By: E. Yaghi
When 12-year-old Palestinian Mohammed spoke of how he wanted to be a soccer champion, his black eyes flashed and he would kick an imaginary ball off to a successful goal. His mother, busy with her six other children would nod her head and say, "Yes, perhaps one day you when you are big and stronger, you will go off to the Olympics and win a gold medal."
"Before that Mom," he would say enthusiastically, "I just want to be the star of my school soccer team. Then I will begin to think about growing up and the Olympics."
On September 30, 2000, Mohammed's father said to him, " Come on son. Let's go and try to sell that old Fiat. Since I've been out of work, we need the money to buy food and supplies."
It would be good, thought Mohammed. Good to get out and away from the demonstrations. Good to forget that the Israelis had closed the schools. Good to forget the curfews at night. Good to forget the Israeli bullets aimed at kids like himself during confrontations with them. Good to have the chance to be alone with his father.
So, he put on his new stripped blue shirt and faded blue jeans, and ran a comb hurriedly through the soft curls of his thick dark hair. He dashed out of his three-room cinder-block home, to join his father whose fingers fidgeted as he took long deep puffs on the butt of his cigarette. They got in the used Fiat and drove off in a cloud of red dust to look for a used car salesmen. As his father drove, Mohammed looked at the sturdy hands that gripped the steering. Hands that will protect me, he thought. Slim hands but strong. That his mother would have a nice lunch ready upon their return let a smile creep across his small troubled face. He tried to shut scenes of the demonstrators, many of whom were children his own age or younger, out of his mind. Instead he tried to picture himself and his soccer team heading to victory on the field.
The car screeched to a halt. Father and son jumped out and the boy heard his father say to a salesman, after some bartering, "OK. It's a deal then."
He helped his father count the money before boarding a taxi that would take them back home to the cheerful face of his mother and the shouts and laughter of his younger brothers and sisters. Being with them almost made him forget the fact that they were poor and that his father lost his job and now had no means to support his family. Looking up, he noticed his father studying him. Then the parent reached over to tousle the boy's dark hair and with his strong protective hand, patted him on his shoulder. "It will be ok son. Don't worry." Then, "Let's go home and get something to eat."
Mohammed's mother never let him join in any demonstrations. It was because as she said, "I don't want them carrying pieces of your body home dead to me. What will I do without you?"
He would look into gentle her black eyes, so similar to his own and find peace and security there. She was the essence of love. She was what mothers were all about. He was tempted to join in the struggle for freedom but heard his mother's voice saying to him every time he went out, "You are a bright boy. Everyone likes you. Stay out of trouble and your future will be promising. You can help your people by getting an education and by winning the gold medal in the Olympics you so admire."
So he would bury himself in a book, trying not to hear the screams, the shouts, the bullets that flew right past his window. He would listen to his mother and use his energy for something other than throwing stones at armored tanks.
And now, here he was with his father, waiting for the yellow taxi to take them home. He caught sight of one not too far from where they stood and stepped out to flag it down. It stopped and his father told the driver, "to the camp."
He sat between his father and the driver. Had it not been for the clashes, the day would have been beautiful. The relentless heat had given way to an Indian summer. The smell of the sea was in the air and if the boy listened, he could hear the cry of seagulls in their search for food. Unexpectedly, his body shuddered and his father put his arm around him seeming to sense his son's apprehension of something foreboding and evil. Then it came as sure as the day. The sound of bullets flying everywhere and the shouts of the demonstrators.
"We are surrounded. Come on son, let's get out of the taxi."
Mohammed almost fell out. His whole body shook with fear. He felt paralyzed, not able to move. His father half dragged him, half carried him next to a small wall. There, crouching, he threw his son behind him, shielding him with his own thin body. At first the boy encouragingly told his father, "Don't worry Daddy. The ambulance will come and save us."
But then bullets flew faster and more ferociously. He tried to be brave, but he did not want to die. Not now. Not when he was only 12. Not when he had hardly begun to live. He screamed in fear and huddled closer to his father who he knew was desperately trying to protect him. A hail of bullets rained down all around them. One Israeli soldier took aim at the small frame of the boy. An ambulance rushed to the scene. The same Israeli soldier, who shot Mohammed in the stomach, shot the ambulance driver in the head and riddled the boy's father with bullets.
Mohammed did not live to go on to play in the Olympics or even to be a soccer star for his own elementary team at school. But his mother, left to care for his pet finches said, "He is now a star in Heaven."
His death has become a symbol of freedom and the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation.
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