Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
5 - 11 October 2000
Issue No. 502
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'Why?'

The series of pictures showing the brutal murder of 12-year-old Palestinian boy Mohamed Jamal Al-Dorri last Saturday shook the world with their depiction of the gruesome reality of violence in the Gaza Strip. Israeli soldiers ignored the pleas of Mohamed's father, Jamal, to stop shooting, while the terrified boy hid behind his father. An ambulance driver, Bassam Al-Belbeisi, was shot dead trying to save the two, and when an additional ambulance finally arrived to take the boy and his father to hospital, Israeli soldiers delayed them for 45 minutes at a check point.

The killing was captured on film by French television cameraman Talal Abu Rahma, whose images finally struck a chord with an international audience grown numb to the massacres taking place in Palestine. The Israeli army has claimed that the boy and his father were caught in crossfire between Palestinian policemen and Israeli troops near a settlement in Gaza, but the suggestion that it might have been Palestinian fire that killed Mohamed enraged Abu Rahma, who vehemently denied the claim.

"The bullets could not have been fired by Palestinians ... I clearly saw, with my own eyes, that the bullets were coming from the side where the Israeli army was standing," Abu Rahma insisted. "I saw it -- and so did my soundman and a number of citizens. There were no Palestinian security men in the area where the bullets came from."

It was not the first time that Abu Rahma, 45, has filmed Palestinian demonstrators being killed by Israeli occupation troops, but this time he could not hold back his tears. "The boy was killed right in front of me. I wanted to save him, but I couldn't because of the heavy fire," Abu Rahma recounted. "Crossing the street to the sidewalk where the boy and his father were would have meant certain death. I wasn't able to save him -- that is why I am still upset today."



As for claims by the Israeli army that its soldiers were defending themselves, Abu Rahma said: "I didn't see the father or his son carrying a Kalashnikov or an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade]. Until now, I can't understand why they were firing so heavily at them."

Abu Rahma, who has been working as a cameraman for 13 years, said he was about to leave the scene in Netzarim on Saturday when he suddenly heard the sound of bullets coming from everywhere. He and his soundman hid behind an old car, while young men scattered around them frantically. "At one point, firing concentrated in the direction of the father and his son," Abu Rahma said. "The child was crying and holding tightly onto his father's body. I think he was hit by a bullet in his leg first. His father was waving at a nearby ambulance, but due to heavy fire nobody noticed him. The boy was crying. I saw the father waving at me as well, holding a mobile phone in his hand. But I couldn't do anything. I could see bullet holes in the wall behind him, and then the father was hit by a bullet in his shoulder."

Apparently Jamal finally managed to catch the attention of one of the ambulance workers. "When he rushed to save them, he was hit by bullets and killed," Abu Rahma continued. "We grew extremely tense. The father and his son were being killed right in front of us, but we were afraid that if we made any noise, the Israelis would start shooting at us as well -- maybe blow up the car we were hiding behind."

At that moment Abu Rahma and his soundman saw something he said looked like a sandstorm, which they thought was tear gas. "It wasn't a tear gas canister; it was a real bomb, which caused a huge explosion. After the air cleared, we saw the son lying on his father's lap and it appeared his father was unconscious, hit by bullets. I knew the boy had been killed and his father was dying; I couldn't take it anymore. I turned off my camera, even though the firing was still heavy."

Finally, an ambulance car arrived and took Mohamed and his father to the hospital. Recounting his last minutes with Mohamed, Jamal said, "My child was killed hiding behind me and I couldn't do anything to save him." Tears welling in his eyes, he said that they hadn't expected to be caught in gunfire.

"We were on our way home to Breij camp, after looking for a new car. Suddenly, there was fire coming from everywhere. We tried to hide behind a cement bloc in the street. Mohamed was screaming from the sound of bullets all around us. I told him not to be scared. He answered, 'I am not afraid,' but after a bullet hit his knee, he was in pain. I tried to protect him with my body, but there was no use. Another bullet hit his back. I started screaming and waving, in hope that ambulance workers would see us while my son was bleeding. All I felt then was a bullet hit my shoulder, followed by more bullets. I couldn't count the bullets; couldn't feel what was happening to me, or my son. When I regained consciousness in the ambulance, I reached for my son's body. When I touched him, I knew he was dead."

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