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Photo Essay: A visit to Bethlehem’s Martyr Cemetery

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Salah Abu Laban remembers sitting down for an Iftar meal when he was a teenager, and hearing his cousin’s name called over the mosque’s loudspeaker.  His cousin, Abed Abu Laban, had just been killed by the Israeli military in Al Khader village while throwing stones.  He was 24.  At that time, in December 2000, there was a heavy Israeli military presence near the main cemetery on the other side of town, and it was too dangerous to carry Abed’s body there. So a man near Dheishe Refugee Camp donated a piece of land and the Martyr’s cemetery outside Dheishe was born.

For some Muslims around the world, the first morning of Eid Al-Fitr is a time to visit the graves of deceased relatives and loved ones. In Palestine, this means visiting the graves of those who have been martyred during the conflict with Israel.  On the July 17, 2015, nearly 200 Bethlehem area Palestinians came to the Martyr’s Cemetery outside Dheishe Refugee Camp.

Salah Abu Laban says about visiting the cemetery, “passing by all of these people I know for a long time, people I played with, people I talked to, I studied with, I carried the bodies with, it’s like a nightmare that’s refusing to end. I could be one of these people.”

There are over 45 Palestinians buried in the cemetery, which is designated as a place to bury those who have been martyred, i.e., those who died for a cause. (Photo: Rebecca George)
There are over 45 Palestinians buried in the cemetery, which is designated as a place to bury those who have been martyred, i.e., those who died for a cause. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Nader Jaraweesh, known as a Hamas fighter, was killed alongside two of his friends by the Israeli army in March 2003.  When Nader was killed, his brother (pictured) was imprisoned at the Israeli interrogation center, Moscobia, and was not informed of his death until 40 days afterwards. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Nader Jaraweesh, known as a Hamas fighter, was killed alongside two of his friends by the Israeli army in March 2003. When Nader was killed, his brother (pictured) was imprisoned at the Israeli interrogation center, Moscobia, and was not informed of his death until 40 days afterwards. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Roula Al-Jafari and her son visit the grave of her husband’s cousin, Jihad Al-Jafari.  Jihad, age 20, is the most recent person to be buried at the Martyr’s Cemetery. In the early morning hours of February 24, 2015, the Israeli military entered Dheishe Refugee Camp and its residents responded by throwing stones and molotov cocktails.  An Israeli soldier was lightly injured, the army began firing live ammunition at the protestors, and Jihad was shot in the chest. Witnesses reported that the Israeli army prevented rescuers and an ambulance from reaching Jihad, and that he laid on the roof of his home, bleeding, for over an hour. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Roula Al-Jafari and her son visit the grave of her husband’s cousin, Jihad Al-Jafari. Jihad, age 20, is the most recent person to be buried at the Martyr’s Cemetery. In the early morning hours of February 24, 2015, the Israeli military entered Dheishe Refugee Camp and its residents responded by throwing stones and molotov cocktails. An Israeli soldier was lightly injured, the army began firing live ammunition at the protestors, and Jihad was shot in the chest. Witnesses reported that the Israeli army prevented rescuers and an ambulance from reaching Jihad, and that he laid on the roof of his home, bleeding, for over an hour. (Photo: Rebecca George)
A friend cleans Jihad Al-Jafari’s headstone. (Photo: Rebecca George)
A friend cleans Jihad Al-Jafari’s headstone. (Photo: Rebecca George)
A Jahili poem decorates the cemetery wall: "Don't reconcile for blood...even for blood.” This could be translated colloquially as, “Don't forgive those who killed your brother, even if you kill his brothers.” (Photo: Rebecca George)
A Jahili poem decorates the cemetery wall: “Don’t reconcile for blood…even for blood.” This could be translated colloquially as, “Don’t forgive those who killed your brother, even if you kill his brothers.” (Photo: Rebecca George)
Milad Obaid hangs a wreath on the grave of his brother, Kifah, who was killed by Israeli forces in 2001 while throwing stones. Kifah was 12 years old. "Every Eid instead of celebrating like everybody else in the world, we come here,” Milad says. "Nowadays there is no normal world, all the world is broken. Al Eid is a holiday that is supposed to be happy, but we come to the cemetery. We grieve for those we lost, then we go visit our relatives. And this is our life.  It’s normal.” (Photo by Rebecca George)
Milad Obaid hangs a wreath on the grave of his brother, Kifah, who was killed by Israeli forces in 2001 while throwing stones. Kifah was 12 years old. “Every Eid instead of celebrating like everybody else in the world, we come here,” Milad says. “Nowadays there is no normal world, all the world is broken. Al Eid is a holiday that is supposed to be happy, but we come to the cemetery. We grieve for those we lost, then we go visit our relatives. And this is our life. It’s normal.” (Photo by Rebecca George)
The mother of Issa Faraj visits her son’s grave. Issa’s brother, Mohammed, says, "He was 23 years old. He was shot when he was at home with two bullets by a sniper...When he got shot he was carrying his daughter...Until today the window in his room is witnessing. We kept everything as it is, we didn’t change anything.” He continues, "It feels like he felt that he was going to join his God, to die, as a martyr.” (Photo: Rebecca George)
The mother of Issa Faraj visits her son’s grave. Issa’s brother, Mohammed, says, “He was 23 years old. He was shot when he was at home with two bullets by a sniper…When he got shot he was carrying his daughter…Until today the window in his room is witnessing. We kept everything as it is, we didn’t change anything.” He continues, “It feels like he felt that he was going to join his God, to die, as a martyr.” (Photo: Rebecca George)
Iyad Al-Dibbis brings his son to visit the grave of his father.  Salamah Ibrahim Al-Dibbis was killed in Aida Refugee Camp during the Second Intifada. An Israeli sniper, stationed on the roof of the nearby InterContinental Hotel, shot Salamah when he leaned his head out the bedroom window to call down to his children, who were playing on the street below.  Iyad named his son after his father. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Iyad Al-Dibbis brings his son to visit the grave of his father. Salamah Ibrahim Al-Dibbis was killed in Aida Refugee Camp during the Second Intifada. An Israeli sniper, stationed on the roof of the nearby InterContinental Hotel, shot Salamah when he leaned his head out the bedroom window to call down to his children, who were playing on the street below. Iyad named his son after his father. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Iyad Al-Dibbis and his son. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Iyad Al-Dibbis and his son. (Photo: Rebecca George)
A Koran rests on the grave of Jihad Al-Jafari. (Photo: Rebecca George)
A Koran rests on the grave of Jihad Al-Jafari. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Friends of Jihad Al-Jafari read the Al Fateha (first chapter of the Koran) at his graveside. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Friends of Jihad Al-Jafari read the Al Fateha (first chapter of the Koran) at his graveside. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Mahmoud Al-Jafari, brother of JIhad, and a friend, sit at Jihad’s grave. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Mahmoud Al-Jafari, brother of JIhad, and a friend, sit at Jihad’s grave. (Photo: Rebecca George)
The mother of Abed Al Qader Abu Laban, visits her son who was killed by the during the Second Intifada at the age of 24. He was shot by the Israeli army while throwing stones in Al Khader village. (Photo: Rebecca George)
The mother of Abed Al Qader Abu Laban, visits her son who was killed by the during the Second Intifada at the age of 24. He was shot by the Israeli army while throwing stones in Al Khader village. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Eleven empty plots wait at the top of the Martyr’s Cemetery.  When the new plots were added in 2013, it made local news, adding to rumors of a third Intifada. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Eleven empty plots wait at the top of the Martyr’s Cemetery. When the new plots were added in 2013, it made local news, adding to rumors of a third Intifada. (Photo: Rebecca George)
Mohammed Al-Akhras, father of Ayat Al-Akhras, leaves the Martyr's Cemetery after visiting the remains of his daughter. In 2002, at the age of 17, Ayat killed herself and two Israeli civilians by detonating explosives belted to her body outside a Jerusalem area supermarket. Mohammed says, "They (the international community) think according to their political concepts and they translate this thing to the world, that the Palestinian people are terrorists.  No, we were forced to leave our homes, from our lands as well, we became refugees.  We challenged the Israeli and American terrorism.  We are humans who lived for humans.  We don’t like anybody to die.”  (Photo: Rebecca George)
Mohammed Al-Akhras, father of Ayat Al-Akhras, leaves the Martyr’s Cemetery after visiting the remains of his daughter. In 2002, at the age of 17, Ayat killed herself and two Israeli civilians by detonating explosives belted to her body outside a Jerusalem area supermarket. Mohammed says, “They (the international community) think according to their political concepts and they translate this thing to the world, that the Palestinian people are terrorists. No, we were forced to leave our homes, from our lands as well, we became refugees. We challenged the Israeli and American terrorism. We are humans who lived for humans. We don’t like anybody to die.” (Photo: Rebecca George)
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Amal Dunqul wrote “Do not Reconcile”, its not my bag but very famous and current, which is at link but first a young lady blogger recounts The Jahili poem reference above made me laugh, without ignorance there is no poetry. “Mid Ramadan July 2014 Cairo, Egypt Gaza is being massacred again and Cairo feels more Zionist than ever. And I’m supposed to be just siting here. They even took away from me my right to… Read more »

This is so sad.

Very moving post. I also went to your blog and left a comment.