This one man embodies it all: Here you have the whole story of Palestinian suffering and struggle encapsulated in one person's biography. If it weren't a true story, one might suspect it was some sort of propaganda. Yusef al-Mughrabi, an amputee and bereaved father, an exile who has roamed far and wide in the Arab world, a father of three terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails, is now sitting on the ruins of his home for the third, or maybe fourth, time - due to no fault of his own.
While Yusef al-Mughrabi continues to walk his personal path of torment, he still manages to smile from time to time. Both peoples deserve to live, he says - right after he has compared Israel's actions to Hitler's. The son of refugees, he was born in Hebron two years after his family's village was destroyed. When he was six, the family continued its wanderings and moved from Hebron to the Deheisheh refugee camp next to Bethlehem. When he was 18, a year after the Israeli occupation began in 1967, he lost a leg to a mine that exploded underneath him next to the Mar Elias monastery at the entrance to Bethlehem. "An Israeli mine," he is careful to point out.
Young Yusef traveled to Lebanon to seek medical care for his leg and got stuck. For the next 14 years, he lived in the Ein el-Hilwa refugee camp there. His five sons - Ahmed, Mohammed, Mahmoud, Omar and Ali - and his only daughter, Darin, were all born there. During the Lebanon War, when the Israel Defense Forces reached the camp, his home was blown up.
A few days after that, he was arrested while working as an administrator at a Red Crescent clinic in the camp. The entire clinic staff, including the doctors and medics, was arrested along with him, and transferred from Lebanon to Israel, to a detention camp in Atlit. After a few weeks, he was released and sent back to Lebanon, where he found his family living in a garage. When the PLO left Lebanon, it was time to pick up and move again. Yusef had to go to Sudan immediately. He traveled by ship from Beirut to Sudan and, after the massacre in Sabra and Chatila, the rest of his family took a plane and joined him there.
The exile in Sudan lasted seven years, during which the family lived in a tin shack in a desert camp. Yusef didn't work and they lived off a stipend from the PLO. When Yasser Arafat reconciled with Muammar Ghadafi, the family was instructed to move to Libya. This was in 1989. Again they lived in a tin shack, this time in the Libyan desert. In 1996, they returned to Deheisheh. "They said there was peace. We were glad and we returned," Yusef recalls.
But this joy was not long-lived. At first, the boys went out to demonstrations and stood on the sidelines, as did their father. After the boy Muayad Jawarish was killed on his way home from school in October 2000, shot by an Israeli sniper near Rachel's Tomb, Mahmoud - who was an eyewitness to the event - didn't eat for two days. His father says that Mahmoud couldn't stop talking about the boy, and that he was deeply affected by the killing. Two months later, in December, Mahmoud, who was in his early twenties, was killed in an IDF ambush next to Mount Gilo. Haaretz reported at the time that Mahmoud al-Mughrabi was about to set up an explosive device to attack the soldiers. His father says that he knows nothing about the circumstances in which his son was killed: "They came to me in the morning and told me that Mahmoud was killed in Beit Jala."
Mahmoud had been studying hotel management at the Talitha Kumi Lutheran School in Beit Jala. His death marked the beginning of a downward spiral for the Mughrabi family. "It affected his brothers. They weren't used to blood. They grew up in the desert and they were all very close. They lost a cherished brother. They saw his blood and his shattered skull. They grew up in a nonviolent atmosphere. I asked them not to do anything, to stay away from violence, but it didn't help."
Ahmed and Ali were arrested on May 27, 2002, a year and a half after their brother was killed, and five days after the terror attack on the Rishon Letzion pedestrian promenade. Ali was 16 then. Haaretz reported that Ahmed, then in his early twenties, had been appointed commander of the Tanzim in Bethlehem after the siege on the Church of the Nativity. Ali was accused of filming a suicide bomber before he set out for the bombing in Rishon Letzion in which two Israelis were killed.
Ali was convicted of transporting the terrorist to his destination and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus 30 years. His older brother Ahmed was accused of sending his fiancee, Iyat al-Ahras, on the suicide bombing mission in which she killed two Israelis at the Kiryat Hayovel supermarket in Jerusalem.
Haaretz reported at the time that Ahmed had used their engagement as a means to lure her into action. He is accused of responsibility for causing the deaths of 14 Israelis in various terror attacks to which he dispatched terrorists, and his trial has yet to be completed. His father thinks that the number of people whose deaths can be attributed to his son is even higher. Omar joined his two brothers in prison when he was arrested on July 1 of this year. His father has no idea why all of this has happened.
Now the only children left at home are Mohammed and Ahmed's toddler son Mahmoud, named for his dead uncle; the child has never seen his father. The whole family has been prevented from seeing the brothers since they were arrested. Omar is in the Be'er Sheva prison, Ahmed is in isolation in the same prison and Ali is incarcerated at the Hadarim facility.
The family's home was demolished by the IDF on November 1, 2002. Yusef says that Ahmed had already left the house and moved to a rented apartment in the refugee camp, at his father's request. "I told him:
You chose this way. You bear the responsibility for your actions."
Mohammed, the only son who is not in prison, was supposed to get engaged two days after the demolition; the just-completed second story of the house was supposed to be his future home. The demolition team came at night. The engagement was called off.
For Yusef, it brought back memories: "It was just like with the house in Lebanon. The same scene. Who are you hurting? The person who did the deeds is in jail, so why keep on punishing the family? They wrecked the house so the army would be satisfied. As if they have no connection with the Nazis? Only Hitler was a Nazi? Don't they know that they're on the same level as Hitler? I'm an old man. What have I done to the Israelis? Maybe my son erred and did something against the state, but why harm others? Only to increase the circle of hate. Your grandfather was killed by Hitler. Have you forgotten Hitler? Can you forget that?"
A charcoal drawing of Mahmoud, the son who was killed, hangs on the wall alongside a color picture of Ahmed, a son who is imprisoned. Little Ahmed asks his grandfather for some Bamba peanut candy. Yusef says that his son Ahmed never dreamed of becoming a fighter; he wanted to be a champion weightlifter. Six months after the house was demolished, Yusef began rebuilding with assistance from UNRWA.
Now he's left with a debt of NIS 30,000. The construction took nine months; he built the furniture, too, with his own hands. Like its predecessor, this was a large house, especially in terms of the refugee camp. Its two floors comprised 290 square meters; it was a stone house with an impressive entrance, on the edge of the desert.
About a month ago, on September 6, just before 2 A.M., an announcement blared over the loudspeaker ordering them to immediately clear the house of all its occupants. Yusef's only daughter, Darin, 25, who was home for a visit, had accidentally burned herself the night before with the gas stove and was lying hurt in bed. Now she had to crawl out on the floor. Two minutes was all the time the soldiers gave them to leave the house. Yusef asked them to at least let him take out his prosthetic leg, but he was refused. Then the soldiers entered the house and searched it for about an hour. When they came out, they generously allowed the occupants 15 minutes to go in and save what they could. Yusef asked for a little more time, telling them that he was handicapped and that there were mostly women and children living there, but got this response: "Now you have 13 minutes instead of 15.
Because you talked back. For each additional word, I'll take off two more minutes."
They took only the little things that they could carry. The furniture, the closets, the kitchen appliances - all that was destroyed. They managed to save the television and one of Yusef's two prosthetics. The reserve one was left behind. Yusef sits on the floor of the shed, holding little Mahmoud in his arms.
"They break stones and it's just stones. But the hatred - that's the big crime. You come to us, and what is there between us? What is there between our families? Your political leadership is creating hatred. In 1982, the Israeli people said that Sharon was a murderer, and a few years later you chose him to be your leader. It's your right to live. We also want to live."
The stone sign by the door, unscathed, bears an inscription from the Koran: It is God's Will. Yusef laughs: It's God's will and it's the IDF's will - and points to what's left behind the sign. Now they live in the shed in the yard, under an exposed concrete roof with iron bars protruding from it. Soon they'll upgrade their accommodations, when they finish converting the tiny sheep pen in the yard into a bedroom. Mohammed, the free son, is already working on it.