United by Misery: Two Boys from Gaza and Nilin

By Ramzy Baroud

Ahmed Moussa was a 12-year-old Palestinian boy from the West Bank village of Nilin, near Ramallah. Mohamed Bahloul is a 12-year-old Palestinian boy from Gaza City. The former was shot and killed 29 July by Israeli forces following a peaceful protest against the Israeli apartheid wall. The latter is awaiting death in a dilapidated hospital in Gaza.

Reports on Moussa’s death vary. The Anti- Apartheid Wall Campaign’s report said that the boy was "sitting under a tree with his friends when a military jeep drove up and the army shot him — a live bullet pierced his head. The boy died immediately."

Agency France Press’s report, the day following his death, confirmed the nature of the death but said that the boy was killed during the demonstration. Nilin, one of the numerous villages losing land to the Israeli wall — deemed illegal according to the International Court of Justice in 2004 — holds regular protests against the confiscation and destruction of the village’s farms. It’s part of a sustained non- violent campaign that brings together Israeli, Palestinian and international peace activists.

"Moussa tried to run away but his sandal slipped off after he stumbled over a part of the fence," according to one of Moussa’s friends.

The fact is, a young boy who should be at home enjoying the company of his family and friends, or attending a summer camp, or playing in the sunshine, is now dead. He is one of hundreds of Palestinian children killed by Israeli soldiers in recent years in a consistent pattern of deliberately targeting children.

Trying to make sense out of his tragedy, the father had this to say: "God gave me my son Ahmed, and he took him as a martyr."

Not an hour and a half drive away from Nilin, Bahloul is suffering from kidney failure. He is hooked up to a pitiable looking dialysis machine in a Gaza hospital. Aljazeera.net reported on Bahloul’s case: for three months, said his mother, Nadia, he received no medication and no vitamins to strengthen his sickly body. "There isn’t one door I didn’t knock on, hoping to find medicine for Mohamed," said Nadia. In a place similar in many respects to a concentration camp, where 1.5 million people are subject to the most inhumane conditions, Bahloul’s case is hardly the exception.

Despite the ceasefire between the Hamas government in Gaza and Israel that ensured that homemade Palestinian rockets are no longer fired at southern Israeli towns, there is no respite from poverty and siege in Gaza. UNRWA’s head of Gaza operations, John Ging, said that the situation is getting "worse and worse" for the people in Gaza, who are largely aid- dependant. He promised that his office would do all it can to help "those poor people, as they continue to get poorer and poorer."

The extent of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza has already passed many thresholds as poverty has rendered most Gazans dependant on food aid for survival. Hospitals are lacking equipment and medicine, and neither Israel nor Egypt allows Palestinians from Gaza suffering from life threatening illnesses to travel freely, and on a regular basis. Now even water in Gaza is polluted beyond foreseeable remedy.

The Christian Science Monitor reported 21 July that only one-sixth of Gaza’s daily sewage — estimated at up to 120 million litres a day — is fully treated. The massive amount of untreated sewage finds its way into the sea, and into the Strip’s water supply. "If there is a stronger word than catastrophe, I would use that word," said Nader Al-Khateeb, the Palestinian director of Friends of the Earth Middle East. The catastrophe is a "result of Gaza’s dilapidated water and sewage infrastructure undermined by [Israeli] attacks and fuel blockades."

According to Monther Shoblak, director of the Gaza Emergency Waste Project funded by the World Bank, due to sewage seeping into the ground, the aquifer beneath Gaza, which provides water for drinking and washing, is now so polluted with nitrates that only 10 per cent currently meets World Health Organisation standards for safety. As a result, water-related diseases in Gaza are rife.

Gaza is experiencing devastation on so many levels that it is impossible to locate any positive health or economic indicators. Bahloul’s mother’s wrenching search for medicine to save her son is compounded by her husband having lost his job due to the Israeli siege and while there are other mouths to feed. Unemployment in Gaza is skyrocketing and children are often forced out of school to help bolster the meagre incomes of poor families. Selling tea in the street from giant teapots hauled by children often not old enough to enrol in school is a growing profession.

While Palestinian villagers in the West Bank are fighting eviction notices from their homes and lands to make space for Israel’s projected 723 kilometre (454 miles) long wall, of which 57 per cent is already complete, Palestinians in Gaza are fighting for bare survival. Their plight is dreadfully similar. Despite the fact that the West Bank and Gaza were divided by occupation and self- seeking and wealthy politicians, they are united by grief, and by their common struggle.

Meanwhile, in a report released 30 July, Human Rights Watch claims that Hamas and Fatah have both carried out serious human rights abuses, including torture, against members of the opposing group. While Hamas is regularly derided for human rights violations reported in Gaza, which have been used to retrospectively justify the lethal siege, Mahmoud Abbas’s party hardly receives any reprimand. The report faulted "the United States and other donors, which have bankrolled President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and Fatah-dominated security agencies", for "not paying adequate attention to the systematic abuses by those forces," reported Al-Bawaba in Jordan.

Media reports with titles such as "Palestinians torture Palestinians" quickly flooded newspapers. Hamas and Fatah members screamed obscenities against each other and the arrests and torture campaign, reportedly continued. The conflict seemed for a moment entirely Palestinian, with Israel an innocent observer.

Meanwhile, Moussa’s father continues to seek "God’s mercy" for his son’s soul. Prayer and supplication are his only resort. In Gaza, death continues to hover over Bahloul’s household.

There is something utterly cruel about all of this, utterly inhumane.

-Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).

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