Childhood is a beautiful and strange thing. Before we truly learn how precious it is, it is already over. For many Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation childhood ends even earlier than you’d think. The commonplace elements of a child’s life in Palestine, which under normal circumstances would be filled with school books, football and games with friends, is instead interrupted by the harsh realities of occupation that include soldiers, checkpoints, walls, discrimination and racism.
When childhood ends for a Palestinian under occupation is impossible to tell. Many who try to carry on with a normal life under the circumstances hope to enjoy the innocence of youth without having it shattered by the oppressive regime that surrounds them. Not all are so lucky. Atta Sabah is one of them.
I spend more time than most focused on news from Palestine and the Middle East and every so often there is a story I learn about that I heard nothing of previously. In a situation where death and violence has become routine, not every bullet or victim registers a headline. So when I heard Atta’s story I decided it had to be highlighted, not because it is particularly unique but because it is commonplace and yet unheard of.
Atta is a Palestinian refugee residing in Jalazon refugee camp. He is 12 years old. The camp, whose residents mostly come from the villages surrounding Al-Lyd, is about 20 miles east of there today in the West Bank between Ramallah and Nablus.
Earlier this year, in May, Atta and his friends were doing what most kids at their age should be doing; playing around. Boys will be boys. But when boys are boys in under occupation, the mere act of playing around could lead to horrific outcomes. Atta and his friends were tossing around his school bag. When Atta went to retrieve it from where it had landed, he saw it was in the possession of an Israeli soldier.
What is an Israeli soldier doing in the path of school kids? Guarding the illegal Israeli colony of Beit El, which is home to thousands of illegal Israel settlers and adjacent to the Jalazon refugee camp. Atta wanted his school bag back. The soldiers told him to come back for it the next day.
The following day Atta returned in an effort to get his school bag back from the soldier who had it. As he approached the soldiers, one of whom held up his bag, he paused feeling nervous and uncomfortable with the situation, and then when he turned around…BANG.
Atta, an unarmed Palestinian refugee of 12 years who just wanted his school bag back was shot in the stomach. The bullet—a live fire bullet—exited through his back but not before severing his spinal cord. The shot damaged his liver, lungs, pancreas and spleen and has left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Eyewitness reports show that the situation was calm, that no clashes were taking place at the time and there was no “mortal danger” to Israeli forces that would allow the use of live ammunition.
Contradicting eyewitness reports, when asked about the use of live ammunition against an unarmed child, the Israeli army Spokesperson’s Unit stated that "on the afternoon of May 21, 2013 a violent and unlawful riot took place in the area, with the participation of dozens of Palestinians who threw rocks and Molotov cocktails towards the soldiers.”
The UNRWA operated boy’s school for the Jalazon refugee camp is very close to the ever expanding Israeli colony of Beit El. In this picture of the entrance to the school you can clearly see the red roof tops of the settlement on the hilltop in the background. In fact, as the map below shows, the settlement’s proximity means the school is in Area C even though it is merely 1000 feet from the heart of the camp. This means soldiers are regularly around the school and childhoods end much quicker here than in many other places.
Atta must now adjust to a new life. Life in a refugee camp was difficult to begin with but now, unable to walk, things just got more complicated. The family is struggling to cope. There is no assistance geared toward supporting Atta’s dire needs now.
Atta is also under no illusions about justice. When asked what he thinks will happen to the Israeli soldier who shot him, clearly against even the Israeli military’s rules of engagement, he replied “I’m not expecting anything to happen to him.”
He’s right. Impunity for crimes is a cornerstone of Israel’s military occupation and in Jalazon, as settlements expand and the occupation further entrenches itself, more childhoods will likely be shattered before any fair or transparent investigations take place of any Israeli soldiers or their commanders face justice for these crimes.