I only knew Nassir for a brief moment, or the equivalent of the time it took for him to jog along the street near the Hashimiya School and pass me.
It was one late breezy afternoon last week, and I was taking my daily walk around the southern part of Al-Bireh, which is located below the Jewish settlement of Psagot. I noticed a middle-aged man jogging intensely along the street, an oddity in this town. Umm Anas, a relative with whom I had been staying for the duration of my summer internship, pointed him out. “See that man who is jogging? His eldest son Ashraf is the one you see every day at our home. He is my son Anas’s friend.”
“Good for him!” I remarked, “He is making sure to stay physically fit despite the uneasy atmosphere in that area.” Now, oddly enough, my only recollection of Nassir are his shoes. Instead of athletic shoes, he was wearing brown loafers, which I remember thinking must have caused him some discomfort.
A few days later (Thursday, July 5th), I was on my way home after a long day at work. I had stayed after-hours, and gotten a ride home with a colleague. I asked him to stop by a sweets shop, so that I could pick up some Kunafa Nabilsiya, a tempting Palestinian pastry made of shredded filo dough, stuffed with white goat cheese and soaked in syrup. I wanted to bring a small gift for the family I was staying with, as a token of my appreciation for their generous hospitality. It was nearing sunset when I arrived, Kunafa in hand, still dripping warm syrup. There was an air of discomfort in the household, as I heard hushed whispers coming from the next room.
“What’s going on?” I inquired. Nassir, I was told, had been killed minutes earlier by Israeli gunfire, as he was jogging near the basketball courts of the local school where we used to walk by every day. His son Ashraf, who coincidentally was playing a computer game in Anas’ room, was not yet aware of the tragedy.
About an hour earlier, Israeli soldiers guarding the outskirts of Psagot had fired indiscriminately at a residential part of Al-Bireh. Nassir was jogging near the courts, and immediately took shelter behind a nearby ledge with some children. When it seemed that the gunfire had died down, he instructed the children to “stay put” while he made sure the coast was clear for them to return home. Seconds later, he took a fatal bullet to the chest that penetrated his heart and came out through his side. One of the children he was sheltering ran out after him. He too was shot in the chest, sustaining critical injuries. In the process, he forever became a living testimony to the farce that was the “Israeli policy of restraint.”
Umm Anas had warned me that the area was dangerous, and that any bystander could be shot. As proof, she told me of a young child that was killed on these very courts just a few weeks earlier. I believed they were the mere warnings of an overprotective mother. After all, I remember thinking, it seemed farfetched that Israeli forces would indiscriminately “shoot to kill” innocent bystanders, especially after the Muhammad Al-Durrah incident and amidst a so-called “ceasefire”. I was tragically mistaken.
A group of four Israeli army vehicles monitored the Jabal al-Taweel neighborhood where I was staying all night, followed by a tank that repeatedly fired deafening stun grenades just a few feet in front of the house. Suddenly all talk of a “cease-fire” seemed nothing more than a mockery. I turned on the television in hopes of hearing some breaking news report describing the evening’s disturbing events. All I found were music videos, talk shows, and Israeli news anchors joking about the state of the economy. Nothing about Nassir.
As the grenades continued to fall, all I could think of were Nassir’s brown loafers, and how I had been planning on taking another walk with Umm Anas to the very area where Nassir was shot that evening. Meanwhile, the kunafa I bought earlier that day lay cold and tasteless on the coffee table in front of me.
Laila El-Haddad is Palestinian graduate student in Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is currently a summer intern at MIFTAH.