Dear Hisam, father of Ahmed, may he rest in peace,
I learned of the death of your son, Ahmed Musa, through a one-sentence newsflash on the Palestinian news station Ma’an last Tuesday: “Ahmed Musa, a young boy, was killed by a bullet of the occupying forces in Nil’in.” I was immediately overcome with shock and grief and bitter tears. And above all, that relentless feeling of powerlessness that I know too well. We Palestinians cannot protect our children from being killed. Not because they are soldiers on the battlefield, but because we cannot imprison them in our homes. They must live their lives, play outside the house, go to school. We tell ourselves that there must be in our land a safe place to protect our little ones. Should not our villages be safe? Should not the courtyards of our homes be safe? And the safest place of all — should this not be the schoolyard?
But our children are still murdered in cold blood in front of our homes, in the heart of our villages and in our schools. For on another black Tuesday a year and a half ago, soldiers of the occupation killed my own beloved 10-year-old daughter. Abir Aramin was shot in the head in front of her school in the village of Anata on 16 January 2007. Ahmed and Abir passed on the same day of the week, at the same age; both were shot in the head by the same kind of killer: one of the Israeli border patrol guards.
The moment I heard the news of your son’s death, I found myself speaking aloud to him. “Ya Ahmed, please give my regards and my love to Abir. Your two pure souls will meet in paradise. Go in peace, beloved, do not fear for you are not alone — there are others there waiting for you. Ready to greet you are more than one thousand Palestinian children who have been killed since the year 2000. And though I hope with all my heart, Ahmed, that you will be the last victim of these legitimized Israeli war crimes, I cannot help but wonder — who will be killed next?”
We Palestinian parents — are we not fully responsible for what happens to our children? For why do we allow our children to go out into the streets in the light of day? Why do we permit them play outside the house? Why do we not only let them, but actually encourage them to go to school and be educated? And even more importantly, I place the blame our martyred children — how dare you let your heads get in the way of the Israeli sharpshooters? Let’s try to be reasonable: the soldiers of the occupation don’t really want to kill our children, it can’t be a deliberate policy of intimidation and violence — they are simply trying to help us keep our children in a safe place. And clearly they believe that the safest place for our children to be, where no one can harm them, is in their graves.
When I heard what happened to Ahmed, I was in the middle of reading a book about international human rights and the specific laws pertaining to children in times of war and armed struggle. Every Palestinian should read these laws until he knows his rights, and every Israeli should read these same laws until he understands the enormity of the criminal and fascist practices of the Israeli army against the Palestinian people.
Major General Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of Staff of the Israeli occupation forces, has said that “My greatest fear is the loss of humanity [among Israeli troops] because of the ongoing warfare.” I must inform the distinguished general that he lost his humanity a long time ago. He and his army should fear for their loss of humanity, for under his leadership the Israeli army killed Ahmed Musa. And if he doesn’t care about Ahmed because he is a Palestinian, General Ashkenazi should at least be afraid that his army has lost its humanity in its treatment of Israelis as well. We have all seen how Israeli soldiers treat their own people who join us Palestinians in peaceful protest in Bil’in and Nil’in and Artash and in the Galilee and in Tulkarm. Did the general see when soldiers fired rubber bullets at Dr. Tsfiyah Shapira and her son Itamar, who were participating in a peaceful march in the village of Shufa near Tulkarm alongside many peace activists? I’m guessing that he did witness this, in fact I would guess that General Ashkenazi ordered this operation and the many others like it. Look closely, General, and you will find the source of your fear.
Hisam, Ahmed and Abir have gone to the hereafter, and I promise you that in eternity they will outlive their murderers. Our children are the epitome of innocent humanity, and their killers are the most despicable of criminals. But while such ruthless men exist as part of the occupying army, please know that there are thousands of Israelis who refuse to participate in these crimes, who are ashamed at the bloody stains that soak the uniform of the Israeli army and all those who would call its conduct moral or democratic. There are Israelis like Tsfiya and Itamar who feel it is their moral, and human, duty to stand with us.
They have killed our children, Hisam. What can we do but fight on? We will never lay down our arms. For despite the advanced military technology and deadly force that we face, it is we who posses the most dangerous weapons of all. These are the weapons of morality and justice. We will not surrender these in the face of brutality, and we will be steadfast in demanding justice for our children. Ahmed and Abir’s murderers must be judged and sentenced as criminals. Let me be clear: we do not seek revenge. Justice for our beloved, dead children will not be served by the murder of a young Israeli girl in front of her school, or by the murder of a young Israeli boy by a bullet to the head. We will refuse to mirror the violent means of the occupation. You and I, and every Palestinian, must let our morals and our humanity and the teachings of our great faiths be our guides.
Yours in bereavement and steadfastness,
Bassam Aramin is the co-founder of Combatants for Peace. This essay was translated from the Arabic by Miriam Asnes.