Monday 22 June 2015

The living martyr, a visit to the Bakr family in Gaza

 Sharifa Bakr sits in front of posters commemorating Ahed and Zachariah Bakr, photo by Dan Cohen
I recently visited the Bakr family in their home in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. Sharifa Mustafa Bakr, 48, is the mother of 9-year-old Zachariah and grandmother of Ahed, two of the four boys killed.  “Zachariah was my favorite because he was the youngest one,” she said pointing to the poster above her that commemorates his brief life. “He was the sweetest – so innocent and playful,” she told me as tears began to stream down her cheeks.
Sharifa Bakr suffers from heart problems and had just returned from the hospital on that fateful day. “Zachariah asked for a shekel to use the internet, and I promised I would give it to him when he returned,” she said. That was the last time Sharifa Bakr would see her beloved grandson. “When he left, I felt that my soul went with him,” she stammered as she collapsed into tears.
After lying down to watch the news, Sharifa Bakr read on the ticker that four children had been killed on the nearby beach. She knew that the children typically play soccer on the beach because the refugee camp has no parks or open spaces. Upon seeing the news, she ran to Al-Shifa hospital where she encountered a friend who informed her that the dead children were in fact from the Bakr family.
12-year-old Muntasir Bakr was one of the four boys who narrowly survived the airstrikes.
“We call him the living martyr,” Sharifa Bakr told me.
Muntasir was hit with shrapnel which still remains in his head and causes him headaches. He has severe trauma that remains undiagnosed and untreated, and has violent episodes which have caused him to attempt suicide and attack his siblings. I sat with Muntasir in his family’s home. He was polite and good-natured but the trauma from last summer was visible on his young face and audible in his voice. He spoke like a man who had lived many lifetimes – not like a child nearing his teenage years.
“Everyday someone dies. I went to play at the beach yesterday and I couldn’t because I was overwhelmed with fear. It’s a life full of sadness,” he said. “Netanyahu destroyed life.”
Unbeknownst to me, his father had told him to recount the massacre on the beach. “We barely started playing when the first missile exploded right next to my cousin Ismael,” he said. “We started running away and then I told them ‘lets go back and get Ismael then we’ll run away again.’ When we did that another missile exploded right next to us. My brother and my nephew died because they let go of my hand. Two missiles exploded around me. It was foggy when we were running, I turned around and saw my nephew and brother lying on the ground.”
“Before the war, I wanted to be a fisherman like my father,” Muntasir told me. “Now I want to be a fighter so that I can avenge my brother, my nephew and my cousins. Imagine if you were a child and a missile exploded right beside you. What would you do?”
Muntasir became despondent and silent as he looked down. His father, 55-year-old Subhei Fares Bakr, told me Muntasir had not slept in 24 hours. He attempted to medicate his son but Muntasir was not responsive and the pill fell out of his mouth. Subhei Bakr called a cousin over to help put the pill down his throat, but Muntasir began shaking violently. His cousin restrained him from injuring himself, and finally Muntasir passed out. His cousin lifted Muntasir’s limp body into his arms and ran down the stairs and outside into Shati camp’s dusty alleyways. I ran closely behind as they hailed a taxi. We crammed inside and the car sped through the streets of Gaza City. “Get out of the way,” another cousin in the front seat screamed at traffic.
We arrived at a barebones medical facility where Muntasir was laid down on an examination table. A doctor administered smelling salts, immediately waking Muntasir. Still dazed, his cousin helped him walk to a sink where he washed his face. Muntasir was weak and his cousin once again carried him out.
“There’s no medicine or treatment for him here. We have to get him out of Gaza,” Muntasir’s cousin told me as he carried him away. We hailed another taxi and headed back to the Bakr’s home in Shati camp.
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