The Broken Sparrows of Palestine

IMG_20141104_083919Abdul Rahman Abu Oida, pastels, by Ahmad Barqawi



By Eva Bartlett, Nov 4, 2014, Crescent International

A teen who loved strawberries, adored children far more…A paraplegic young man with soulful eyes, deaf ears and unfulfilled dreams of being a father…A martyr.

This is the story of Broken Sparrow, one of tens of thousands of Palestinians killed by Zionist colonizers; one of 9,100 Palestinians killed since 2000; one of at least 2,053 Palestinian children killed since 2000 (including at least 527 Palestinian children killed in the July/August Zionist genocide of Gaza); one of many Palestinians I’ve known and mourned.

Broken Sparrow wasn’t always broken, wasn’t born that way. To the contrary, he was once a thriving teen who, like a great majority of his Palestinian brothers and sisters, played football, also lifted weights, and lived as normal a life as one could under the brutal, continually-expanding rule of foreign occupiers. His family were just slightly better off than the 80 percent of nearly 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza who depend on paltry food aid for their malnourished existence. They are not wealthy, but had a proper, rain-proof home and simple but nourishing meals.

Before he was broken, he was Abdul Rahman. Abed.

In the February/March 2008 Zionist massacre of Gaza, in which 16 year old Abed Abu Oida was targeted with a Zionist sniper’s bullet to the spine, at least 114 Palestinians were killed (including 27 children, among whom were 2 infants), and another 154 Palestinian civilians were injured (including 56 children). The majority of those injured, murdered, were in Abed’s northeastern Gaza region, eastern Jabaliya, in a 24 hour period.

Some of the murdered children included four boys (ages 9 to 12) playing football, killed instantly by a targeted Zionist missile strike. Six years later, another four boys (ages 9 to 11) from the Bakr family would be murdered in the exact same fashion, the missiles which hunted them down on Gaza City’s small beach fired by a Zionist gunboat.

In the February/March 2008 bombardment of Gaza, another youth was sniped—to death—while in her family home. PCHR reported:

Twelve year old Safaa Ra’ed Ali Abu-Saif …bled to death after being hit by a single bullet on 1 March, 2008. ‘There was a hole in her chest’ said Ali Abu-Saif. ‘The bullet had entered her left side and exited through her back.’ Safaa had gone upstairs to ask her uncle and aunt to come downstairs with their children for their own safety. Ra’ed and Ali Abu-Saif carried Safaa downstairs, and their neighbours called an ambulance. The neighbours then rang the Abu-Saif family, and told them the ambulance could not come to their house because Palestinian ambulances were being attacked by Israeli tanks.”

Abed’s injury also occurred at his home, the day after Safaa was targeted and murdered.

On the family’s roof, checking the water tank to see why the family suddenly had no water, Abed was shot in the spine by a sniper in the “world’s most moral army” hiding on another rooftop. The bullet destroyed three vertebrae; the shot left Abed paralyzed in a puddle of his own blood until his 13 year old brother 15 minutes later found him and dragged him downstairs. As with Safaa’s case, as with most cases, ambulances were prevented from accessing the area. Abed lay untreated for three hours before he reached a hospital in Gaza City.

At first it seemed that Abed had been lucky: he survived the Zionist sniper’s bullet to his spine; he was sent for care in Egypt while the attacks continued on Gaza.

But when months later I met Abed in a Cairo hospital, he was near-deathly emaciated, with appallingly large bedsores on his backside and feet. These festering bedsores—a result of the poor care he was given in the various Cairo hospitals he was shifted to—would be the cause of other ailments which plagued him and eventually caused his death. Isolated from his family who could not get Egypt’s permission to exit Gaza to be with their paralyzed son, Abed began to succumb to his injury.

abed-bed        abed foot2


Gaza, under barbaric lock-down enforced by the Zionist regime and backed by most Western nations, was surprisingly the best place for Abed—not yet Broken Sparrow—to be sent for care. He was transported back to the small, battered piece of Palestine and sent to the now-destroyed al-Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, where he actually seemed to recover.

In November, 2008, I eventually made it to Gaza myself and one of the first things I did was to visit Abed at al-Wafa. He looked better, not as skeletal as a few months prior, and was receiving excellent care there.

A month later, the Zionists felt the need to bleed and destroy Gaza anew, waging their 23 day massacre on every area of the locked-down Strip. It was a stroke of good fortune that Abed was with his family in their home (still confined to a bed, still unable to use his legs) when the Zionists repeatedly shelled the rehab hospital. At the time, it housed roughly 60 patients, nearly all of whom were either invalid or unconscious, unable to flee the shelling. Staff were able to move them to one wing of the small building away from the great impact of the bombing. The Zionists bombed hospital, as well as the senior’s home and the other buildings in the complex. When I visited days later, spongy blobs of the white phosphorous shells littered the complex grounds, bursting into intense flames anew when poked a little.

Hospital staff told me they had been on the phone throughout the evening of bombing, trying to coordinate via the ICRC with the Zionists, begging them to stop attacking the hospital. The Director also told me this had been the 4th time the Zionists had attacked the hospital.

Following the 2008/9 massacre (which created many more Broken Sparrows, some of whom I later met in al-Wafa when visiting Abed), with more treatment rehab therapy, Abed indeed seemed on the path to a partial recovery.

In June, 2012, I was told by Tuesday’s Child, a humanitarian organization which had gotten to know Abed, that “Abed is not keeping so well, he is in hospital most days now….He set up an email last year…his email broke my heart, it translated as ‘broken sparrow’.”

In Egypt four years prior, the festering bedsores which had resulted from inadequate hospital care were then treated with an antibiotic, “IV Gentamicin…but at an adult dose too much for his weight,” Tuesday’s Child informed me. “This knocked his kidneys and hearing out and why he now has only one kidney and is permanently deaf.”

Broken Sparrow continued to struggle, inflicted with infections and hospitalized regularly, “sometimes three times a week.”

I visited him at some point in al-Shifa hospital. He was gaunt again, weak, but stared up at me with his soulful eyes and managed a smile, that amazing smile that defied his physical reality and his email account name.

On October 30, Tuesday’s Child reported that Abdul Rahman, Broken Sparrow, had flown from his prison.

He suffered terribly yet he always managed to smile. He was incredibly brave. His greatest joy was his family – his parents, brothers and sisters.

He died yesterday. To the sniper who shot Abed, who gave you the right to maim a child? Who gave you the right to cause so much pain and suffering to an innocent boy?”

I had once held hope that Abed would eventually sit in a wheelchair, assume as normal a life as one can in his condition, in locked-down Gaza under siege, that he’d even be able to marry and have a family as he dreamed. He defied the odds against as long as he could, with a stoic calm and humility.

PCHR’s “Blood on Their Hands” notes that from September 2000 until the publication of the 2008 report, 311 children were killed by the Zionist mercenary-military in the occupied West Bank, and 548 in Gaza. Breaking down the means of assassination, PCHR notes:

In the West Bank:

-261 Children were shot by IOF

-16 Children were killed by IOF tank shells

-14 Children were killed by missiles

-12 Children were hit by vehicles

-8 Children were killed by other explosive devices

In Gaza:

-289 Children were shot by IOF

-148 Children were killed by IOF missiles

-93 Children were killed by IOF tank shells

10 Children were killed by other explosive devices

8 Children were killed in other circumstances

The report also notes the insidious and sophisticated shift from merely shooting Palestinians dead to targeting them with “advanced military technology to pinpoint, and kill the intended targets.”

One such example was that of Nader Abu Mghaseeb, a fourteen year old from eastern Deir al Balah, Gaza. Less than two hours before an agreed-upon ceasefire was to be implemented, bringing to an end the 8 days of endless bombing and destruction of Gaza in November 2012, Nader was targeted by a precision drone strike, killing him almost immediately. A WHO report noted 182 Palestinians were killed in that round of flattening Gaza, including 47 children.

Flechette bombs (shells stuffed with up to 5000 razor sharp mini-darts) mete out death and injuries in mass numbers, particularly when launched on high-density civilian areas. Medic and teacher Arafa Abd al-Dayam was shredded and killed when a shell was fired at the ambulance he stood next to. He, too, was a friend who I worked with…though until his murder he was absolutely un-Broken.

Five more Palestinians were killed by Zionist-fired flechette shells on Arafa’s mourning tent, killing relatives who’d come to honour him. Of the over 25 injured by the darts, some still have the razor-like bits in their bodies, like Nahez Abd al-Dayem, with two darts in his abdomen, one in his chest. The darts deeply embedded, there is no telling whether some of these victims will also eventually succumb to their internal injuries.

Palestinians are not only assaulted by the Zionist army, but also victims of the foreign colonists who shoot, beat, light aflame and run over Palestinian children and adults on a routine basis.

On Oct 19, five year old Einas Khalil was run over by a Zionist colonist occupying the West Bank, near Sinjil village. Einas died and her equally young friend Nilin Asfour was seriously injured. Asfour, coincidentally, is “bird” in Arabic.

A week prior, another Zionist occupier ran over six year old Basim al-Amour, injuring her, al Akhbar reported. The report noted the August 7 running over and consequent injury of an eight year old girl by colonists near Hebron, and the August 14 running down and killing of a 23 year old Palestinian man.

This series of hit and runs is absolutely old news; the illegal colonists have been running over Palestinian children, women and men for years, with nary a feigned grimace of regret from our pro-Zionist leaders.

Even the appalling murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, tortured then burned alive by three Zionist colonists occupying al-Quds (Jerusalem) received scant notice at best, but no credible condemnation by Western leaders.

There is no knowing exactly how many Broken Sparrows there are in Palestine, injured and not yet dead. “Too many to count” would be the most accurate estimate. A glance at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)’s weekly report for the period of 28 Aug– 03 Sep 2014 shows Palestinians of varying ages succumbing to their injuries:

Wedad Abu Zaid died on 29 August 2014 because of wounds she sustained during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip on 29 July 2014. On 01 September 2014, medical sources pronounced Basem ‘Ajour (60) dead of wounds he sustained during the Israeli offensive on 25 August 2014. On the same day, medical sources pronounced Zeyad al-Rifi (13) dead of wounds he sustained on 21 August 2014 in an attack in al-Nafaq area. On 03 September 2013, medical sources in Egypt pronounced Nasser Abu Marahil (40) dead of wounds he sustained on 25 July 2014 in al-Nusairat area.”

PCHR’s report for the period of 2-15 October notes:

On 10 October 2014, medical sources at Shifa Hospital pronounced Arafat Tafesh (30) dead due to wounds he sustained on 30 July 2014 during the Israeli offensive.

On 11 October 2014, medical sources at the European Hospital in Khan Yunis pronounced Jamal Abu Lebdah (50) dead of wounds he sustained on 03 August 2014 during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip.”

This began as a tribute to Abdul Rahman, my Broken Sparrow whose suffering is over now. But reminiscing on his injury and ultimate death opened the doors to memories of the untold other number of Palestinians either murdered flat-out or dying prolonged deaths due to their injuries.

Aside from knowing that Abed is no longer in pain, no longer in silence watching his life pass by, I take heart in the incredible tenacity of Palestinians, injured or not, who survive occupation, genocide after genocide, starvation policies, destruction of their livelihoods and homes, and the unending litany of Zionists’ crimes.

Rani Burnat from the West Bank village of Bil’in is one such inspiring figure. Sniped in the neck on the second day of the Second Intifada, he’s since paralyzed chest-down. Rani participates at every single Friday Bil’in demonstration against the Apartheid Wall, enduring the suffocating blankets of tear gas, let alone the live ammunition and high-velocity gas canisters shot directly at unarmed demonstrators.

He documents the crimes perpetrated against his people, and while he is physically broken, his spirit isn’t.

Abed, Broken Sparrow, never had the opportunity to become Rani, his mobility and then his life stolen from him like so many of Palestine’s martyrs. But he is remembered, and his eyes and smile forever etched in the minds of those who knew him.


tuesdays child abed and family*Abed with his family, photo by Tuesday’s Child


  1. Eva, your report has yet again brought me to tears of sorrow and rage for the loss of Palestinian lives, the acceleration in savagery meted out by the Zionist entity, and the blind eye turned by the international community, in the main, to these ongoing outrages. Thank you for bearing witness, for being there. Let those you come across on a daily basis know that there are huge numbers out here who feel their pain deeply. who lobby for change, who keep the Palestinian people in their hearts, who donate funds again and again to MAP, Islamic Relief and others working to mop up the crimes of the Zionist entity. May the strength and resilience of all Palestinians – particularly those besieged in the hell is that is Gaza – be sufficient to fend off these monsters before life there becomes unsustainable. Thank you again, have strength yourself.

  2. Eva, thank you for this heartbreaking and loving tribute to Abed’s beauty and sumud and to the slaughtered and suffering innocents of Palestine. Our tears must drive our resolve to defeat the Zionist reich.

  3. I would like to share this most moving tribute on face book – can I do
    that? I see no sharing button and am not expert atb using the lap top.
    Thank you. Judith Joy.

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