Twilight Zone / It's from Allah, the soldier said
By Gideon Levy
They divided the nights between them. He went to sleep early and got up in the middle of the night so his wife could sleep for a few hours. Day and night, they never took their eyes off their sick baby. Khaled, their youngest child, was now five months old and very sick. From the age of four weeks he had had episodes of shortness of breath and a trembling that seized his entire little body. Every two to three weeks, they had to rush him to the hospital in Ramallah. He would be placed in an oxygen tent for a few hours before being discharged. That is is how the doctors saved him, time after time. When he gets a little bigger, the doctors told them, he will require surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain.
The parents, Sana and Daoud Fakih, had already lost two children to illness, seven years apart. Having known such sorrow, they never left their precious Khaled alone for a moment.
That's how it was exactly three weeks ago, as well, on Thursday night. Daoud went to bed early, at 7 P.M., in anticipation of getting up later to relieve Sana. Slightly after midnight, she woke him. Khaled was having another attack of shortness of breath and convulsions.
Their village, Kufr Ayn, is impressive to look at. Its houses sit on a hilltop overlooking a lush valley in the heart of the West Bank, north-west of Ramallah, about halfway from there to Qalqilyah. The narrow road leading up to the village passes through olive groves and by the neighboring villages of Beit Rima and Qarwat Bani Zeid. The Palestinian who hitches a ride with us at the intersection tells us about Muwafiz Rimawi, 34, a man from her village who was seriously injured in an accident at his home and delayed at the Atara checkpoint for about half an hour, until he eventually died from the bleeding in his brain. This was about a month ago.
A picture of Khaled is affixed to a mirror beneath a red heart in the family's modest home in the center of the village. His death has left the Kafihs with three children, two sons and a daughter.
Daoud, 43, has taught English for 22 years at the high school in Qarwat Bani Zeid. Sana, also 43, knits kippot (skullcaps) at home - one a day - and sells them for NIS 5 each to a trader who then sells them to Jewish settlers in the West Bank, or in Israel. One wonders if their wearers have any idea who made them.
Khaled was born at the government hospital in Ramallah on October 9, 2006. He was a large baby, weighing in at over four kilos, and born healthy. The problems began when he was a month old. On March 9, when he was exactly five months old, he suffered another attack of shortness of breath and convulsions. Sana woke Daoud. It was shortly after midnight. The couple was well-practiced by now.
Daoud called a friend with a Mercedes ("the fastest car in the village") and asked him to hurry over. Five minutes later, the friend was at their door and in the meantime the Fakihs had packed milk and medications for their convulsing baby. The attack, says Daoud, wasn't so serious at this stage. In a previous episode, ten days earlier, they made it to the Ramallah hospital in 20 minutes. "I told the driver: Drive fast so we'll get to the hospital in time," Daoud recalls.
The yellow iron gate between the village and the main road was open that night. The Mercedes raced toward its destination; Sana held Khaled, panting and convulsing, in the back seat. After about fifteen minutes, they reached the Atara checkpoint north of Ramallah, one of the toughest and cruelest in the West Bank, especially of late. At this hour there were no other cars waiting.
The driver stopped at the stop sign in front of the checkpoint, as required. After about a minute, a soldier emerged and approached them. In the back seat, Khaled's condition was worsening. His breath was getting shorter and his shaking was getting stronger.
"Where are you going?," the soldier asked, and the driver replied in his meager Hebrew: "To the hospital in Ramallah." The soldier asked for the ID cards of all the passengers. Daoud appealed to him: "Before the IDs, listen to me. We have a very sick baby in the car and I want to get him to the hospital on time, before it's too late."
The soldier heard him, says Daoud, but didn't show any signs of interest. He didn't even bother to glance in the back seat, to see their convulsing baby. "He didn't care. He wasn't deaf. He heard, but he didn't even ask, 'Where's the baby?'"
The Fakihs had passed this checkpoint several times en route to the hospital with their baby, and the soldiers had always let them through quickly as soon as they saw the sick infant. Not this time. This soldier insisted on collecting each person's ID card in turn. "I didn't have a choice so I handed him the ID cards," Daoud says. The soldier took the IDs cards and walked away from the car, toward the checkpoint. Khaled's condition continued to worsen.
Usually, Daoud says, the ID check takes just a minute or two, especially when the checkpoint is totally deserted, as it was that night. But not this time. After a wait of about five desperate minutes, Daoud called out to the soldier: "Soldier, soldier, excuse me, but I want to get to the hospital. My baby is in serious condition." "What are you yelling about?," the young soldier scolded Daoud, "Don't yell." Daoud was upset. "Look at the baby, he's going to die! Afterward you do whatever you want." The soldier turned away without saying anything.
Sana became hysterical. With Khaled in her arms, she began crying and shouting: "My baby... My baby is going to die!" Daould was desperate. "At that moment, I wanted to get out of the car, but I couldn't. They could shoot me, beat me, or delay me even longer. I chose to wait in the car. Waiting was better than getting out."
More long, fateful minutes that felt like an eternity passed. It was almost 1:00 A.M. Finally, the soldier came back. "Open the car," he instructed. The soldier checked the car, going through package after package, the one with the diapers and the one with the medicines and the milk, and so on. Daoud shouted: "I don't have time. Don't make my baby die here. He's dying." Sana's crying kept getting louder, the baby gasped harder for breath.
Sana grabbed the soldier by the arm. "Look at the baby," she pleaded. The startled soldier turned his weapon toward her. Then he relaxed and shined his flashlight on the baby's face. "What happened to the baby?," he asked. Daoud told him the baby was dying. "I'll go and bring you the ID cards," the soldier said, but not before pausing to check the trunk and to inspect the spare tire and whatever was under it - all by the book, the book of the occupation.
But then the most terrible thing of all happened: Khaled suddenly stopped shaking. His tiny hands dropped to his sides and his breathing became slow and heavy. "Our baby is dead!," wailed Sana, while Daoud tried to reassure her: "No he's not, just be patient and strong, now we're on our way."
The soldier brought back the ID cards. "Drive to the hospital quickly," he told them. Sana said there was no point now in going to the hospital. Next to Bir Zeit, they stopped the car to check on the baby's condition. Khaled was no longer breathing. Daoud told Sana that there was no point in continuing. "Our baby is dead." But Sana insisted that they continue on to the hospital, maybe the doctors could revive Khaled.
At 1:20 A.M. they arrived at the emergency room. The doctors examined Khaled, put him into an oxygen tent but then had to pronounce him dead. "There's nothing we can do for him now," they told the parents.
On the way home, having left their dead baby at the hospital, they passed through the Atara checkpoint again. "Where's the baby?," the soldier asked. "My baby died," Daoud answered him. "Died? Why?," asked the soldier. "He died, because I waited here at the checkpoint," Daoud said. "No, it's from Allah," the soldier replied.
The IDF Spokesman's Office said this week: "The IDF has no knowledge of this incident, nor has any complaint about such a matter been received by the Liaison and Coordination Administration."
Daoud says he doesn't want to exaggerate in estimating the delay at the checkpoint, "so the Israelis won't say we're lying like they said after the man from Beit Rima was delayed at the same checkpoint, until he died from bleeding in his brain." Daoud says the delay was between 20 and 25 minutes.
Khaled was buried in the village cemetery the following day.
We are invited to view a video of the funeral on the home computer of Daoud's brother. Khaled is lying on his deathbed, a sweet baby with open eyes and mouth, a Palestinian flag covering his tiny body. First his grandmother, then his mother, kisses the body. A group of gloomy-looking men sit silently in the shade of the olive trees on the edge of the cemetery, and finally there is a shot of the checkpoint, with its concrete blocks and soldiers, separating Ramallah from the surrounding villages.