“IDF soldiers on Tuesday morning killed the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades commander in the old city of Nablus, Bassam Abu-Seria, also known as Gaddafi, Palestinian sources reported.” 1
“Three Fatah members were injured in the incident, two of them critically. One of them, Abed Shinawi, was a senior member of Fatah’s military wing.” 2
“The spokesperson of the Israeli army expressed his sorrow at the death of Abed Al-Wazir. ‘During the military operation in Nablus, armed clashes erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, and the elderly Palestinian citizen received a mortal gunshot,’ he said.”3
Abed has died. In the words of the Palestinians, among others, he was martyred.
The notion of martyrdom, in the context of anything Arab-related, is a loaded word in many Westerners’ understanding: it often has a negative connotation, or insinuation of an extreme ideology or lack of love for life, and often of suicide bombings. A martyr is anyone who has died as a result not renouncing their beliefs or principles, religious or otherwise. Martyr in Palestine refers to anyone who has died as a result of the Occupation and Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), as with the 38 year old handicapped wheelchair-bound man killed in an IOF invasion in Nablus’ Al-Ain Refugee camp 1.5 months ago4, or the elderly man shot 5 times in the chest life after he opened his door to IOF assurances of his safety during the same Israeli October 16th invasion which eventually claimed Abed’s life.
Abed, the martyr, loved life, and this was evident in his words, actions, his dreams. He told me once he would love to sleep at night, to walk freely in the hills that surround Nablus, to travel to other countries…
He was one of Nablus’ resistance fighters, living in and defending the streets of the Old City. They do not receive the same glorified status as that of the invading soldiers, instead tagged with negative undertones: ‘militant, extremist…’ Yet, as the new commander of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades related in a recent Ha’aretz interview: “We don’t attack civilian targets, we aren’t dispatching suicide bombers. The army wants to get us mainly because of our actions against forces that enter the city. But it is our obligation and our right to hit soldiers who come to Nablus, and we will continue doing so.” 5
The Humanity of Abed
Sami** had known Abed for years and held him like a brother. He later related to me some of the conversations they’d had. I asked Sami, an avowed pacifist with a vocal distaste for guns, whether he and Abed had ever discussed being a resistance fighter. They had, Sami questioning Abed about his pre-resistance-fighter days which had been just years earlier.
Sami: “I asked him: ‘you are a kind, beautiful man. Why do you fight?’ Abed told me, ‘I lost my cousins –two cousins –to the IOF, and I want to continue their resistance. My family and neighbours are constantly harassed and never feel safe. I have to do something; I’ll never feel good if the soldiers are always entering the old city and I’m not trying to prevent them from invading homes, kidnapping, and killing people.’”
Sami told me more about Abed. “He was a good man, the children in the old city all knew him and loved him. They used to make drawings and write letters for him: ‘Mohammed loves Abed. Please don’t die.’ Abed always asked about the poor in the area: Did they have food, milk…? He and Qadaffi were always on their mobiles saying: ‘If people need anything, they should go to my house.’ He wasn’t rich, but he cared about his neighbours.”
Sami told me Abed loved to meet foreigners, which perhaps explains why he was so quick to trust and get to know me. Sami said Abed was always telling him: “if you have a foreign friend, bring him to me.” We met before Sami could introduce us.
Months ago, during one of my first days in Nablus, having heard three building-shaking explosions in the late hours of the night, I went looking the following morning in the old city for the consequences of the night before. I had been told that the IOF had laid explosives at the concrete blocks barring IOF jeep entry to the old city streets. These blocks, so often seen barring Palestinian entry to Palestinian roads, in this case serve to hinder or delay IOF vehicles. So the IOF often bombs them.
I’d also been told nearby buildings suffered damage from the explosions, and so went to see. At the north end of the old city, I came to one bombed roadblock section. It was there that I met Abed, leaning against the concrete blocks with two friends. He explained that this was where the IOF had been the evening before, and we got talking, in broken attempts at one another’s language.
He wasn’t what one expects of a resistance fighter, after hearing the words ‘militant’ and ‘member of the extremist group X’ tossed about so freely, slurred, in the press. He was slight, average height, neatly bearded, well-groomed, handsome, and nearly always grinning, inevitably teasing someone.
In the course of my time in and out of Nablus over the months, I often met Abed and his family in their home off an Old City alleyway. They invited me continually to stay the night, but I was usually en route somewhere or had work to do later on. I shared some meals with them, Abed teasing, his little sister defiant and holding her own, his mother likewise punchy, his pretty young wife welcoming, gracious, translating our mixed Arabic-English efforts… In later meetings, their newborn boy was present, tiny, quiet, sleeping or being coddled by Abed or his wife.
He was keen to improve his English, and would try to speak in English with me, becoming shy when other Palestinians with a better grasp of English were around. Sometimes he’d type out English phrases on his computer, misspelled but discernible.
His mother speaks in a loud voice, sounding somewhat angry even when not. That is her way. Once, discussing the effects of living in Nablus under constant siege, she described how she and her family were affected. Weeks would pass without seeing her son, Abed, he in hiding from another IOF kidnapping or assassination attempt. Abed’s mother pulled either side of her robes out like a fan, showing how spacious her dress has become because she’s lost so much weight. She is nervous all of the time, doesn’t sleep well at night, always worries about her son, Abed, and consequently has dropped many kilos.
His 11 year old younger sister, Laila, speaks French. Miraculously, she traveled outside of Palestine, taking part in an exchange to France one year, she being a bright student. However bright, her school efforts are now suffering, her attention ever-distracted, her energy fatigued like so many Palestinian children suffering from the trauma of occupation and invasions. Still, she is feisty and holds –held –her own with her big brother, Abed.
When the Army Invades…
I worried each time I heard the IOF had invaded Nablus again, worried about Nablus residents caught, collateral damage, in house searches and army random firing, as with the young woman struck by an IOF bullet, while in her home, during the same raid which killed Qadaffi and inevitably killed Abed. I worried about Abed and his friends, knowing they were the target of such raids. Worried also about their families, knowing they suffered house raids and relentless interrogation, irrespective of age, sex, or health.
Four months ago, we’d rushed from Hebron to Nablus, hearing the IOF had invaded again and imposed curfew. We’d met with volunteer medics and joined them on the streets to do whatever we could: deliver bread and food, negotiate passage and accompany people to off-limits homes. All the while I’d worried about Abed. The next morning, visiting houses which had been invaded, ransacked, and exploded, I came across Qadaffi in an alley, who assured me Abed was still alive.
Honouring the Fallen
A martyr’s funeral is a morning filled with masses of reverent people gathered in the streets. The procession progresses from the hospital where the body, cleaned and dressed in a Palestinian flag, is carried on the shoulders of the closest friends, down the streets to the city centre, and beyond through the old city streets. Shots are fired into the air out of respect, rapid-fire and deafening, filling the void with protest, an homage to the silenced fighter. Mourners sing songs about the fallen, songs about his strength and struggle.
The procession moved from the hospital. Sami had taken me to the morgue where Abed’s body lay blue-grey, his handsome face grotesque in death. Other resistance fighters and close friends guarded his body, as they had while still alive and in critical condition in hospital where I’d visited him two weeks ago, the day after he was hit by the Israeli rocket which tore apart Qadaffi and left Abed minus his left leg. In the early hours of October 16th, they had been on an old city rooftop, resisting the latest Israeli army invasion, this time of a neighbourhood above the Old City, in search of a man on their wanted list [The man was also on their recently-pardoned list, included in goodwill gesture between the PA and Israel, one not to be honoured.]. Abed’s wiry frame, unconscious, was small and discoloured amongst hospital whites, unnaturally quiet amidst hospital beeps, and mottled with wounds over his chest, arms, face…
Sami, a volunteer medic, who had carried the slain body of Qadaffi, had witnessed the various stages of Abed’s deterioration, from post-rocket-strike to hospitalization, to being transferred in his last hours from hiding in the old city to a hospital anew. Three days after his injury and hospitalization, he had been moved underground from hospital care due to very real concerns of the IOF raiding hospitals in late night hours, to finish their assassination operation. With his sudden worsening hours before death, Sami was called with his ambulance to re-transfer Abed to hospital care, too late.
Today’s procession passed through the alleys of the Old City, passed the entrance to Abed’s home. I strayed from the funeral march to visit Abed’s family. Neighbouring women and female family members, in black, wept for the loss. Tough Laila sat with her mother and sisters in the dining area, Laila slumped in her chair and sobbing loudly, weak from despair. Abed’s mother sat stonily, miles away, eyes vacant and clouded with loss. Abed’s pleasant wife lay unconscious on their bed, passed out, briefly revived by concerned family, and passed out anew from grief. Their raw pain tore into me, past the protective barrier one begins to acquire when surrounded by Occupational tragedies.
Recalling again our first encounter, Abed had seemed to test me at first, testing my political views, testing my thoughts on resistance. Did I think he was a terrorist? Did I support the media’s twisting of, ignoring of, the facts of the Occupation? What did I think of the machsoms, or the Wall…?
I was surprised, but pleased, now honoured, by his trust and friendship. Having stumbled across Abed, I look back now grateful for this chance to know his humanity, the humanity of someone in his position, to glimpse a fraction of the desperation and loss Palestinians know so intimately. It will never be my own struggle, my own story, but knowing it is important, as is telling it.
**names have been changed to respect the privacy of mentioned individuals.
-The author, who wishes to remain anonymous out of security concerns, has lived in various areas of the West Bank for the past 6 months, volunteering as a human rights worker and witnessing many aspects of Palestinian lives under Israeli occupation. http://opt2007.wordpress.com/
1 IDF kills 2 Palestinians in West Bank
Soldier injured during Nablus arrest raid
3 Leader of Al-Aqsa Brigades and 70-year-old man killed in Israeli attack in Nablus
4 Army Incursion in Al Ayn refugee camp, Nablus
5 For Nablus’ ‘Night Horsemen,’ the days are numbered