Thursday, February 1, 2007

Tamir Khdeer

I never touched a dead body before. Joe kept rubber gloves in one of the many pockets of his vest. Latex on my hands Stephan took the legs I took the arms. We lifted Tamir’s corpse and laid it on the military green stretcher as Jihan approached. A Kalashnikov clip lay still packed with ammo, a black crescent heavy on sand. She stuffed that clip in the back pocket of her jeans then insisted on helping to carry the stretcher.

The wound in Tamir’s gut gaped, a dry canyon, crusty and yellow-green. His arm, flung above his head as he died, had stiffened. The elbow joint popped audibly when I lifted him. His shirt torn open, baring stomach. . . below his knees fabric ripped and bullet gashes in skin and muscle. Nobody wears short pants in this country, not even the dead, not even in summer. Tamir is long gone, leaving a peaceful boy’s face and a heavy meat shadow on the stretcher.

The absence of short pants is not as foreign as the surging wave of Palestinian men who surround us as we approach the offices on the Gaza side of the Rafah-Egypt border crossing. Less than one hour earlier, Israeli soldiers shot over our heads and at the ground within on meter of our feet. Jenny was hit in the leg, by shrapnel she said. It left a deep purple bruise. Then they came with a tank and a bulldozer and destroyed an acre of young olive trees. It is so sudden, this destruction: years of some farmer’s work gone in minutes. Now a hundred men and boys rush into the open and take the stretcher. Aren’t they afraid of being shot?

We were called here because the Israeli army shot at ambulances which tried to retrieve Tamir’s body. There was a joke that we are the “International Rescue Team” and that we should wear superhero outfits. It’s a sarcastic joke: although everyone secretly wants to be a superhero, no one is comfortable with being the only bulletproof people in town. Turns out we aren’t bulletproof or bulldozerproof after all—only bullet resistant. Tom Herndall shot in the head, comatose, Rachel killed. No such thing as bulletproof people, only people who, like the Internationals, walk into the teeth of their fear to do what is needed, and people who, like the Palestinians, live with fear and bullets until suddenly they lose the fear of bullets and rush into an open field to honor the dead.

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