The Silent Suffering

24 01 2008

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The yellow iron gate between the village and the main road was open that night. The Mercedes raced toward its destination; Sana held Khaled, panting and convulsing, in the back seat. After about fifteen minutes, they reached the Atara checkpoint north of Ramallah, one of the toughest and cruellest in the West Bank, especially of late. At this hour there were no other cars waiting.
The driver stopped at the stop sign in front of the checkpoint, as required. After about a minute, a soldier emerged and approached them. In the back seat, Khaled’s condition was worsening. His breath was getting shorter and his shaking was getting stronger.

“Where are you going?” the soldier asked. The driver replied in his meagre Hebrew, “To the hospital in Ramallah.” The soldier asked for the ID cards of all the passengers. Daoud appealed to him, “Before the ID’s, listen to me. We have a very sick baby in the car and I want to get him to the hospital on time, before it’s too late.”

The soldier heard him, says Daoud, but didn’t show any signs of interest. He didn’t even bother to glance in the back seat, to see their convulsing baby. “He didn’t care. He wasn’t deaf. He heard, but he didn’t even ask, ‘Where’s the baby?'”

The Fakihs had passed this checkpoint several times en route to the hospital with their baby, and the soldiers had always let them through quickly as soon as they saw the sick infant. Not this time. This soldier insisted on collecting each person’s ID card in turn. “I didn’t have a choice so I handed him the ID cards,” Daoud says. The soldier took the ID cards and walked away from the car, toward the checkpoint. Khaled’s condition continued to worsen.

Usually, Daoud says, the ID check takes just a minute or two, especially when the checkpoint is totally deserted, as it was that night. But not this time. After a wait of about five desperate minutes, Daoud called out to the soldier: “Soldier, soldier, excuse me, but I want to get to the hospital. My baby is in serious condition.” “What are you yelling about?,” the young soldier scolded Daoud, “Don’t yell.” Daoud was upset. “Look at the baby, he’s going to die! Afterwards you do whatever you want.” The soldier turned away without saying anything.

Sana became hysterical. With Khaled in her arms, she began crying and shouting: “My baby… My baby is going to die!” Daoud was desperate. “At that moment, I wanted to get out of the car, but I couldn’t. They could shoot me, beat me, or delay me even longer. I chose to wait in the car. Waiting was better than getting out.”

More long, fateful minutes that felt like an eternity passed. It was almost 1:00 A.M. Finally, the soldier came back. “Open the car,” he instructed. The soldier checked the car, going through package after package, the one with the diapers and the one with the medicines and the milk, and so on. Daoud shouted: “I don’t have time. Don’t make my baby die here. He’s dying.” Sana’s crying kept getting louder, the baby gasped harder for breath.

Sana grabbed the soldier by the arm. “Look at the baby,” she pleaded. The startled soldier turned his weapon toward her. Then he relaxed and shined his flashlight on the baby’s face. “What happened to the baby?,” he asked. Daoud told him the baby was dying. “I’ll go and bring you the ID cards,” the soldier said, but not before pausing to check the trunk and to inspect the spare tire and whatever was under it – all by the book, the book of the occupation.

But then the most terrible thing of all happened: Khaled suddenly stopped shaking. His tiny hands dropped to his sides and his breathing became slow and heavy. “Our baby is dead!,” wailed Sana, while Daoud tried to reassure her: “No he’s not, just be patient and strong, now we’re on our way.”

The soldier brought back the ID cards. “Drive to the hospital quickly,” he told them. Sana said there was no point now in going to the hospital. Next to Bir Zeit, they stopped the car to check on the baby’s condition. Khaled was no longer breathing. Daoud told Sana that there was no point in continuing. “Our baby is dead.” But Sana insisted that they continue on to the hospital, maybe the doctors could revive Khaled.

At 1:20 A.M. they arrived at the emergency room. The doctors examined Khaled, put him into an oxygen tent but then had to pronounce him dead. “There’s nothing we can do for him now,” they told the parents.

On the way home, having left their dead baby at the hospital, they passed through the Atara checkpoint again. “Where’s the baby?,” the soldier asked. “My baby died,” Daoud answered him. “Died? Why?,” asked the soldier. “He died, because I waited here at the checkpoint,” Daoud said. “No, it’s from Allah,” the soldier replied.

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