Monday 24 August 2009


The mother of the Palestinian boy whose body

was robbed by Israel

speaks to the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet

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Mourning her son, Saadega Ghanem shows the martyr grave site on the outskirts of the village . Here her son Bilal has lain for 17 years.

Saadega Ghanem said that memories of her son's death have never ceased to haunt her.

Bilal Achmad Ghanem, 19, was shot to death by Israeli soldiers , The family believe that boy's body was stolen.

Aftonbladet reporting team Oisin Cantwell and Urban Andersson returned to the place where it all began. This is among the events which have led ~ 17 years later ~ to today's rancorous debate between Israel and Sweden.

On May 13, 1992, in the small village Imattén in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a young Palestinian Bilal Achmad Ghanem. A few days later his mutilated body was returned to the family. He had been cut up and then sewn from the neck down to the stomach.

The image of Bilal's body was published in Aftonbladet's culture page on Monday ~ along with Donald Boströms controversial article on the Israeli body theft.

Saadega Ghanem has been in pain since that day 17 years ago when those Israeli soldiers shot her son. She is an old woman now and has long since given up hope to know what they did with Bilal's body.

It is early morning in Imattén a ghost town with more than two thousand inhabitants, nearly one hundred per cent unemployment, no shops and it is already almost 30 degrees in the shade.

Jalal Achmad Ghanem is 32 years old but looks ten years older. We are sitting outside his simple white house and he says that some Arab journalists called in recent days and asked about his brother Bilal. "It has opened up old wounds" says Achmad. "I am sorry ~ my mom is sad."

He has only a vague idea of the strange circumstances surrounding his brother's death 17 years ago that have led to the bizarre diplomatic crisis between Israel and Sweden.

May 13, 1992. It has been many years now and Jalal Achmad Ghanem was only 15 but he can remember everything so clearly.

Bilal, four years older, had for two years have been chased by Israel because he defended his country.

Put another way: Bilal Achmad Ghanem was suspected of having been one of the leaders of the West Bank during the first intifada in the late 1980's.

He knew that he would be killed on the Israeli soldiers found him so he stayed away. Bilal Achmad Ghanem hid in the mountains. Sometimes he received the protection of neighbors in the village. After nightfall he never dared home to his family.

No one knows why the boy just that day turned up outside his home in broad daylight. I asked his friends but nobody knows says Jalal.

It was late afternoon and suddenly heard several sharp shots and the family ran outside.

Neighbors who saw everything told later how everything happened. The 19-year-old was only 50 meters from his home when some men who would prove to be dressed in civilian clothes Israeli soldiers shouted "Bilal!"

When he turned on the knew it was him. Some soldiers who were hidden in an abandoned house opened fire. The first shot hit Bilal in the chest, the next in the leg.

We believe that he was still alive after the shots. A little old woman dressed in speckled dress came out and sat under the olive tree. Saadega Ghanem spoke in a low voice and looked at the ground. She says she thinks she is 75 years old. She ran out when she heard the shots.

"They kept my son at my feet and laughed. They forced me to look at him. He was bloody everywhere. Then they dragged him up the stairs to the house they were hiding in." She hid her face in her hands, wiped the tears and went on.

"That afternoon has never stopped haunting me. That was when I got pain in my shoulders. I have had pain since then. They could have arrested my son without killing him but they did not."

People began to gather around the house where the soldiers were , They called in reinforcements took the body to a military helicopter that stood on the outskirts of the village and carried it to Israel.

The family still does not know why. A few days later they heard from the army. They wanted to be paid to provide back Bilal's body, 5 000 Shekel almost 10 000 SEK, an unimaginable figure for those poor people.

They said the shipment with the helicopter was expensive, but why should we pay them to get back our dead as they shot to death says Jalal.

He wanted to show us his brother's grave , We go down the steep hills past the house with broken windows past the rusty bicycles and firmly tethered goats.

Old men with no teeth sit in doorways and give us a friendly nod when we pass, The streets are dusty and empty.

Saadega Ghanem is not so good anymore but may ride to the small martyrs' grave in the village outskirts where Bilal Achmad Ghanem was shot.

She says that almost a week after the shooting death, the soldiers came back with her son's body. It was the middle of the night and the soldiers had cut off the electricity leaving village residents in darkness.

The situation was tense. The small community had its first martyr. The soldiers were nervous.

Bilal was in a black bag , He had no teeth in the mouth. The body was ripped up from the neck down to the stomach and then bad sewn together again as if he were a bag.

The family asked what happened to the body. The soldiers shrugged and said that the boy had had an autopsy in Tel Aviv.

Some men in the village were told to dig a grave and only nine persons were allowed to go in the funeral procession.

Western journalists stationed in Jerusalem had been tipped about the funeral and came running with their cameras and microphones Perhaps they expected a riot. Perhaps they expected stones and gunfire.

The Israelis tried to take the cameras. They yelled at the photographers that they could not take pictures said Jala. No journalists were to look at the body.

When dawn came the soldiers left the village and left behind a family who had not received answers to their questions about what had happened. Jalal believed his brother's body was stolen. The entire chest and stomach was sunken in as if the contents were missing.

Why did they take him to Israel? They usually do not take away people shot to death. Jalal does not believe that this was for an autopsy. Why would they do that? They knew why Bilal was killed.

Do you have any evidence that his organs were stolen?

No, I do not but I have met other people who had similar things to say about their relatives. We have heard many such stories.

We go back up the hills to the small white house that the family owned many many years ago. Here Jalal grew up with two brothers and five sisters. Now he lives here with his wife and two daughters and his mother.

"I never stopped thinking about what happened to my brother. We worry and wonder but we will never know."

The family has never insisted on any response by the Israeli authorities; they say it is pointless to argue.

It is over 30 degrees now and the old woman pulls back to rest and our interpreter dries sweat from his forehead. Jalal's eyes are large and sad. He says that it is the first day of Ramadan and apologizes that he therefore can not offer tea. Suddenly something appears in his eyes.

I have my memories! No one can take them! I remember how Bilal played with me, the things we did together, the time we shared together.

He says that life still went on. He grew up met a woman, started a family.

"It is worse for my mother. She has never ceased to suffer, always left left to wonder."

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