …

It was a very powerful symbol of the occupation, to see the Israeli army shooting at the blind and people in wheelchairs. They shot three tear gas canisters at my wheelchair and broke it completely.

JM: Do you think that the Israeli army deal with you differently because you are in a wheelchair?

RB: They treat me exactly the same. They don’t care if I am in a wheelchair or if I’m walking — according to them, I am a threat to the State of Israel, as ridiculous as that may sound.

Maybe they think I want to take revenge for what has happened to me, but I want to tell them that I am a man who wants peace. Even if they destroy my whole life, I only want to make peace.

JM: How do you envision the future?

RB: I am married now, and we have just welcomed three beautiful children, triplets, into the world. I want to start a new life.

Everybody living under the occupation is pessimistic, but I have hope that we can end it. I want to be able to live in freedom, to be able to travel without seeing walls or checkpoints — those are the real things that restrict my movement!

JM: Are you happy to see someone in a wheelchair from London going to demos with you?

RB: When I first saw you, I loved you, because you’re in a wheelchair like me. But it’s not important if you’re in a wheelchair or not … what’s important are the ideas, the resistance, that’s in your mind.

Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled “Life on Wheels,” which can be found at www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk, where a version of this article was originally published. He can be reached at jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com.