Amina Salah, 30, is a Palestinian woman from the occupied West Bank living in California. She was born and raised in the town of al-Khader, south of Bethlehem city, where she graduated from Bethlehem University with a degree in Social Work. In addition to practicing as a social worker in Palestine, Amina taught traditional ‘dabke’ dancing to local youth, and played for the Palestinian national volleyball team. She married her husband Laith and moved to the United States in September 2018.
I am Amina Salah, a Palestinian woman. I grew up with three sisters, two brothers, and too many relatives and friends to count — too many loved ones who I try not to count, so that I don’t fall apart when I realize how many I have lost.
I always dreamt of an outrageous, courageous, and ambitious life, with a future of achievements and success waiting for me. But when I grew up, I quickly realized that as a Palestinian, holding on to my dreams wouldn’t be so simple.
First, I let go of my dream to study abroad because of visa complications. Then I let go of my dream of studying journalism in Ramallah because of the checkpoints and difficult financial situation. With every passing year, I let go of a dream somewhere, either because of the political or economic situation, until one day, I just forgot what I had been dreaming.
Since then, I learned to dream of a normal, boring life. A life where I do not wake up every day to terrifying news. A life where I do not pick up the phone and: “Amina, Nabil was shot, Mo’taz is dead, Bashar, Muhannad, Mohammad, Issa, Ahed, Khaled, your brother Ahmad, are imprisoned.”
I started to dream of a life where invasions, bombarding, shooting, confiscating lands, destroying houses, checkpoints, walls, curfews, demonstrations, and funerals do not exist. I put all my focus on starting a new life somewhere else. And now here I am, writing this in sunny California. I left that life in Palestine, but unfortunately it would not ever leave me.
Though as Palestinians we all go through these hardships on a daily basis, none of us accepts the idea that one day, it could be one of your family members who will be harmed. We live every day with the hope that when the day ends, we will see all of our family members sitting around the table for dinner. I never imagined that one day I will be facing such a fate with my younger brother.
The phone rang, and this time, Mahmoud, my 14-year-old brother was the one who was shot and imprisoned. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest, a pressure in my head as if it as going to explode, my breathing was so fast and yet I could not feel any air going into my lungs. I was being choked by the news.
On the 21st of May at 9:30 pm, Mahmoud went out to hang around with his friends in our neighborhood. These late night hang outs are normal for children during Ramadan, after breaking their fasts. Three hundred meters away from our house in the al-Khader town, south of Bethlehem city, children gathered to play in a small field behind the houses. Beyond the field are a few hundred meters of empty agricultural land, and at the end of that land stands the Apartheid Wall.
There is a tower at the wall where Israeli soldiers stand, as part of their “duty to secure their nation from us,” Palestinians. Sometimes they get bored and they need some action. And that night, one of them fired one shot.
It echoed, everyone in the neighborhood hurried towards the sounds of screaming children. They started running back to our house to tell my family that Mahmoud was shot. With those three words, my entire family and all our neighbors rushed towards Mahmoud.
They shouted those three words and all of the family and neighbors around were running towards him. I swear I could hear the sound of their feet hitting the ground, the beating of everyone’s heart, especially my mother’s. I could see her wide-opened eyes and I could hear her prayers to Allah that she would reach her son and find him alive. Those three hundred meters seemed like three thousand miles.
When they finally reached him, the Israeli soldiers were surrounding him and shouting at his face, “why won’t you just die?!” Meanwhile, the Palestinian ambulance arrived, but the soldiers prevented them providing any medical help. Mahmoud was lying on the ground, shocked, confused and bleeding. Then the soldiers dragged him on the ground to the other side of the wall, ignoring all the screams of everyone and the pleas of the Palestinian medical team. He was left on the street to bleed for half an hour more, until the Israeli ambulance came and took him, with no further information for us.
My family hurried to call the Red Cross, to see if they could get any information about his condition. Waiting in silence and grief was the only choice for them. The next day, they received the news that he was in Israel’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, and that his situation is critical. My family tried all the possible ways to enter Jerusalem, but they were forbidden from visiting him. Only one member of the family has been allowed into the hospital.
On the 23th of May, our lawyer called and told my family that Mahmoud’s leg had to be amputated. It was either his death or the loss of his leg. It was the most horrible and devastating news for all of us. We were not able to think anymore. For me, a million thoughts crossed my mind, starting with how will he continue his life with one leg? And will he ever accept this loss? My mind stopped at the horrific thought of, what will his reaction be when he wakes up alone, in a cold room, somewhere he does not feel safe, to find out that he has lost his leg?
Only the lawyer was in the room when he woke up. Mahmoud opened his eyes, confused and not fully aware of what was happening around him. In pain, but not recognizing the source, he moved his left hand, then the right one, in an attempt to check. He tried to move his right leg, and when his hand reached out his left leg, he finds that it does not exist anymore. Totally in shock, he screams, cries and calls for his family over and over again. He screams as if he is in a nightmare, and repeats to himself that he has to wake up from this nightmare.
Ever since he woke up in the hospital, they tell us he has been having panic attacks. He is calm for several hours, and the next hours are full of screaming and crying for his leg, his mother, his father, his brother, his sisters and his home. He cries for his life back, and when he is desperate, he cries for just a phone call. But even these are not allowed. At the door stand two soldiers to guard him until he finishes the treatment and is taken to prison.
Two illegal trials at the Israeli military court were already held while he is in the hospital, and now he is waiting for the third one in order for Israel to press charges against him. I wonder what charges are going to be pressed against a child after he was shot while playing, left to bleed for more than half an hour and then lost his leg. To continue the brutality, he went through an interrogation while lying in pain in the hospital. There are other interrogations to come, and they will not even take into consideration his health condition, because clearly his psychological one is not that important to them.
In the meantime, he is physically and psychologically devastated. He has been through two surgeries and still in pain. He keeps asking for us, his family.
Mahmoud is a friendly child and a loved one among his family and friends. He has an independent character and feels a sense of responsibility towards his parents. He spends his summer vacations working in a car repair shop with a family friend. He never thought of spending the money on toys or trips. Instead, he offered it to his parents as a form of support.
He used to go with me to my volleyball trainings. He loved to train with us, sometimes playing around and teasing others, with the knowledge that I was always standing there to protect him, and no one could harm him.
We have a special and close relationship. In fact, we were planning that next summer he would visit me in California. I wanted him to see the other side of the world. A different life than the one we are used to. A one that may be hard but not that miserable. A one that may offer him opportunities and freedom. I promised him that he will be here with me and I will protect him and be there for him whenever he needs me. But time betrayed us, and fate betrayed him.
I am writing my brother’s story to show the world the brutality of the Israeli occupation. But my decision to shed light on Mahmoud’s story in the first place, is so that we can ask for support. This is an appeal for concrete action from human rights organizations, children’s rights organisations, human rights lawyers, politicians, and journalists. Anybody who can possibly help and use their voice to advocate for his freedom. To help him stand again and save his innocence as a child. If we can save Mahmoud we can prove that humanity is not just a word.
Please, make as much noise as possible, to get the help, care and support this child needs and deserves. Share and spread his story widely, on Facebook, on your timeline, in groups, sites, Twitter, wherever on social media, reach out to the media, to whoever you can, to make sure that the world, human right organizations, human right lawyers, politicians, everybody who can possibly help this child, know who Mahmoud is, what happened to him, and still is going on. Use the hashtag #free_Mahmoud_salah , for example in combination with #urgent and #StandUp4HumanRights.
Look at Mahmoud’s face in these pictures, and help to make sure that Mahmoud is soon back again with his family, in his home, where he belongs.