Deadly heroic dreams


Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — For two days, Mona Hamed was able to keep her 14-year-old son, Mohammed, off the streets.

The first day, she made him do homework. The second day, she told him to clean the yard. But on the third day, he slipped away.

The ninth-grader and several friends from his quiet, middle-class neighborhood headed straight to a rock-throwing skirmish at a traffic circle on the outskirts of Ramallah. While his friends withdrew when a firefight erupted between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers, Mohammed stayed behind a makeshift barricade close to Israeli positions, throwing stones.

He was shot and killed.

Mohammed became part of a fast-growing statistic — Palestinian youngsters killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers. The Israeli human rights group Betselem says at least 26 of the 109 Palestinians killed in 27 days of fighting were minors.

Of the three Palestinian fatalities reported Tuesday, two were teen-agers, ages 17 and 13.

Mohammed Hamed was killed on Oct. 1, four days after Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited a contested Jerusalem holy site. The visit was seen by Palestinians as a provocation and was followed by widespread clashes.

On the day of Sharon’s visit, Mohammed and some of his classmates went directly from school to the traffic circle to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. Once he got home, his mother asked where he had been. At a friend’s house, he told her.

That evening, Mrs. Hamed thought she recognized her youngest son in TV footage on the evening news. He denied having been there. However, Mrs. Hamed, a round-faced woman with large brown eyes, decided to keep her son close by for a while, making him study or help in the yard.

The day he died, Mohammed put on a new shirt and beige pants, preening in front of the mirror, styling his hair with gel.

Mrs. Hamed, 41, later learned that her son had slipped a photo of himself and a note with his name, address and phone number into his breast pocket — in case he got killed that day.

"Another guy died earlier in the week," said his friend and classmate, Samir Jaber, a lanky 14-year-old. "He didn’t have his ID on him. Mohammed said, ‘If I die, I want people to know who I am.’ "

Samir said Mohammed and the other boys talked incessantly about what it would be like to be a "shaheed," a martyr for Palestine. Those who didn’t want to confront Israeli soldiers were shunned as cowards, Samir said.

They had heard from parents, mosque preachers and religion teachers that a martyr goes straight to paradise and marries 72 virgins. "Everybody wants to be a shaheed," said Samir, who was with Mohammed the day he died but withdrew when the shooting began. "It’s the best thing a person could do."

A picture of Mohammed in scout uniform covers walls and lampposts in the neighborhood. His school held a special memorial service. His desk at the Ramallah Secondary School will remain unused for the rest of the year.

Another empty desk belonged to Majed Hawamdeh, 15, killed in a clash last Saturday on the same spot where Mohammed died.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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