The last casualty?
By Gideon Levy
12/08/06 "Haaretz" -- -- The numbers don't lie. They
never do. In the past month, the number of Palestinians
killed by Israeli forces was 45 times greater than the
number of Israelis killed by Palestinians. The
Palestinian dead included 13 minors. All in one deadly
month. The last name on the list is Ayman Abu-Mahdi, a
10-year-old boy who had come home from school and gone
out to get a little air with his siblings and friends.
He was sitting on a bench in front of his house. The
time: 15 hours before the cease-fire in Gaza.
The last casualty? Of course not. In the first week
after the cease-fire, Israel had already killed five
more in the West Bank. The last child to die? No again.
This past Sunday, soldiers killed 15-year-old Mahmoud
al-Jabji in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus. The last
casualty in Gaza? That, too, is hard to believe. The
last only until this cease-fire goes up in flames, like
all its predecessors.
For a week, Ayman lay dying in the pediatric intensive
care unit at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. Only
his uncle, Abdel Hayy Abu-Mahdi, was permitted to
accompany him that terrible night, when he was
transferred in grave condition from the hospital in Gaza
to Israel. It took another six days of running around
until his father, too, was permitted to see his son.
Hours later, the boy was dead. The youngest son of Najah
and Abdel Qader al-Mahdi passed away early Saturday
morning. His body was wrapped in a bright blue shroud
and transported back to Gaza. In the afternoon, he was
buried in the cemetery opposite his house, not far from
the spot where he had been shot a week earlier.
A row of trees separates the house from the cemetery.
They were planted by the family about 25 years ago to
act as a divider. "So we could see a little greenery,"
says the uncle. Ten trees, a little scrap of green in
the depressing landscape of the refugee camp. They
didn't want to look out the window and see graves. Their
house is at the western end of the Jabalya camp. They
moved here after saving some money from working in
Israel, work that came to an end about six years ago.
All their lives, the Abu-Mahdi brothers worked in
construction in Israel, and now, except for one brother
who works as a teacher - and hasn't been paid in eight
months - all have been unemployed for years. They built
the house themselves over a period of years - wall after
wall, floor after floor, until it was a four-story
apartment building housing the five brothers and their
families, including the family of a brother who was
killed in an auto accident between Yavneh and Ashdod on
the way home from work.
The line of trees hid the graves, but two weeks ago it
did not obscure the sight of a tank that sat on a hill -
Jabal al-Qashf they call it - overlooking their home
from a distance to the west. Even from the first floor,
from the apartment where Ayman's family lives (10
children and their parents), the tank could be seen.
The IDF was "operating" in Beit Hanun and the tank was
watching over nearby Jabalya.
On Saturday two weeks ago, Ayman got up in the morning
and went off to the UNRWA school, where he was a
fifth-grader. He returned home at 12:30, had lunch and
then went outside. Next to the row of trees, the family
had built a concrete bench. Ayman sat on the bench with
some of his siblings and friends, including his brother
Adham and his cousin Amjad. His uncle Abdel Hayy was in
his apartment on the second floor.
Shortly after three, the uncle awoke from a nap to the
sound of a hail of bullets striking the walls of the
building and shattering windows. Then he heard loud
yelling coming from the street. Abdel Hayy rushed
downstairs in a panic and heard that his nephew Ayman
had been wounded. From what? He asked. "From the tank on
the hill," the distraught children answered him. Ayman
had already been rushed to the hospital; only his blood
was visible in the sand. "Ayman, Ayman," the children
They all hurried to the Kamal Adwan Hospital, which is
more like a large clinic, not a place where anyone would
wish to be hospitalized. Someone in a passing car had
rushed Ayman there. The doctors at Kamal Adwan were
unable to do much. The bullet had penetrated the boy's
skull from the left side and exited from the top. Ayman
was taken to Shifa Hospital. There, they just tried to
stop the bleeding that had spread in his brain. Ayman's
condition deteriorated, and shortly after 10 P.M. it was
decided that the boy needed to be rushed to a hospital
The family began frantically chasing after the necessary
permits. One uncle went to the Palestinian health
ministry, another went to the Liason and Coordination
Administration, a third obtained the medical report.
Within two hours, they had all the permits, but at
midnight, when they reached the Erez checkpoint, the
father was not permitted to accompany his dying son.
"Bring someone else. You're his father and the father
isn't allowed to go," they were told. The uncle Abdel
Hayy was selected to accompany Ayman, because of his
A Palestinian ambulance had brought Ayman to the
checkpoint. An Israeli ambulance was waiting on the
other side. A Palestinian ambulance is not allowed to
pass through the checkpoint, regardless of the condition
of its passenger. The uncle had to pay NIS 2,000 to get
the Israeli ambulance to come. At a quarter to two, they
reached Sheba Medical Center.
After arriving at Sheba, Ayman underwent surgery. In the
days that followed, his condition worsened: his vital
systems collapsed one after the other. His uncle never
budged from his bedside. Seven days, a slow death.
Back in Gaza, Ayman's father was desperately trying to
obtain an entry permit to enter Israel so he could be at
his son's bedside. Ayman was the beloved youngest child;
only a few days before he was shot, his father had said
to him: "Of all your brothers and sisters, you're the
only one who will stay and live with us even after you
get married." Ayman loved soccer. His uncle says the
adults were always telling him to stop making noise with
the soccer ball when they were trying to rest.
Last Friday, after the uncle appealed to human rights
organizations in Israel and with the assistance of
hospital personnel, the permit was finally obtained -
six days after the boy was wounded by an Israeli tank.
Abdel Qader Abu-Mahdi was permitted to come to Sheba to
see his son. It was a just a few hours before the boy
On the day Ayman died, this writer spoke by telephone
with the uncle in Gaza. Gaza has been closed to Israeli
journalists for the last two weeks. Before that, we were
able to take a picture of the dead child in the
ambulance that took him back to Gaza, wrapped in a blue
shroud, a tranquil expression on his face. His uncle
held up a picture of Ayman before he was wounded, to
show us what he looked like.
The scene at the boy's bedside, says the uncle, was
heartbreaking. "The father started to cry and shout:
"Ayman, Ayman, answer me. Speak to me. Just one word."
Abdel Hayy says that the medical staff couldn't hold
back their tears, either. The father wanted to stay in
the hospital, but his brother insisted that he go home.
"I wouldn't let him. I'm his uncle and it's very hard
for me, but how would it be for his father? I was afraid
that my brother might have a heart attack. I pleaded
with him to go home."
On Friday afternoon, the father took a taxi to the Erez
checkpoint. That night, the uncle tried to go to sleep
in the parents' room next to the pediatric intensive
care unit. He couldn't fall asleep. He told the other
people there that he knew the boy wouldn't last much
At five in the morning, he heard a voice over the
intercom calling him to come to the ward. The doctor
offered him a seat, and he understood immediately. Abdel
Hayy almost fainted; the doctor supported him. Then he
pulled himself together and recited the morning prayer:
"May God have mercy on the child." He gathered up his
few possessions and waited for the ambulance that would
take them both back to Jabalya. He called another of his
brothers and asked him to give Ayman's father the
message. He didn't want to break the news over the
Exhausted and grieving, he says: "My brothers and I
lived with the Israelis like friends. Even now, after
what happened, we're like friends with the Israelis. We
were in Israel our whole lives. We want to live like all
the nations. Enough of the bloodshed, from both sides."