By ISMAIL ABU HAYYEH, Guest Writer
Background: In my high school, I was given the opportunity to publish a book, the main focus being to captivate the profiles that created the student body, in the hopes of bringing people closer together and spreading empathy. One of the more powerful stories in the book was an interview I conducted with a young man named Zyad Nabhan. He recounted his horrific experience with life and death at the hands of the Israelis. His story moved many to tears, and not even a heart of iron can remain intact after reading this story.
“His name was Mohammed, Mohammed Katari. He was seventeen when he died. He was my closest friend, and treated me as if I was his little brother. He loved me like that; that’s the bond we had together. I first met him when I was young. While me and my friends were playing soccer in the street, he came up to us and asked if he could join in with some of his friends. We played together, and stayed together after that. We got into a club, a soccer team, and we went out all the time and did more activities together. From then on, we were brothers.
My uncle was an employee of the hospital in Ramallah. He asked me once if me and a few of my friends would like to work as volunteer paramedics, and we agreed. Me and Mohammed joined my uncle as paramedics in 2013. We would go across the West Bank, answer dispatch calls, and help treat people that were hurt in protests. The things I saw, you wouldn’t believe. It’s too horrible to describe: kids being shot, people yelling in pain, children crying for their mothers, and some of them died before we even got there. Then the summer of 2014 came, and the war in Gaza happened. We sent ambulances to Gaza in 2014, but I never went. It was too dangerous for a young kid.
We would provide basic assistance until the person could see a doctor. But in Gaza, there were no doctors, so all we could do was send paramedics. Doctors would be stopped at the checkpoints and arrested. If someone was injured in Gaza, and if they didn’t see a doctor, they would die.—
It was August 8, 2014. We got a call to go to a village called Al-Birah. There was a protest there, and kids, the youngest of them being 13, were being shot down. My partner and I, not Mohammed, I can’t remember his name, were working in the ambulance. He was an older guy, much older than me. We went, and Mohammed joined us later.
I met with Mohammed after we arrived. We heard gunshots and people yelling. We saw rocks being thrown and kids being shot down at the same time. I went up to him, we talked for a minute, and he said, ‘Are you gonna save my life if I get shot?’
‘You better give me some of your blood if I lose any,’ he told me.
Mohammed and the others, there were about 7 of them, went deeper into the protest. My friends– all of them, when they do something, they want to be the first one to do it. They’re devoted to what they do- they all went in, they were the first ones out where they can shoot you, on the front lines. Most of them were on the sides, Mohammed was in the middle. There was a dumpster up ahead of them, and there was a door with something on the back so someone could hold it like a shield.
The protesters would throw rocks and molotovs. Mohammed ran to the side of a building on his right that was under construction; it gave him more cover. There were protesters at the building throwing balloons filled with paint at the soldiers to blind them and block their vision. I was looking at everybody and what was going on. We had a few more guys that got shot; we put them in the ambulances that were still there and let them go. We stayed, my two friends and I, and we went up a little. My friends wanted to see what was going on, so they went deeper and left me behind. I stayed and watched the kids to make sure everything was okay. Then, my partner came down, and we started talking about what was going on. Mohammed went back by the dumpster, and the next thing you see is him getting shot in his right thigh.
The Israelis, when we started to come near Mohammed, started shooting around him. They didn’t want us to grab him. When an Israeli shoots a person, they shoot to kill. If you are shot down in a certain place, they want to make sure you die there.
Mohammed was bleeding out. Blood was gushing from his leg like a fountain. I turned to my partner and said “What are we gonna do? If we go up there, there’s a possibility that we’d get shot.”
He said, ‘Man, I don’t know. Maybe we could take the ambulance, and park it in front of him and put him in there.’
So, we got in the truck and all of the guys that were in the protest moved a little so the ambulance could go through. We went up a little, and they started shooting at the ambulance. They shot the wheels on the side, and my partner said, ‘I can’t do this, I’m putting my life on the line.’
I said, ‘Okay, just stop here.’ So he stopped, but the ambulance wasn’t straight, it was sagging a little. We got out and we were wearing our paramedic clothes, and we thought, ‘Ok what are we gonna do?’
Mohammed was on the floor and he started pushing himself back. He was trying to crawl to us, but he couldn’t. He was in too much pain. His screams made me nervous. He wasn’t crying, but the pain made him yell out loud. I didn’t know what was going to happen or what to do. I went to the side, near the construction, and my friends said that they would cover me while I get him.
As we got closer to him, the soldiers started throwing teargas. It got worse. We couldn’t see where we were going.
The Israelis had thermal goggles and they could see us. So, we grabbed gas masks from the ambulance and went to Mohammed. When I got him, I gave him one so he didn’t pass out. I grabbed him and made him stand up. As we walked back towards the ambulance, he got shot through the back, with one of those bullets that open up with hooks and rip you up. It came out from the other side his chest, from his lungs. My friend, who was helping me carry him, went back to the ambulance.
I was yelling for the paramedics to come get us. Then I got shot in the leg by a rubber bullet. I didn’t feel it until maybe five seconds after I fell. When I went down, Mohammed fell on top of me. I looked around, the gas surrounded us and all I heard were gunshots and Mohammed’s screams. I couldn’t see the ambulances, the gas hid them from me, and there was blood, so much blood. I told Mohammed ‘Yallah, Qoum (Come on, get up),’ but he was out of it. He couldn’t stand, even with me helping him. He lost so much of his blood. I thought he was going to die right there. He was bleeding out with only one working lung.
When the paramedics realized that we were both down, they rushed over to us. My friend Ali got in the ambulance with the busted tires, drove it to us, and put us inside. I held Mohammed in my arms. We put the oxygen mask on him and tried to take out the bullet, but it was too risky. The road was bumpy, and it was hooked into his flesh. We’d hurt him more if we took it out ourselves. He needed surgery.
He kept trying to talk, but he couldn’t. I kept telling him to stop talking, that he’s hurt really bad and that he needs to be quiet and relax, but he kept trying to talk. When we arrived at the hospital, he wasn’t breathing… his heart wasn’t beating. He died in my arms, in the ambulance.
I called his dad, and we told him what had happened. He broke down over the phone, and he gave us the okay to call his mom. I called his mom and told her to come to the hospital, where they perform surgeries. That was it. I told my partner to go pick her up, because she lived in a mukhayyam, a refugee camp. She didn’t have a car and the hospital was almost fifteen kilometers from the camp. She came to the operating room and saw Mohammed on the table, with a blanket over his head.
She had a total breakdown. She fell to her knees and kept praying to God that this wasn’t really happening, wishing that she was stuck in a nightmare. When she finally realized that it was real, she turned to me, thanked me for trying to save him. She told me that she now puts me as her first privileges; as if I’m her own son. She treated me like I was Mohammed. I felt bad for her more than I did for myself. I still wanted him to be with me, I wish he could have stayed with me, so that she wouldn’t have to call me Mohammed.
In Islam, when a martyr dies, they get a dream a week before, or even the night before, they die. Mohammed had a dream that he would die that week. Nobody knew about it except he and his girlfriend. He told her that he was going to die soon, but she didn’t believe it. After he died, she told us and the family. Mohammed´s mom treats her like one of her own daughters. They kept wishing that Mohammed was there with them, but he was dead. Dying as a martyr is the best way to die.
After that day, I couldn’t sleep for months.