the young bird keeper

It was a lovely story, that of a boy who caught birds in order to protect them.

He lives, the boy, but his hopes died in the massacre Israeli authorities and soldiers commited in Gaza last winter.

A friend, Abed, told me the story, as we discussed one of the latest victims of Israeli soldiers’ shooting in Gaza’s border regions with Israel. This one occurred near the northern border on the morning of 15 November. Abed, filming his young bird-catcher friend, saw the bloodied Amjad Hassanain, 27, being carried away by other bird-catchers.

“I heard the shots, but didn’t expect the Israelis to shoot at us,” he said.

Hassanain survived, injured in the upper arm.

Young Said Ouda stopped catching birds after the last Israeli massacre of Gaza.

“Not because he’s afraid,” Abed said.

Abed began to explain the story of Gaza’s bird-catchers and of Said in particular.

“They catch small birds (finches) by stringing nets close to the border. The closer to the border, the more birds they can catch (by being the first to snag the birds in flight). These birds have the most beautiful singing. Some of them have extraordinary colours. The lovelier birds can be sold to pet shops for as much as 100 shekels per bird (roughly $25).”

In a devastated Strip, where the economy has been ruined by over three years of siege and then by mass-bombing during the Israeli massacre, where jobs are non-existent and poverty is rife at well over 80%, 100 shekels a bird is too tempting to ignore.

“Anyway, they go there every day, but just at this time of year, the beginning of winter. The Israelis know them, know what they’re doing. The soldiers know they are just bird-catchers.”

While the bird-catcher story in itself is beautiful –finding a source of income while providing a world-wide appreciated good: a pet bird –the story of Said Ouda was more beautiful.

“He used to brings the birds in order to care for them,” Abed said, “because there are no trees in that area, no food, and the water sources are gone or polluted. So he wanted to protect them.”

From starvation, thirst…and from the Israeli bulldozers.

On a busy Gaza street, I nearly daily walk past a small shop, non-descript except for its birdsong.

“It’s call a canar,” the retired shop-keeper tells me today, in Arabic.  “I’ve had him 5 years now.”

I’m surprised that the bird has lived so long.  “He had a brother, but he died during the war (on Gaza)”.

“Not all canars sing, you know. They need to learn from another,” my interpretation of his words went.

I tell him of the boy bird-catcher and this grandfatherly figure smiles, invites me back.

Abed had elaborated: “Said loved the birds. Didn’t sell them, just kept them and cared for them. He used to have maybe 90 birds in his room,” Abed said of Said.

After the massacre, though, Said gave it up.

“During the war all his birds died from the bomb blasts and terror. Said felt he couldn’t any longer protect them.”

In spite of the intolerable conditions and ever-present sense of an imminent Israeli attack, Gaza is filled with surprising stories and people, if you just look beyond the headlines.

*bird catchers in border region east of Khan Younis


  1. What a touching story. It reminds me, of course, of the song by the renowned Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife titled “Asfour” or “Sparrow” which is often interpreted as a song about the Palestinian people’s hopes for freedom.

    English Translation:

    A sparrow stood at my window.
    And said “Oh, little one.
    Hide me with you
    I beg you.”
    I said, “Where are you from?”
    “From the limits of the sky,” he said.
    I said “Where did you come from?”
    “From the neighbor’s house” he answered.
    I said, “What are you afraid of?”
    “I escaped from the cage”, he said
    I said “What are your feathers?”
    “Fate took care of them,” he said.
    A tear fell on his cheek.
    His wings tucked underneath him,
    He landed on the ground and said
    “I want to walk, but I can’t.”
    I held him to my heart,
    Hurting from his wounds
    Before he finally broke out of his jail
    He broke his voice and his wings
    I said, “Do not fear,
    See the sun rising?”
    He looked toward the forest
    Saw the tides of freedom glitter,
    He saw wings flutter
    Beyond the high gates.
    He saw the forest flying.
    On the wings of freedom.

    (c) Marcel Khalife

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