I met the family of Mohammed by accident as I offered them a ride back to their home in Deisheh refugee camp from Gush Etzion colonial offices where they were seeking (unsuccessfully) a permit to enter Jerusalem for medical treatments (and I was called for questioning). What I learned about this family is almost unbelievable and could certainly be material for a book or at least a documentary.The father was 12 years old when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head with a rubber coated steel bullet fragmenting his skull and damaging part of his brain. Ten years later, Israeli army officers severely beat and tortured him. He got married to his cousin immediately after. The family originally comes from Al-Walaja village, the village was destroyed and ethnically cleansed in 1948. Most of this village land came under Israeli rule.

The part that came under Jordanian rule was used to build a new Al-Walaja where some of the relatives returned and built homes in the early 1960s. After having their first child, the young couple received a blessing in the form of a donation of a very small plot of land from their uncle and they built a humble one room house (literally one room) in Al-Walaja. Both had jobs.

They moved out of the refugee camp and lived in this house for 3 years during which time, they delivered their second child who then died at 18 days of age (by SIDS.) Then the Israeli army demolished the home saying that it was built without permit (Israel gave no permits for any houses in the village since the occupation began in 1967.) The family rebuilt the house but Israeli threats forced them to not live in it (Israel wants also some NIS 20,000 for the cost of destroying the home and wants to levy other fines on the family.)

So the young family came to live in a small dwelling underground and without windows (bought with money from selling the wife’s wedding jewelry) in the refugee camp of Deisheh. There, the third child (second who is alive) was born and they named him Mohammed. He turned out to have Bardet-Biedl Syndrome (a genetic disease characterized by obesity, eye problems, kidney problems, hexadactyly or six fingers and toes, developmental delay etc.) An uncle and an aunt of Mohammed (refugees in Jordan) died before age 20 with this condition (we took blood samples from the family for genetics study at Bethlehem University.)

The first snow in years came and the roof of their dwelling collapsed. The husband had developed a psychiatric disorder and was treated at a local hospital. Both he and his wife were unable to hold jobs anymore. They had one more son (healthy) and she is now pregnant. Thankfully, UNRWA rehabilitated the home in the refugee camp, and the home in Al-Walaja remains unoccupied and unfinished (and no water or electricity). The family is loving, hopeful and steadfast (we call it sumud in Arabic). We spent a few hours during Eid Al-Fitr together and visited the home in Al-Walaja.

I personally witnessed how the family cares for each other. Their eldest son Khaled (in 5th grade) is simply brilliant and very loving for his two younger brothers.

This is one of millions of Palestinian stories of tragedy and persistence after ethnic cleansing and under colonial occupation.
Dr. Qumsiyeh:
A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at home
Professor, Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities
Chairman of the Board, Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People,