22 February 2011 | ISM Gaza
Ashraf Abdellatif Iqtifan was born in Gaza City in 1980. He grew up surrounded by five brothers, two sisters, and everyday violence. When Ashraf was eleven years old, his 14-year-old brother Rami, who on his slightly yellowed photo smiles cheekily and brightly into the camera, threw a stone at an Israeli soldier whilst Gaza was occupied by Israel. A soldier standing next to them saw this, he took his gun and shot Rami between the eyes, the bullet got stuck in the brain. The brain-dead boy was brought to Israel, the family got him back cut open, all organs – even his eyes – were missing. The parents went to court and won. The soldier who had shot Rami, was sentenced for manslaughter of a child to 15 days of prison. Yes, days. He was also demoted two ranks.
But in spite of everything, Ashraf dreamed of a better life in Israel. When he was 19 years old and Gaza was not yet a jail, he managed to escape. He went to Tel Aviv and began to work as a dishwasher. His salary may not have been high, but it was enough to feed his entire family in Gaza; after the blockade none of them have work anymore. For 12 years Ashraf lived and worked in Tel Aviv.
But five months ago, the horror from which he had escaped all those years came back to him. He was stopped by the police, and when looking into his passport, they noted that he was from Gaza. Shortly afterwards Ashraf was back in his hometown. But the joy of reunion lasted only very briefly. Ashraf found his family in poor living conditions, and now absolutely no money came from outside, no one had work anymore. He began to accompany two young men from the extended family, Fathi Jihad Khalaf, 21, and Ar-Tal’at Ruwagh, 25, by collecting stones, so that at least some money came in. They went every day into the area of a former Israeli settlement in northern Gaza, near the border with Israel.
But the missing money and the related concern of no longer being able to care for his family was not the only thing that made Ashraf so desperate. Every day he looked across to the country that had been his home for many years, where his work was, his flat, his friends, his life. “No, Ashraf was not married,” says his father, “that wouldn’t have been possible. I have to approve the marriage, and the whole family must be present at the celebration”. He had begun to plan a marriage for his son, he suggested possible partners. But each time Ashraf refused with some excuse or changed the subject. Maybe after so many years, he deviated a bit from his tradition. Perhaps contrary to father’s firm conviction a girlfriend did wait for him in Israel, who knows, maybe he even had a family there.
And so he developed a plan that was so stupid and naive that you have the urge to shake him and his two friends with whom he was collecting stones, when they hadn’t already paid for this stupidity with their lives.
One can imagine Ashraf raving to his friends about the better life in Israel, about the opportunities they would have there, about the freedom. And these two guys who should have known it better, who were confronted with the violence of the Israeli military in the buffer zone on a daily basis, suddenly believed they knew the area well enough to see an opportunity. These two young men should have known better. They all should have known better.
“Maybe he thought that the soldiers at the border were just as the people with whom he used to work in Tel Aviv, maybe he thought that they wouldn’t immediately shoot him”, his father said quietly.
Whatever Ashraf thought, he wanted to return at any rate. On the night to the 17th of February he and his two new friends set up to their way to the border.
Did they really believe that this would work out? Ashraf perhaps hadn’t realized yet that Gaza had become a high security prison during the long years of his absence. They hadn’t even reached the border when they were fired at – by a nearby gunboat on the water, by a drone from the air and a tank at the border. Half of Arafat’s head was missing when the three bodies could finally be rescued four hours later, around six clock in the morning. No weapons were found, neither on the bodies, nor in the close surroundings.
“I don’t know if he told anyone of his friends in Israel about his plan,” said his father. “He didn’t even tell me that he would try it that night.” The declaration of the Israeli military stated that they “thwarted a terrorist attack”, the men would have been caught, “deploying explosives at the border”. And that’s how the story was probably in the Israeli media. Did Ashraf tell his friends about his plan? Have they read the news? Do they know that he is dead, that Israeli soldiers didn’t prevent a terrorist attack, but killed their friend, who wanted to go back? Ashraf, does that name ring a bell to you, you inhabitants of Tel Aviv? Was he your employee, or the man who washed your dishes in your favorite restaurant, perhaps you’ve seen him on the way out? Was he your friend, partner, perhaps even father? The man who was sitting next to you on the bus, the guy with whom you started a conversation in the long queue at the supermarket? He’s dead. Have you thought of him as you read the news about the last thwarted attack from the terrorists? About three more deaths on the long road to adequate safety? Ashraf was on his way home.