Ayman: To Israel a target, to me my best friend and brother

After having four daughters, my mother finally became pregnant again. A Palestinian woman does not like to have too many daughters in a row, since she wants to have a boy. Days passed and her eagerness increased. My father was getting older and he, as all men in Middle Eastern societies, wanted to have a boy who could help him as he aged.

January 28, 1991, was a remarkable and extremely happy day: My mother finally delivered a boy, Ayman. For my mother, this was the happiest day ever. Mother used to say she didn't believe happiness could cause people to cry, but when Ayman was born, she discovered it was true. She was so happy that she used to dress him in gold, which is not usually accepted in our society.

No one was allowed to hit Ayman, so if he beat up anyone, the victim would just have to take it silently or walk away. Yet he used to be very naughty, and he continued to misbehave until he entered elementary school. Then, surprisingly, he started to be polite, causing his teachers to call him "prince" due to his kindness and good manners. He became well known for his smile; he kept smiling even in bad situations.

I still remember the day during the Second Intifada when Ayman came home horrified after being exposed directly to death. He said that while he was playing with his friends, a tank stopped in the middle of the road, killing five kids and injuring around 11. But it was Ayman's fate to hide behind a wall, so he was saved. The only crime committed by Ayman and his friends was that they crossed the road! They never meant to hurt the soldiers; they just wanted to play like other kids. 

Events like this happened frequently, not only with Ayman, but with thousands of Palestinian kids as well. That was – and is – life in Gaza. Ayman saw bloody events and heard miserable stories of killing and murder. But he could do nothing.

The making of a militant

The Intifada ended, leaving hundreds of martyrs and thousands of injured and demolished houses. We were fortunate we still survived. A few years later, in 2008, Israel launched a devastating and hideous war on Gaza, seemingly intent on killing every breathing thing. It did not differentiate warriors from civilians. The Israeli soldiers killed more than 1,300 people and injured more than 5,000, most of them civilians. Yet they claimed the war was only against Hamas.

During this terrible war, Ayman was in high school. We lived under very harsh conditions, and he saw his friends suffer and grieve. More than 340 kids, and the same number of women, were killed. Ayman was an eyewitness to it all. He couldn’t do anything; how could he, when he was only 17 years old? He was unable to concentrate enough to study, yet he continued to get very good scores.

When the war ended, the Israeli army tightened its blockade of Gaza. We could not obtain gas, water, oil or electricity. Conditions were especially harsh for our family; we suffered a lot because my father was a taxi driver and he could not find oil to fuel his car. This blockade took us backward hundreds of years; we even needed firewood to cook.

By that time, Ayman had become a member of Hamas because it gave him a way to become active in standing up for his family and his people. However, he focused on aid for needy people, making him beloved in the neighborhood. In times of misfortune, the neighbors came to Ayman, for they thought he was the only hope.

At this time, Ayman made up his mind to join the UNRWA Gaza Training Center to study for a financial management diploma. His certificate was our hope to escape our poverty. We were very happy Ayman graduated after just two years; a good job would take some of the burden off of my father’s shoulders. Finally, after one year, Ayman found a job as an accountant for the Association of Construction and Relief. It was a momentous day.

However, in 2012, Israel again invaded our land for eight terrible days. When this war was over, Ayman was not the same. Now, he wanted to join Hamas’ armed-resistance force, the Al-Qassam Brigades. He vowed he would protect his people; he swore he would defend his homeland and never allow massacres to occur again. It was not so easy though; he had to try many times before he was accepted. “I never saw one dying to join the brigades like Ayman," one of the members told me.

The end of life as we knew it

In the meantime, my father was suffering from a disease that forced him to have an open-heart operation. He could no longer work, so Ayman became our family's only support. He went to work on foot, so he could save a little money. Ayman gave all of his salary to my father, so he could take care of our family's needs. Meanwhile, my mother did her best to convince him to get married. After a while, he agreed, and mother hurried to engage him to a suitable girl. Ayman started to prepare a flat to live in.

In July 2014, Israel launched another devastating war on Gaza. From the beginning, the Israeli army struck houses of civilians. Then it demolished many vital institutions, including hospitals, schools and mosques. They tested all kinds of internationally prohibited weapons and exterminated whole families. Even dead people were not safe, as graveyards were bombed and bones were exposed. Gaza was sinking in the blood of families and children.

Ayman saw all those crimes and kept his rage inside. After many weeks, on the day Israeli tanks approached toward our town, Ayman felt he had no choice but to face the invaders. He never wanted to hurt or kill them. Instead, he told a friend he planned to kidnap an Israeli soldier who could be bartered for the release of some of our detainees in Israeli prisons. On July 19, 2014, on his way to face the intruders, an F16 fired a missile of thousands of kilograms, causing his pure soul fly to its creator. Ayman was murdered. Lots of dreams were killed in our hearts.

When I close my eyes, I see his face. How can I forget him? He was the dearest and the most faithful friend and brother. When he died it was the hardest day of my life. He had been the only one by my side, and he never left me when I was in trouble. He died and left my mother cracked in pieces. He died and left my father weeping all night long.

Ever since he passed away, my mother cries day and night, and my father trembles with sadness. Every day when I see Ayman’s friends, I feel a bitterness of loss I cannot bear.

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Mentor: Pam Bailey

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