Children of Qalandiya: Mahmoud

By Tamar Fleishman

This child has a face and a name. He has a father and a mother who worry, who don’t know where Mahmud had been taken to and on what grounds. They probably wonder where he spends his days, and worse- his nights, whether he had been bitten so badly that he had become disabled (as had happened to many unlucky others), maybe he is bleeding, maybe he hurts, he might be crying, he might be asking for his mother, calling for his father, maybe he is silent, maybe it is a smothered and restrained cry as there is no one to hear and comfort him.

Indeed, It happens every day, every year, all around the West Bank, but when I went over to give thirteen year old Mahmud the photo of him that I took the last time we met, and he was not among the children who hang around the checkpoint, among the peddlers and unemployed, where he spends each day, under all types of weather, trying to earn some Shekels by selling bottles of water to the drivers. As I turned my head left and right, thinking I might see him between the long lines of vehicles at the front of the checkpoint, children and adults came to me from all directions and said: "Mahmud had been arrested… Mahmud had been arrested…"It was as though a great dark and horrendous hole had cracked open inside me.

My acquaintance with him turned the violent disappearance of the child, and that of all the other children of Qalandiya, into my personal matter.

"Two, or maybe three days ago" they said, soldiers came out of the checkpoint area, they caught Mahmud and they took him, they handcuffed him, then they dragged and beat him: "They hit him too hard" (said one man).

In an instant, this child, who, it is important to repeat, is but thirteen and is called Mahmud, he comes from a nearby town,  Ar-Ram, and up to three days earlier had been a child peddler, is now, god knows where, a prisoner in the name of state security. 

Being used to finding these children, where they are expected to be, at the place that the fate and their parents had destined for them, knowing their names and recognizing their faces and gestures, as had happened when I couldn’t find Mahmud that day, when I saw the boy Ibrahim imprisoned at Ofer jail, sitting handcuffed before the honorable judge Sharon Rivlin, when we witnessed the boy Nabil being handcuffed and his eyes covered – the pain and horror become personal.

Knowing that Mahmud, Ibrahim and Nabil are no exception, that Qalandiya is no exception, one can find no comfort. The mundane reality of the imprisonment and disappearance of these children from our sight is both a direct and indirect threat. Each and every day it threatens them, but it also threatens those attempting to come near, to be fond of and even try to bring some tenderness, a glimpse of a smile and a bit of satisfaction to the rough lives of those lost and hopeless souls. It is a kind of friendship that manifests itself every week at the same day on the same hour. Even if it is for only a few minutes, this friendship comes with responsibilities, in the spirit of the words of the fox, the Little Prince’s friend (A. de Saint-Exupéry), seeds of fear and pain are embedded in the pleasantness of friendship.
(Translated by Ruth Fleishman.)

– As a member of Machsomwatch, once a week Tamar Fleishman heads out to document the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This documentation (reports, photos and videos) can be found on the organization’s site: She is also a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence. She contributed this article to

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