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The Death of a Child
January 15, 2001

On Thursday, January 11, fourth grader Annas al-Ahmad died on the playground of the Latin Patriarchate College of Zababdeh.  Annas, who was born with a hole in his heart, was playing soccer with friends before school.  When the ball hit him squarely in the chest, he immediately collapsed and began gasping for breath.  Two teachers gave emergency medical attention before several students carried the boy to a local doctor.  Within ten minutes he was dead from intensive internal bleeding.  His family arrived to the school from their village, Rumane (near Jenin), to take him home. Students and teachers said their farewells as Annas was carried around the sport field on a funeral bier.  School was canceled for the rest of the day and for the following Saturday to honor his memory.  Annas was a bright and promising English student of Elizabeth's. His sister is one of Marthame's students, and his aunt is one of our fellow English teachers.

That afternoon, one bus and several taxis departed from the school for the backroads journey to Rumane, as the mainroads have been bulldozed or blocked by the Israeli military. We arrived in time for the funeral service at the mosque.  The women stayed with the boy's body in the home while the men attended the service which was broadcast by the muezzin's speaker.  Eventually, the men came to get the boy for burial and a world of emotion passed between two grieving parents as his father gently touched his mother on the cheek.  Gathered around his grave, the Palestinian Christian and Muslim community buried nine year-old Annas al-Ahmad that afternoon.

It is not a story that will be in the news, especially in a week when Zababdeh grabbed headlines. On Tuesday the 9th, Israeli soldiers near Zababdeh shot at the bishop of Nazareth as he came to our village for a visit (see his statement and Ha'aretz article below).  And every night this week, Palestinian youth from nearby villages have gone to the hills to shoot down into the Israeli military camp at the edge of town.  The Israelis have returned fire, as they have done before.  But recently they have fired towards residential areas, and not only into the hills.  We were out shopping when red tracer bullets went flying through the air overhead, sending people (including us) scattering in fear.  We were out looking at the lunar eclipse when red tracer bullets again went flying through the air overhead, sending us up against the wall in fear.  Both times the bullets had no military target - instead, they were meant to intimidate and scare a civilian population.  It worked.

But what is striking is that even with nighttime shootings and an international incident in our small country town, it was the accidental death of a child that stunned and paralyzed the community.  How many other communities in this land are stunned and paralyzed as they gather to bury their young?  How many parents here have lost their children because of the current situation?  Behind each one of the deaths is a story like that of Annas - the death of a child is an unexpected event that cuts us all to the heart.  And in the wake of Christmas, as Epiphany celebrations continue with our Greek Orthodox and Armenian sisters and brothers, we remember how King Herod responded to the birth of Christ - by taking many innocent children's lives.  Perhaps this is the response of evil to the overwhelming grace of God, to seek to destroy what is grace-filled.

Unlike other children who have died in the past months (some protesting the occupation, some walking home from school, some travelling in family cars, some standing on their doorsteps), Annas was not a martyr for the national movement in Palestine.  He was simply a child who died too young.  But as the school gathered on the Monday after his death, we planted a tree.  The seeds that have been sown in tragedy will one day give shade and comfort to many - perhaps this is the sign of hope for all grieving parents.  And perhaps that seed, for this nation, can be a seed of peace that will bring justice to the generations.

Marthame and Elizabeth

PS  PS We share with you local news that made something of a splash, about the incident involving the bishop of Nazareth and the IDF near Zababdeh.
1) On October 1, Ha'aretz published "IDF Insults, Fires on Vice Latin Patriarch" by Harel Amos. The news report states: "The IDF has started an investigation into the incident."
2) Bishop Marcuzzo sent a letter to Ehud Barak about the incident.