Living and Dying in The Golan Heights (Part II)

PNN – Palestine News Network –  27.06.11 – 13:11

Majdal Shams – PNN Exclusive- Victoria Delacroix- Playing games and avoiding parents is what the world revolves around at 13. Life is all about running around with friends through the narrow streets and between homes, laughing till you can’t breathe and not coming home until parents start hollering for you.

ImageAnd Majdal Shams seems like the perfect place to do all that and more. The town is nestled in between the rocky hills of the Golan and rolling cherry orchards. The winding narrow streets with the snow white stone homes and little shops in between offer so many different places to run around, to hide, to explore, and to be a child.

For Saleh Abu Arar, this is what life did look like.

“I was born here, in a very nice place. I like this place, this village so much,” Arar said.
But at 13, Arar’s life and his body was literally torn in half, by a mine, a mine that had been placed in the village by Israeli soldiers.
***

Dusk has already set in the village. There is a cool, chilly breeze that brings with it mist. The cool dew settles over the lush green cherry orchards below. A dirt road cuts through a steep hill beside the home. A few men sit in front of the house, others are inside playing card games. Once in a while there is a cheerful outburst or laughter that floats out the window.

The men outside are enjoying cigarettes and shisha after a delicious barbeque dinner. Arar sits on the bench, slowly exhaling the tobacco from the shisha pipe. He is like any other of the men sitting beside him. The only difference is that he is survived a mine explosion

“I was a child, 13 years old. It was in March 1982,” he said. “It was a sunny day, a nice day.”

Arar, like any 13 year old, was running around the picturesque village, playing and horsing around with his cousin and another friend. The children found a strange looking object. And like any child who sees something new or mysterious, curiosity and excitement of finding a potentially new toy is overwhelming.

“We were playing on the outskirts of the village. We found some sort of material. We didn’t know what it was. We aren’t soldiers, we don’t anything about the army, the war,” Arar said. “I thought it was a bottle.”

In a matter of seconds he heard a loud boom, like that of a bomb going off.
“This changed my life. Everything went dark. I could not see anything,” he said.
He would lose half his body to the mine, to the Israeli occupation.

After all most three weeks of being in a hospital, unconscious, Saleh awoke.The young boy had picked up a mine and had set it off. He would lose his right leg, his right arm, and his right eye. He would also have to deal with nerve problems on the left side of his body.

“Everbody though I was dead. I heard my family crying. I heard my mother crying too much,” Arar said. “After I heard my mother crying, I decided to continue my life.”

“I had to start another life,” he said. “Another life with one half of me.”

Arar’s first moments after this cruel and unjust tragedy were not of vengeance or retaliation, or even about who was responsible for tearing apart his life.

“At first I didn’t think about who put [the mines] there. I just thought about how to continue my life because I like my life, everybody loves life. I was born because I wanted to live. I wasn’t born to die,” he said.

The mine may have taken half of his body, but it did not take away his zest for life. Arar still wanted to play, to play football, to play anything and everything. But as time did go by, he did start questioning what had happened to him.

“Why? Why and how can this small material stop my life?” he asked. “Who put it there? For What? What mistake did I make?”

Until now, Arar hasn’t found any answers from anybody, least of all those responsible for the land mines- the Israeli government and military.

“They occupied the land- the Golan Heights, and the government put the land mines between the flowers. Flowers can grow and make life beautiful, but the mines are still underground and they can kill life,” he said.

***

ImageEven though it has been over 29 years since Arar’s childhood was stolen from him, he isn’t willing to surrender. He may have lost half his body to a land mine, but he hasn’t lost his spirit to it. He is going to university and has married. Today he has a son- Adam.

“I see him, and then I see my life in the past and I am afraid,” Arar said.

He is afraid that his son, just like him will go, go to play like any other child would want to, but he will end up suffering the same tragedy as his father did.

“May be the same accident will happen to him. What can I do?” Arar said. “I can accept this life for myself, but not for my son.”

Perhaps the most terrifying thought is not knowing what tomorrow, what the future will bring for Arar, and most importantly for Adam. His voice cracks, as he speaks of his son.

“I am so afraid. I am so afraid for the future, for my son,” he said. “I don’t want to have to tell my son, don’t go to this place. I want him to be free.”

For Arar, there can be no freedom, no justice and no democracy if there are bombs and mines planted underneath flowers and fields.

“Where is the freedom? Where is the democracy?” he asked. “Where is the life that they are talking about?”

***

There are many questions that Arar and the people of Majdal Shams have been asking for years. None have been answered. But Arar hopes that speaking out and telling his story will change something, someone’s mind.

“I have just myself. Just my body, and telling you my story- it makes me cry, it’s very painful for me,” he said. “But I want to tell my story more and more. I wish somebody can listen.”

***

“We cannot remove a child from the mine field, but we can remove the mines from a child’s home.” Arar said. “If we believe in humanity this is what we must do.”

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