We have to move out of this circle of blaming others. Frustration is a power. It can prompt us to react violently, or to despair. We need to invest it creatively, building something, even if it is small.—Dahoud Nassar
Ibrahem Shatali is one of the main reasons I choose to return to Gaza.
We met in 2005 on my first trip. He was cordial and accommodating, introducing me to the work and workers of the Popular Achievement program sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. He arranged my stay with 3 of his friends, and encouraged me to return. At that time the Quaker Youth Program director, Amal Sabawi, was stuck outside the country because of closure and Ibrahem was in charge.
Reviewing a design for the new Quaker Youth Program website
On my second visit in 2006 I offered training in photography and writing for the Popular Achievement coaches. Then the shooting in June 2007 and my utter devastation at the news: I wept. I felt a heavy load on my chest, I panted, I slammed my fists together, angry and aggrieved at the same moment. I believe I first heard about his shooting from an AFSC message. He I’d been considering returning to Gaza; this sealed my resolve: I felt I had to honor Ibrahem by sharing his life as fully as I could, undergoing some of the risks he and other Gazan face daily. To think that such a man as Ibrahim might be killed by other Palestinians while struggling for an end to the violence. Perhaps I could learn more about his life, how he survives, how his near death experience might have inspired motivation—or despair. I could try to show and tell his story of an extraordinary person.
Ibrahem is part of an informal nonviolent activist group called “The Initiative.” I met with them in 2006, attended several of their events, one a candlelight vigil in front of a building in which Hamas and Fatah were meeting to settle their arguments. The vigil called for the end of factional violence. We were well received by all parties, including soldiers and police.
At a nonviolent demonstration, Ibrahem in the middle, behind the Palestinian flag
As the fighting six months ago was intensifying between Hamas and Fatah, the two main political parties vying for control of the Gaza Strip, shooting erupted between them on the street. Ibrahim and about 8 others tried to intervene by walking slowly toward the center of the fighting. They called for an end to the violence. Without warning, someone from an area controlled by Hamas fired at them, instantly killing one of his closest friends, shot in the head. Then a woman fell, severely injured. Ibrahim went to one to help and was hit. The bullet pierced his back, tore thru his right lung, and sped out near his nipple.
Friends got him to hospital, the bleeding was profuse, his condition critical. After 3 hours of surgery, 2 days in intensive care, and 3 weeks in hospital he recovered—physically.
One question is how has his spirit been affected? Three of his friends were killed, about 20 injured. He thinks Hamas did the shooting. He drew me a map of the action, showing the direction of firing, explaining the wounds and how they could have only come from Hamas’s controlled area. Hamas claims Fatah did it, Fatah Hamas. No one has taken responsibility.
At the office telling me this story, he showed me two photos of his chest made within days of the injury, the entry and exit points, the long stitched section of his side where doctors entered his chest to repair the severe damage. Not wishing to alarm his mother with whom Ibrahem is very close, his brothers knowing the truth told her the gunshot was merely to the shoulder. No great risk, he’s OK mom.
Later at his home recently he showed me the blood stained clothing he’d worn and the Palestinian flag he’d wrapped around his shoulders during what he calls “the accident.” Pointing, he said, “There is the bullet hole, thru the flag.” He also showed me a poster he keeps over his desk with two images of his murdered friend, Shadi El-Ejla, a much beloved young man volunteering at a local youth organization.
Despite the seriousness of his condition, he believed he would live. He feels the kinship and support of Allah and the prophet Mohamed, and grants responsibility to them for his survival. He has work to do and a mother to help care for.
I detected in Ibrahim’s manner a profound sadness at the current situation, brothers in the family and in the struggle warring against each other—Palestinians kill Palestinians.
“Die? For what?” he asked. “We should be fighting for the end of occupation, not killing each other.”
Shadi El-Ejla, good friend of Ibrahem’s, martyred by other Palestinians in a nonviolent attempt to stop the interfactional violence
He seemed tenuous about his direction, not willing to take such huge risks now, exhibiting anomy. He is considering other forms of political action. He is pleased with his work at the AFSC, thankful for their support, both locally and internationally. He is a hard worker, dedicated and tireless. Recently I was with him visiting Popular Achievement sites in Beit Hanoun, near Israel, one of the most dangerous areas in Gaza. We might have been struck from the air by an Israeli missile fired from a US made Apache helicopter or while walking in Beit Hanoun killed by artillery fired from Israel. Despite this potential death from the sky and from the hands of other Gazans, Ibrahem continues his devotion to nonviolent change.
Doing a dabka step
With Skip Schiel at a dinner in Ibrahem’s home