Her mouth is closed, sealed, locked. Her words are filtered through clamped jaws. She is 9 years old, a third-grader. Sometimes a transparent tear rolls down her swollen cheek. A rubber-coated bullet shot from medium range, which penetrated her mouth on the right side two weeks ago, shattered her jaw. A minor story. There are 11 fatherless children at home, Nasarin is the youngest, they have had no income for the past six years, they are not on anyone’s social agenda. And now this injury and the splintered jaw.
There are no dead people in this story, and it is almost certain that little Nasarin Abu Hashhash will recover from her injury. Then she will return to her home in the Al-Fawar refugee camp, south of Hebron, to the house that her father began to build with the compensation money he received from the Polgat textile firm in Kiryat Gat, where he worked for 17 years as a tailor until he was fired, along with all the workers from the territories at the plant. He didn’t manage to complete the construction of the house, and it stands half built, without a floor and with second-hand doors. A short time after his dismissal, the father died at an early age, leaving 12 souls in the house, whom nobody can support.
The mother didn’t even have money for a taxi to transfer the injured girl from one hospital to another in Hebron, until the child was finally transferred to the children’s ward in Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem.
This is a little story about a little girl, orphaned and poor, who peered out from the door of her home into the street, at a time when the Israel Defense Forces came to capture wanted men and the children were throwing stones at the soldiers. A rubber bullet fired by the soldiers at the stone-throwers hit her jaw and shattered it.
The house awoke to the sound of shooting from the street. On a Tuesday two weeks ago, toward morning, a large IDF force came to capture two wanted men in the camp, Mohammed Shawabkeh and Sari Abu Hashhash, who is a relative of the little girl and lives near her. Nasarin remembers that she wanted to eat an apple for breakfast, but her big sister reprimanded her, “Aren’t you thinking about what is happening outside? This is not the time to eat,” and the embarrassed girl returned the half-eaten apple to her mother. Afterward she went up to the roof of the house to see what was going on. She saw soldiers in the street, and quickly fled back into the house. Such is the morning of the children of the refugee camps.
Through the window she asked her neighbor Assil, her classmate, whether there was school that day, and Assil replied in the negative; it is a free day, the IDF is in the area. In the street the schoolchildren threw stones at the soldiers.
A few hours earlier, at the end of the night watch, the soldiers had entered the camp and surrounded the home of Sari Abu Hashhash. They called to him on the megaphone to turn himself in. Abu Hashhash was in the house, and when he didn’t come out the soldiers threatened to destroy the house with him in it. After a short time, however, he surrendered, came out and was taken to be interrogated by the Shin Bet security services. He is 28 years old and his brother Musa is a researcher for the B’Tselem human rights group in the Hebron area.
The soldiers searched for the second wanted man, but didn’t find him. Instead they arrested his wife, who had given birth to their son only 10 days earlier. The infant remained in the house. Her sister tried to explain to the soldiers that the baby was nursing and that he couldn’t be left alone, but they insisted. The uncle, Faiz Abu Hashhash, threatened to leave the baby on the road, until the soldiers finally agreed to let him join his mother, who was being detained in a Jeep parked next to the checkpoint at the entrance to the camp.
Nasarin wanted to look outside to see what was happening in the street. She opened the door, and leaned her head in the direction of the tumultuous street. “I didn’t even have a chance to look,” she says through her closed teeth, “and the bullet hit me.” Her mother’s cousin, Faiz, who was at home – he takes care of the children like a father, although he also has 10 children – suddenly heard the child’s screams. He says that she was hysterical, running back and forth in panic, holding her bleeding cheek, until she suddenly fell silent.
Faiz carried his little cousin in his arms and rushed to the roof, from which he hoped to evacuate her via the back exit of the house, so as not to take the chance of going out into the street. The soldiers arrived immediately as well, and ordered him to place the child on the ground and to take off his coat, which looked to them like a military coat. “I told the soldier: Look at the child, not at my coat,” recalls Faiz. Afterward they got onto the main road and a military Jeep picked up Nasarin.
According to Faiz, the Jeep was delayed for quite a while, because the soldiers would not allow Faiz or his brother, Mahmoud, to ride with the girl. In the end, Mahmoud got in anyway, and rode with the injured child on his knees, in the direction of the exit from the camp. Nasarin was conscious the entire time. She says that during the ride in the Jeep, the soldier fired above Mahmoud’s head at the stone-throwing children, and even hit her cousin.
The IDF spokesman:
“On Tuesday, March 28, during a planned operational activity to arrest wanted men in the Al-Fawar refugee camp south of Hebron, a violent public disturbance developed, which included massive stone-throwing at the IDF force that was present. The force responded with means for breaking up demonstrations, at which time the Palestinian girl was apparently hit by a rubber bullet. When her injury was discovered, she was transferred to route 60 in the vehicle of the battalion commander and accompanied by him. During the transfer of the girl to the military vehicle, many members of her family asked to join her, and a large number of people gathered there. In the end, one family member was allowed to accompany her. In this connection it should be noted that there was no incident of violence.
“At the same time, vehicles of the Magen David Adom and the Red Crescent were called in order to give the child medical treatment. When the Red Crescent ambulance arrived, the child was evacuated for continued medical treatment. It should be noted that during the course of the activity, a wanted man was arrested, an arms merchant who is active in Tanzim.”
Regarding the claims of separating a woman from her infant, the IDF spokesman says:
“When the force arrived at the home of one of the wanted men in order to arrest him, the wanted man was absent, and his wife was taken for interrogation. When she refused to take her infant with her, she handed him over to a relative. Later on, because of the massive stone throwing, the force accompanied the family vehicle that was carrying the woman’s infant to the place where she was staying, so that she could nurse him.”
Near the checkpoint, Nasarin was transferred to a military ambulance, where she received treatment. There was a plan to evacuate her to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, but in the end she was transferred for some reason to a Palestinian ambulance that took her to the Al Ahli Hospital in Hebron. The story of the tribulations of the injured Nasarin had just begun. At Al Ahli they didn’t know what to do with the child’s jaw, and suggested transferring her to the Al-Mizan Hospital in the city. Perhaps there was a mouth and jaw specialist there. Faiz, who arrived in Hebron meanwhile, took her in a taxi, after the Palestinians could not find an ambulance to take her to Al-Mizan free of charge. At Al-Mizan they demanded a preliminary payment of NIS 1,000, and he decided to bring her back to Al Ahli. He put her on a bed in the emergency room, and told the doctors: Do whatever you want with her. The doctors told him again that they did not have a specialist, and therefore he had to take her to the Alia Hospital in the city.
At Alia they examined her and said that she needed a private specialist. The doctor lives in Bethlehem. It was already evening. The doctor arrived from his home after two hours, examined the child and determined that she had 12 fractures in her jaw, and that he couldn’t operate on her. Her jaws had to be locked in a special device for two months, and then they had to wait, he said. That same night Faiz bought the device for NIS 200. At night a woman named Yael from B’Tselem called, and asked if they needed help. Nasarin was locked into the device, drooling and crying.
The next day, Faiz ran around endless in order to transfer his cousin to an Israeli hospital. Once, on the eve of the millennium, we had met him in his home in Al-Fawar: At the time he was very tense before the Arab world’s lotto drawing; $2.5 million was the main prize. What happened? “I was only four numbers away from the winner in Lebanon,” he said this week.
Last Thursday he was busy with going back and forth between the Palestinian health ministry, whose people had to provide the financial commitment for hospitalizing his cousin in Israel ?(the director was in Gaza just at that time?), and the Israeli liais office, in order to organize exit permits for the child’s mother and for himself, so that they could accompany Nasarin to Jerusalem.
Only the intervention of the members of B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights finally led to the orderly transfer of Nasarin to Hadassah hospital. In between, Faiz was forced to have another argument with the people at the Palestinian hospital over the ambulance. Only after he had threatened to put Nasarin on the roof of the taxi and to ride through the city streets with her that way was the ambulance found, and the child was taken in the direction of the tunnel checkpoint, where an Israeli ambulance was already waiting.
In the Hadassah emergency room they told Faiz to throw away the device that he had bought at the recommendation of the specialist from Bethlehem, and after a series of tests Nasarin was taken that Friday, two days after her injury, to the operating room.
On Sunday, when we came to see her in the children’s surgical ward, she was already busy doing arts and crafts in the playroom of the hospital, together with other children. In the family room, her mother, Hikmat Abu Hashhash, was waiting, with tears running down her face. “Our mouths are as full of song as the sea,” it says on the clock in the family room.
Nasarin managed to say through her closed mouth that she misses everyone, and particularly her big sister, Wisal, the one who told her not to eat the apple, with all that was happening outside.
GIDEON LEVY writes for Ha’aretz.