My name is Achlas Ashtaya and I live in the village of Salem in the Nablus District
Mhamad Al Baw - "In the Name of Allah"
God made human beings unique by bestowing on them intelligence and the power of thought and giving them life with all its beauty so they can live positively and with hope. But we, human beings went against God’s will and created wars, which made life ugly.
I do not know which words to start with and how I, a simple human being like everyone else, can describe my tribulations. I began to sense life but without understanding what was going on. As a child I dreamt of a happy and joyful childhood but sadly in my childhood I only saw children my age being killed and mothers shouting, crying and saying, ‘stop this killing and deprivation!’ I never understood why my nation is suffering. As a boy I met many soldiers who fired at children every day. Why? I don’t know! I always asked: ‘Who are they? Why are they treating us like this? Are they human beings like us?’ And many more questions.
My story begins when I was 12 years old. One morning I was on my way to school with my brother Firas, who was a year younger than me. Firas and I were never apart. On the way we heard gunshots and I said to Firas: “Come, let’s get closer and we’ll see what’s going on.”
We drew closer and saw children throwing stones and soldiers shooting in all directions and suddenly I heard a shot very close to me and I fainted immediately…
When I opened my eyes I saw that I was in hospital and around me stood my father, my mother and Firas. I asked Firas what had happened and what was I doing in hospital. He told me that I had been injured in the stomach by two rubber bullets but that now I was fine. I kept asking: Why me? How was I guilty? What had I done? But from that moment I understood the significance of living under the shadowing occupation and in insecurity.
After this event I tried to carry on with my life normally. I finished high school and was accepted for Academic studies. Firas was accepted to the University in Hebron where he studied Business Administration. We had many dreams we hoped to realize. We strove for a better life like all young people, and like everyone, we aimed for a life better than the reality we were living, a safer and freer life. Firas and I never ever parted and everywhere we went, we went together. He was my brother, my friend, and my whole life.
When I completed my studies I started working in my profession; printing and graphics. I found work in Jerusalem with an Israeli employer. Until then, I could not speak Hebrew, but a year later I spoke freely and met many Israeli friends with whom I had very interesting discussions on many subjects, except politics, because that did not interest us. All we wanted was just to live and nothing beyond that. I remember this as a quiet and good period for Firas and me.
Then dawned the day I will never ever forget, 23.02.2002. On this date my life changed.
We were celebrating Eid–al–Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, and a holy day for Moslems. The whole family was at home when Firas told me he was going to visit his friends. I warned him that the security situation was not particularly good, but he calmed me and said that it is a holiday and nothing will happen, everything is quiet.
Firas went to his friends and since I was tired I went to sleep at 8 o’clock in the evening. Next morning, a morning I wish had never come, my younger brother woke me crying and shouting that people are saying that Firas has been killed. I thought I was dreaming and went back to sleep, but he woke me again and when I opened my eyes I saw that Firas’ bed was empty and he was not beside me. I got up quickly and when I saw my father I asked him, but he could not utter a word except for my brother’s name…Firas. I looked around and saw many people, I ran outside like a madman. I was actually mad at that moment. Friends of mine held me. I knew Firas was in the hospital so we hurried there and I reached the room he was in.
I don’t know how to describe it. In front of me I saw Firas after the bullets changed his good looks and could not believe my eyes; Firas the angel, Firas the living, Firas the friend and Firas the brother, was now with more than 27 bullets, in every part of his body. Instead of eyes there were two holes in which lay bullets. This picture will be etched in my memory for my entire life. I fainted and when I woke I wished that everything was a bad dream, but I knew that it was my reality now, a bitter reality without Firas.
I knew that all my happiness, ambitions and dreams and even my life had ended. My entire life ended with his death and for me nothing was left except suffering. Half of my body was left with Firas and will never return.
What did Firas do? What was he guilty of?
We knew from military sources that he was killed 13 meters from an Israeli Army checkpoint, that he had no weapon, his only fault was that he was a Palestinian. Firas died and with him all his dreams. He was in his last year of Academic studies, he had hoped for self–fulfillment but he died and will not return.
As for me, I sat quietly pondering. I left my job, left my friends, and having left everything I sat alone, thinking things over on my own as to what to do. How could I calm the storm raging in me? I wanted to kill all the Israelis around me to avenge my brother’s death. I planned many things but after some time I reached an intersection of two paths; the path of revenge –– a very easy way, but on whom would I take my revenge? The Israeli nation? The Israeli nation did not kill my brother! And if I kill them, will that bring my brother back? Will it return my smile that I had lost forever? Of course not. The Israeli soldier killed my brother. The entire Israeli nation did not. In short, the occupation is the reason for the suffering of both nations and the correct path is to do something for Firas and for my nation, an act that will lead my nation along a more secure path. I thought a lot about what to do. I knew that my nation needs to live without being occupied and I know that the way to peace is very difficult, but I must go along that path. Should I go on my own? What influence will I have?
After a period of time I heard about the Forum of Israeli–Palestinian bereaved families. The name aroused my curiosity but at the same time I did not believe in the Israeli nation as a partner for peace. Over time I understood that there are many Israelis who are working for Peace and I joined the Forum. I work today on directing myself on the path of Peace, security and an independent Palestinian State. I am working to make my voice heard by all nations and especially the Jewish nation saying that all we want is to live. We are two nations whom God intended to live on this land. We are obliged to live together. I pray to God to give me the energy to continue. If I wished to speak about the distress of my people I could fill millions of pages but truthfully in order to know the Palestinian nation it is enough to know that all of us, all the people in the entire world are human beings.