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

Israel/Palestine
on 37 Comments

Last week, the Israeli military absolved itself of wrongdoing in the killing of the four Bakr boys during the war on Gaza last summer. Israeli military spokesperson Peter Lerner posted a narrative on his Facebook page that was full of holes, which Guardian correspondent and witness to the massacre Peter Beaumont expertly picked apart. Paul Mason, who arrived to the scene of the massacre ten days later, weighed in too, which Peter Lerner responded to.

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.

“This time wasn’t as bad as it usually is,” Subhei Bakr told me.

Every aspect of the Bakr family’s lives have been consumed by Israeli violence. They are refugees expelled to Gaza in the Nakba and have lived in the confines of Shati refugee camp for generations. Living displaced, the family flourished into proud fishermen, but Israel’s naval blockade has crushed Gaza’s fishing industry, rendering the clan impoverished and forced to pass the days sitting in the camp’s dusty streets. Eight other Bakr family members attempted to flee on boats but died in the sea in which they used to fish.

If that wasn’t enough, the wanton violence of “Operation Protective Edge” condemned Ismail, Zachariah, Ahed and Mohammed Bakr to death. As predictable as it is disturbing, the Israeli military has brazenly absolved itself of responsibility, calling the bombing ”tragic.”

But are we to believe that given Israel’s world-class military technology equipped with high-resolution cameras, that they were unable to differentiate between armed men and small children playing soccer? Especially considering that Israel killed at least 536 more Palestinian children last summer – none of whose deaths received the lip service of being called tragic. It is only fitting that Ayelet Shaked, who demanded genocide last summer when she posted a text calling Palestinian children “little snakes,” is Israel’s newest Minister of Justice. All of this is in the greater context of Palestinian children being demonized as various versions of a “demographic threat” (New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren’s most recent euphemism is “demographic death warrant.”)

While we may never know why exactly Israel decided to bomb the Bakr children as they played soccer last July, it is abundantly clear that neither the Israeli government nor its supporters have any genuine sympathy for Ahed, Zachariah, Ismail, Mohammed, or the four survivors. If Peter Lerner or any Israeli official who shed a crocodile tear did, at a bare minimum, they would allow Muntasir Bakr to receive the treatment he so desperately needs. Sadly, Muntasir’s brutal honesty was likely accurate when he told me, “There will never be peace with the Israelis.”

Dan Cohen
About Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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37 Responses

  1. bintbiba
    bintbiba
    June 19, 2015, 4:53 pm

    Dan Cohen,

    Thank you for this article about the Bakr family. Those photos behind her of the two beautiful little boys Ahmed and Zachriah are heartbreaking.

    Words cannot express the loss and devastation that show on the mother and grandmother’s face … a broken woman .

    How can Peace ever emerge from so much devastation, Injustice and perfidy.

  2. Abierno
    Abierno
    June 19, 2015, 4:58 pm

    Montasir most probably has serious seizures from his brain injury – but Gaza under blockage has either no (or an exceptionally limited supply of) anticonvulsant medications. The generic forms of these drugs are inexpensive and pose no “security” threat to Israel. So, why incorporate these into the blockade of various foodstuffs and medications? Or fail to permit international specialists such as pediatric neurologists, surgeons, physiatrists to provide much needed services to seriously injured children in Gaza? Many have offered to come on a pro bono basis to not only treat but also to concurrently train Gaza medical professionals who are barred from leaving. Are these policies and actions a part of the clearly stated “little snakes” ethos espoused by minister of Justice Shaked?

    On another note, have the courts adjudicated Yosef Haim Ben-David, the master mind, of the incineration of Mohammed Abu Khdeir? I understand that the teen agers who accompanied him are at home, set free on personal recognizance.

    • a blah chick
      a blah chick
      June 19, 2015, 8:36 pm

      The last I heard the trial, which had been temporarily suspended in November, resumed about a month or two ago and is still in session. When the victim is undermensch you can take your time.

      This was what one of the teenage defendants said earlier this month: “During Wednesday’s proceeding, one of the minors took the stand and said he “never dreamed” that they were going to kill Abu Khdeir, and attempted to place all of the blame on Ben-David, whom he said was “like my father,” adding that he felt compelled to follow his lead. (JPost)

      I think the kids will skate, but I hope I’m wrong.

  3. DaBakr
    DaBakr
    June 19, 2015, 10:34 pm

    while it was absolutely a tragedy that the Bakr children were killed it should be noted that the chain of anger and retribution continues and it likely would not be any different even if the Palestinians did believe the Israeli report that the attack was an accident. This loss for these Palestinian children can only be answered by violent resistance.The author makes no comment on the boys funeral posters there are prominently displayed the symbols of violent resistance in the Hamas and Islamic Jihad flag emblems-The one on the left showing clearly a missile and rocket launching while the other clearly shows a kalashnikov raised and a non-existent Israel. This only implies that the families are aligned with the Hamas and IJ strategy of as much violence as necessary to ‘liberate all Palestine’ from river-to-sea. Why else would they have this nationalistic flag emblems on their childrens funeral posters.

    I thought it was relevant in the context of the news in US of the families of the victims of Black-hating psychopathic murderer Roof, that they ‘forgave him’. If more of that existed in ME instead of cycle after cycle of attack/response/chicken/egg /revenge things might be much further along. If anybody occupies the moral ‘high ground’ is is people like the victims families.

    –and naturally if i ever make it back here I expect to see outrageously angry diatribes against the ‘evil’ ‘sick’ etc. Zionists that would dare comment on a Palestian catastrophe.

    • Brewer
      Brewer
      June 19, 2015, 11:53 pm

      DaBakr.

      Please save me the time, energy and disgust I am tempted to invest in eviscerating the putrid corpse of your post by telling me you were paralytic on rotgut whiskey when you wrote it. You’d be doing all of us a favour.

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer
        June 20, 2015, 12:10 am

        @Brewer

        Yeah what you said. I could have saved the typing. I also could have just puked over my keyboard which would have been just as appropriate.

      • Qualtrough
        Qualtrough
        June 20, 2015, 3:22 am

        DaBakr – Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us on this tragedy. When people ask themselves “WTF is wrong with Zionists?” they can look to responses like yours for an answer.

      • a blah chick
        a blah chick
        June 20, 2015, 6:51 am

        Bwahahaha!

      • a blah chick
        a blah chick
        June 20, 2015, 9:35 am

        Now, now people cut DB some slack. Don’t you all remember how forgiving Israeli Jews were after those hitchhikers were killed?

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        June 22, 2015, 9:45 am

        @abc

        now now. i didn’t imply at all that there was any large outpouring of ‘forgiveness’ from Israel;lis in general but I remember the mothers of 1 or 2 of the boys asking for Israelis to not ‘incite’ based on her childs death-so yes, there was some forgiving by “Israeli Jews” but in general, snafu. As usual, comments here ignore my point about the symbols of violent assault and resistance on their posters.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        June 22, 2015, 9:52 am

        @og

        so then explain why its a “cheap shot” to point out the symbols of violent assault and resistance on the childrens posters? According to PW and JN Black Americans are under violent assault similar to Palestinian and yet I saw no images of violence at the services for the 9 victims of the pzycho-murderer Roof. Why is it a ‘cheap shot? Maybe you could explain to those less ‘understanding’ of your world outlook? (That is-if you ever recover from all of the vomiting going on round here. such sensitive guts)

      • Brewer
        Brewer
        June 22, 2015, 6:05 pm

        so then explain why its a “cheap shot” to point out the symbols of violent assault and resistance on the childrens posters?

        A picture worth a thousand words.
        http://l7.alamy.com/zooms/deaa47733f914c4a803feeea98db02dc/israel-jerusalem-davidka-memorial-in-davidka-square-c3br7c.jpg

    • oldgeezer
      oldgeezer
      June 20, 2015, 12:09 am

      If I was the type to give awards for insincere, cheap shot bs I would give you top prize.

      In general your post sounds wonderful. Forgiveness. If only more of that occurred in the middle east. We would be so much further along.

      But you couldn’t resist turning those good toughts into pure bullcrap by taking a cheap shot at the family. Aligning them with those you call terrorists. Implying some future violence will occur because they aren’t willing to forgive. Of course you have no idea if they will or won’t forgive. You just need to make a cowardly cheap shot at the victims families while you can.

      “This only implies that the families are aligned with the Hamas and IJ strategy of as much violence as necessary to ‘liberate all Palestine’ from river-to-sea. Why else would they have this nationalistic flag emblems on their childrens funeral posters. – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/06/living-martyr-family#comment-148206

      While it might imply that they were at that time in league with those organizationsit doesn’t imply they were at earlier points in time or later. And let’s not forget when the funerals were held. Let’s not forget that perhaps those groups paid the expenses in exchange. let’s not forget perhaps they were threatened. In short let’s not forget their could be many reasons. Some good, some not so good and to rely on what is implied is pure folly.

      In the meantime you support a state which acts not out of grief or anger but out of policy to destroy family homes or to inflict collective punishment upon those who were not the perpetrators. They not only do it as a matter of policy but in cold blood at a later date.

      As an individual I can understand the desire or urge to act in anger at something like that. I can’t understand the evil nature of people who want this and perpetrate this as a matter of policy regardless of the circumstances.

      So no, you are wrong yet again. No diatribe against the sick evil zionists who dare to comment on a Palestinian catastrophe. Just a comment that anyone, zionists included, who regard collective punishment and retribution as proper state policy are both sick and evil.

      You really do deserve the award for the most disingenuous post of the year in my opinion. Knowing your ilk… someone will supercede you before the year is out.

    • Froggy
      Froggy
      June 20, 2015, 1:47 am

      DaBakr : “while it was absolutely a tragedy that the Bakr children were killed….”

      Those children weren’t ‘killed’; they were murdered.

      “This loss for these Palestinian children can only be answered by violent resistance.”

      That’s right. To forgive is to be a freier and the Israelis would think the Gazans more fool than they already do.

      It doesn’t matter what flags/banners went up at the funerals. The funerals were after-the-fact of these children’s murders by the Israelis.

      They were children playing football on the beach, for God’s sake…. Israel seems to have declared playing football a crime.

      Oh, and no reasonable person believes that these murders were accidental. There were too many outspoken journalists who witnessed the murders from just a few metres away for anyone to believe the Israeli claims that the murders were accidental.

      Then there is the video of the Israelis blowing up those children as they ran down the beach. They showed the entire video on TF1 here in France.

      People all round the world saw what Israeli forces did to those children. (Well, maybe not the Americans, but then the Americans are Israel’s band of Flying Monkeys.)

      Israel was simply making fewer ‘little snakes’.

    • zaid
      zaid
      June 20, 2015, 3:55 am

      Dabakr

      “–and naturally if i ever make it back here I expect to see outrageously angry diatribes against the ‘evil’ ‘sick’ etc. Zionists that would dare comment on a Palestian catastrophe.”

      You don’t expect to see outrage…….

      You are actually asking for it !! You want it !! You love it !! You get satisfaction from it!! And that’s why you wrote the senseless comment.

      You know that you will not convince anyone in MW with what you said, but you said it anyway. because you like to provoke reactions , make us angry, hurt us and get our attention….you enjoy that and it gives you pleasure.

      You are a sadist and an inferior human.

      Note: it is actually Fatah Poster and not Hamas or IJ

      • bintbiba
        bintbiba
        June 20, 2015, 10:13 am

        zaid +1

        Well spoken ,zaid !

      • Froggy
        Froggy
        June 20, 2015, 3:24 pm

        zaid : “You are a sadist and an inferior human.”

        Yes he is. So is every zionazi who supports (or makes excuses for) Israel’s atrocities.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        June 22, 2015, 10:01 am

        @z

        i’m not in the convincing business. fanatics and true-believersare not convincible. but pointing things out I can do and when I get the ‘sadist’ ‘vomiting’ and other outraged comments I usually can tell I struck a nerve and made somebody think hard how to harden their position and disparage the ‘others’ pov. Kind of like reverse-reverse psych.

        and btw-I think there are 2 organizations who have their violent symbols on the posters. Not simply Fatah

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        June 22, 2015, 12:16 pm

        “I usually can tell I struck a nerve and made somebody think hard how to harden their position and disparage the ‘others’ pov.”

        That’s very true, Dabakr. You are very good at that. I bet anybody who argues with you comes away more convinced about their anti-zionism. And that’s to not even consider your reprehensibly tiresome personality, just your ‘arguments’.

      • zaid
        zaid
        June 23, 2015, 3:43 pm

        @dabakr

        nope…..wrong again……. it is just fatah and the other is their military wing (Alaqsa Martyer Br.).

    • Marnie
      Marnie
      June 20, 2015, 4:19 am

      “I thought it was relevant in the context of the news in US of the families of the victims of Black-hating psychopathic murderer Roof, that they ‘forgave him’. ”

      You would. Of course no context at all regarding the 9 murdered African Americans but just stringing it along to this story? What other flag would they have in their homes, izraeli? US? You purposely aim to insult and inflame, even the memory of 4 little boys. You are a sick man (assuming).

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      June 20, 2015, 12:02 pm

      “–and naturally if i ever make it back here”

      Sure, like you could tear yourself away. Besides the guy who runs the place says he is Jewish, so he must owe you something, right? Parasite.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        June 22, 2015, 10:06 am

        @ms:

        What is it? You say PW owese me something and he is a “parasite”? Don’t understand exactly. Must be the thick fog of incredulity. Besides that-you really think folks spent 22hrs a day on MW like you do?

        @mrn;

        what other flag? well, they could have just had the Palestinian national flag and not the symbols with missiles, rockets , Kalashnikovs and a wiped out Israel but hey, what was I thinking. Maybe Israel should re-disn its flag with a big nuke on top of the star. Wasn’t this one of bb’s campaign promises?

      • Froggy
        Froggy
        June 22, 2015, 1:26 pm

        DeBakr :

        The bloody ‘flag’, or whatever it is, doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. A bunch of young boys were playing football on the beach, in front of a good hotel where journalists were sitting and watching, and the Israeli military murdered them. That is all that matters.

        “Maybe Israel should re-disn its flag with a big nuke on top of the star.”

        Good idea. It would be more honest. However, murderers and thieves don’t do honest.

    • ToivoS
      ToivoS
      June 20, 2015, 5:19 pm

      Dabakr want us to know that if the families of the victims of Black-hating psychopathic murderer Roof, that they ‘forgave him’. If more of that existed in ME instead of cycle after cycle of attack/response/chicken/egg /revenge things might be much further along

      So are you suggesting that if the families of Palestinian-hating psychopathic murderer Israel was to forgive Israel then the cycle of violence would end? Interesting possibility to say the least. On the other hand maybe it would mean the end of the Palestinian people.

      Tough choice to be sure.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        June 22, 2015, 10:09 am

        @tvs

        No. I am not suggesting that the momentum of ‘forgiveness’ exists in any measure on either side in the i/p. But it does exist in the US with regard to the Charleston victims. This is just one of many reasons the analogy between the i/p is false.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        June 23, 2015, 11:19 am

        “This is just one of many reasons the analogy between the i/p is false.”

        You are right. Most of the things done in “i/p” by “i” have the cover of law or of the state. That makes them much worse than a crime committed by an individual criminal.
        I’m sure you know about Germany, WW2 and the Holocaust, so the point should be clear to you.

    • eljay
      eljay
      June 22, 2015, 10:43 am

      || DaBakr: … I thought it was relevant in the context of the news in US of the families of the victims of Black-hating psychopathic murderer Roof, that they ‘forgave him’. If more of that existed in ME instead of cycle after cycle of attack/response/chicken/egg /revenge things might be much further along. ||

      Yup, things might be much further along if the victim would stop trying to harm the rapist and simply lie back and enjoy it. Why bother with justice, accountability and equality when you can have “peace”?

      Of course, this fails to explain why European Jews failed to forgive their fellow Europeans for the acts of injustice and immorality committed against them in the mid-20th Century, and instead chose to take revenge on…the Palestinians.

  4. eusebio
    eusebio
    June 20, 2015, 9:14 am

    Thanks article good bless the family Bakr

  5. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    June 20, 2015, 10:10 am

    Forgiveness has its place if and when the perpetrator repents, changes course, and seeks to make amends. But if the perpetrator is unrepentant then the quest for revenge is a healthier reaction. The trouble is that it is easier to take revenge not against the perpetrator but against other members of a group with which the perpetrator is associated. For that reason it is important to gather and disseminate information about individual perpetrators and the specific crimes they commit. Then when vengeance is taken against those individuals people will understand and sympathize with the avengers.

  6. Helena Cobban
    Helena Cobban
    June 20, 2015, 10:24 am

    The Peter Beaumont response is not linked to in the piece. It is here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/11/israel-clears-military-gaza-beach-children

  7. lysias
    lysias
    June 20, 2015, 6:20 pm

    All the reporting at the time was that the firing was from an Israeli gunboat offshore. Now the Israelis say it was from a plane. Anybody have any idea what’s going on here?

    • Froggy
      Froggy
      June 20, 2015, 6:35 pm

      Lysias : “All the reporting at the time was that the firing was from an Israeli gunboat offshore. Now the Israelis say it was from a plane. Anybody have any idea what’s going on here?”

      The Israelis are lying.

    • Whizdom
      Whizdom
      June 22, 2015, 12:18 am

      Lysias, I tried to track that down without success. Contemporary reports are conflicting. The recently completed investigation exonerating IDF from wrongdoing did not publicly disclose if the fires were air or surface. I suspect the IDF is withholding that information to avoid providing information that could be used in identifying the responsible officers.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        June 22, 2015, 10:12 am

        @WZ

        exactly.

      • lysias
        lysias
        June 23, 2015, 9:55 am

        The Israelis probably don’t have too many gunboats that could have done that firing. So the set of people who could have commanded such a gunboat is probably quite small.

  8. NickJOCW
    NickJOCW
    June 21, 2015, 8:01 am

    Somewhat OT but Annie had a piece a week ago about Israeli soldiers violently attacking an unarmed Palestinian man http://mondoweiss.net/2015/06/soldiers-violently-palestinian and a couple of days ago I came upon another story in PressTV about a shooting http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2015/06/18/416470/Middle-East-Palestinian-West-Bank-Silwad which contains this paragraph:

    According to Israeli website Mako, the soldier in the video belongs to the same Israeli military unit whose members were reportedly caught on video brutally beating and arresting a Palestinian man from Jalazone refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah last week.

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