[Reader-list] A Martyr's Birthplace

Yazad Jal prajaf at vsnl.com
Thu Jun 20 10:12:17 IST 2002

Some remarkable photos. This photo of a mother helping her son dress up as a suicide bomber is very disturbing. http://digitalfilmmaker.net/gaza/gaza8.shtml 

A Martyr's Birthplace
A Photo Essay by 
Maya Alleruzzo


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip May 15, 2002 -- Abu Ali, like many 12-year-olds living in Gaza, has dreams of eternity. But the Palestinian boy's hopes are rooted in a grim reality: "I hope to be a martyr," he said. "I hope when I get to 14 or 15 to explode myself."

His mother, Om Muhammed, is eager to help her son, one of six children, accomplish his goal. She helps him tug on a toy suicide bomber costume in her living room as she serves mint tea to a visitor. The get-up is dauntingly convincing, but is harmlessly made of electrical tape, plywood and spare wire.

Harmless for now, at least.

"I encourage him, and he should do this," said the woman, the mother of six. "God gave him to me to defend our land. Palestinian women must have more and more children till we liberate our land. This is a holy duty for all Palestinian people."

Little Ali, masked in a kaffiyeh and carrying a toy gun made of pipes, marched earlier today in a demostration marking Al Nakba or " the catastrophe," as Palestinians refer to the day Israel was founded in 1948.

Given Abu Ali's start in life, his future might seem inevitable. Walking through the streets of Gaza City, one can see young boys playing with toy Kalashnikovs and slingshots beneath the walls painted with graffiti depicting masked Hamas fighters, grenades, exploding buses.

Jobs in nearby Tel Aviv dried up for Palestinians from Gaza after the latest intifada began once peace talks broke down in 2000. The Israelis closed the border crossings in an attempt to stop the Palestinian suicide bombers from blowing up themselves and Israeli civilians on buses, in cafes, supermarkets and restaurants. But the bombers still make it through from other places. 

The killing and maiming of mostly innocent Israelis by these young Palestinians has only made life harder for the rest of the Palestinian people. Even for Gazans with local jobs, road closings often leave them sleeping at the Israeli checkpoints. Students from the south now sleep in tents at Al Aqsa University, lest they risk missing classes when the roads close. With no passports, Palestinians cannot travel. 

If jobs here are scarce, there is one man who is making enough to support his family.

Twenty-four-year-old Bahaa Yassin paints most of the portraits of martyrs seen in the Gaza Strip. Before the intifada, he did a variety of artwork to support himself and his wife. Family portraits, shop signs, and the occasional martyr. Now, about 70 percent of his business comes from these large, loving tributes to the young fighters.

Funeral marches are a citywide event. Young boys march -- usually five kilometers from the hospital to the graveyard -- alongside men shooting live rounds into the air.

Hisham Zaqout, whose nephew Youssef, 15, was killed when he tried to infiltrate an Israeli settlement, say the well-wishers, posters and artistic tributes have helped ease the family's pain. 

"In Islam, sacrifice is the highest honor, " he says. "Youssef did this for all of us to be free."

The irony of his words is that the continued bombings and Israeli responses to them only continues the cycle of violence and hopelessness that has led to a downward spiral in the lives of both the Israelis and Palestinians. 

Maya Alleruzzo is a staff photojournalist at The Washington Times in Washington, D.C. She can be contacted at malleruzzo at WashingtonTimes.com 

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