October 22, 2004

A Prayer For Iman al-Hams

Dear God,

On the 5th of October, in the Tel Sultan neighbourhood of Rafah - a restricted area near Gaza's border with Egypt - a young Palestinian girl named Iman al-Hams was shot dead by Israeli soldiers. You must have seen the incident because You are all-powerful and You see everything.

But in case You missed it, or lest You be confused by all the other cases of Palestinian children being killed by Israeli troops, or lest Your attention be diverted by so many devout politicians invoking Your name during the US election campaign, here is how the Guardian newspaper described it:
Iman walked past her school with her satchel over her shoulder, crossed the road and climbed down a small sandy bank to an area that was an olive and citrus orchard until the army's bulldozers flattened it in April. She had entered the "forbidden zone" next to the watchtower where any Palestinian risks being shot.

The schoolgirl kept on walking toward the tower but was still several hundred metres away when two shots caught her in the leg. She dropped her bag, turned, tried to hobble away, and fell.

Four or five soldiers emerged from the army post and shot at her from a distance. Palestinian witnesses and some Israeli soldiers say that the platoon commander moved in closer to put two bullets in the child's head. They say that he then walked away, turned back and fired a stream of bullets into her body.
That's right, God. The Israeli Army held an enquiry and the soldiers who were present confirmed it: the platoon commander fired two bullets from close range at her head, then went back a second time, put his weapon on the automatic setting and emptied his entire magazine into her body.

The soldiers said they were pleading with him over the walkie-talkie to stop. As one soldier said:
"We were in shock. We couldn't believe what he was doing. Our hearts ached for her. Just a girl of 13..."
God, I know You work in mysterious ways. So I will not ask why You allow such atrocities to happen. But I would like to know if You were there in the courtroom when the platoon commander said that he had actually been shooting into the ground. Was he lying, God? Because a Palestinian hospital doctor said Iman's corpse had at least 17 bullet wounds:
Iman's corpse was taken to Rafah's hospital and inspected by Dr Mohammed al-Hams. "She has at least 17 bullets in several parts of the body, all along the chest, hands, arms, legs," he said. "The bullets were large and shot from a close distance. The most serious injuries were to her head. She had three bullets in the head. One bullet was shot from the right side of the face beside the ear. It had a big impact on the whole face. Another bullet went from the neck to the face and damaged the area under the mouth."
And God, how are we to understand the Israeli Army's statement, clearing the platoon commander of unethical behaviour?
"The investigation did not find that the company or the company commander had acted unethically. The investigation concluded that the behaviour of the company commander from an ethical point of view does not warrant his removal from his position."
God, if You choose not to intervene in such matters, who will condemn this act? Will our politicians speak up for Iman al-Hams? Will the combined might of all the nations in the world unite as one voice to condemn such barbarity at the United Nations, or will a handful of countries - the Unites States, Australia, Palau and other US dependencies - once again vote against such a motion, or veto it in the Security Council?

And if they do, God, will You spare them from Your righteous anger and furious vengeance? Will You spare them from the angry retribution of Iman al-Hams' family, friends and countrymen, who may be tempted to abandon futile stone-throwing, give up all hope of a long and happy life, and become suicide bombers, perhaps even joining the growing throngs of terrorist networks like Al Quaeda?

God, help us to understand. And forgive us our sins.


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