Nothing can bring a smile to Amani's face. Not even the three new dolls - one pink, one yellow and one green - that she got as a present from her parents, who received their baby daughter as a gift when she was released from the hospital a few days ago and brought home. Amani goes around the house wearing festive clothes, also new - a red suit and shiny sandals - providing a sharp contrast to the poverty all around.Amani doesn't cry, and she doesn't laugh. Her big blue eyes are wide open and her smooth golden tresses cascade down the right side of her head; the left side is bare and bald, furrowed by three scars - a large arc of stitches on her forehead and two smaller scars below. Most of the time, Amani clings to her mother. She makes the occasional sortie into the living room, but quickly scurries back to her mother's arms, constantly enshrouded in silence. Even when her father picks her up and gives her a hug, she stretches out her arms toward her mother; she wants to go back to her.
Maybe it's because of the memory of that day, that terrible day, on which her father took her on his shoulders and the whole family walked innocently and tranquilly to the clinic in the city. Until the soldiers shot them.
Amani Gnaim is one year and nine months old. She was shot in the head by Border Policemen, at appallingly close range, it appears. If her father, who carried Amani on his shoulders on that bitter day, is to be believed, the troops fired a few rounds at his family as they walked along the side of the road. If we believe the spokeswoman for the Border Police, her organization knows nothing about any such a shocking incident of fire being opened at short range on a family. But the scars on Amani's head tell a story, and provide crushing, painful proof that is more convincing than a thousand testimonies and denials.
The turrets of Israeli tanks concealed on the ridge threaten those who use the road that ascends from Bethlehem to the village of Al Khader. Palestinians throwing stones and hurling Molotov cocktails, as well as snipers, threaten the Tunnel Road, "the settlers' highway," which runs below, in the valley. A Palestinian youngster wearing a black shirt labeled "Labor Party Youth" shows us the way to Amani's home, at the far end of a narrow alley. His friend walks on crutches. According to the data of Abd al-Ahmar, a field worker for the Palestinian Human Rights Group, 1,350 residents of Bethlehem, nearly all of them civilians, have been wounded since the start of the current Intifada; 95 of them are under the age of 18.
Amani is the youngest to be wounded so far. In the past few weeks, she has also suffered from a severe throat inflammation, probably caused by the tear gas grenades the Israeli soldiers fire here occasionally.
The photograph of a shahid - martyr - Rami Yihyeh Mussa, who was 16 when he was killed on April 17 in shelling by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), hangs at the entrance to the neighborhood grocery store. The rusting remains of an old car lie on the road leading to the house: it served as a makeshift Palestinian barrier to the IDF jeeps that hurtle through the area from the Tunnel Road in pursuit of stone-throwers. Al Khader, which lies on the outskirts of Bethlehem, is under Israeli security control, but is a hotbed of unrest and violence. The improvised roadblock of the local residents has been shunted to the side of the road; it can no longer stop the progress of any jeep.The home of the Gnaim family is on the second floor, above the village blacksmith's shop, and the way to it passes through the shop, between iron bars, soldering irons and two sooty workers. This is a house of poverty: two rooms for seven souls, the plaster on the walls peeling. The family has lived here for 17 years. Nawal the mother, Mohammed the father and their five children: Amal, 14; Yusuf, 12; Mahmoud, 10; Omar, 8; and Amani, the baby. Mohammed was a construction worker in the settlement of Beit El, but has been out of work since the Intifada erupted more than six months ago. What do they live on? "We make do." It's the same answer you get in all the poverty-stricken homes of Palestinians. Neighbor women with their children sit on the floor: they have come to congratulate Amani on her almost-healthy return home from the hospital.
On Sunday, April 8, Amani's sore throat worsened and her temperature went up. Her parents decided to take her to the clinic run by Dr. Ali in Bethlehem. They had been to see him a few times, and he has said that the little girl was suffering from the effects of the tear gas, but it was her rising temperature that worried the parents. They left the house at about 2 P.M. - Nawal, Mohammed and their two children, Mahmoud and Amani. They walked down the alley and reached the main road, which is flanked on both sides by vineyards and overlooks the Tunnel Road. It's usually dangerous here, between the flying stones and the flying bullets, but Mohammed says they thought it was quiet, as quiet as on Sunday of this week, when we walked the same road with Mohammed to reconstruct the events.
Two Border Police jeeps swooped down on them. Mohammed says they stopped a short distance from the family. There were six men in the jeeps; five emerged, and suddenly opened fire. That is what Mohammed says. Amani, whom he was carrying, began to bleed, Mahmoud and Nawal were also wounded lightly, the boy in his arm, the mother in the back. Mohammed says a few bullets whistled between his legs. They were rubber bullets, he says. His wife and son lay down on the sidewalk, he himself rushed the bleeding Amani to an ambulance that was parked below, where the Palestinian ambulances are always parked, ready for any incident that may occur - and does, in this violence-prone place.
Mohammed recalls that as he began to run with his daughter, he shouted at the Border Policemen, "Why did you do it?" - but they only smiled, perhaps in embarrassment, and sped off in their jeeps. According to Mohammed, there was no one else but them on the sidewalk at the time of the incident. "They saw that they shot a baby girl. There was no way they couldn't have seen that."
The Palestinian ambulance rushed Amani and her family to the Al-Husseini Hospital in Beit Jala, which borders on Jerusalem. That night, Amani was transferred to Al-Muqassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. A fractured skull, the doctors said. She underwent surgery. Her brother Mahmoud remained at Al-Husseini with his uncle. Amani was in intensive care for five days, and then spent another three days in the ward before being released. The doctors said it would be some time before it became clear whether permanent damage had been done. On May 5, her parents will take her for a follow-up examination. "I could identify them out of a million people," Mohammed says of those who shot his daughter. And an elderly woman neighbor interjects, "Who do you want to identify, and what for? There's plenty of them who do plenty of things."Amani came home on Saturday. Says Nawal, the mother, with unabashed pride: "People ask her who shot her and she says the army. She's a smart girl." Mohammed: "Look how they treat our children. They shoot them and they laugh. In Hebron, they destroyed a whole neighborhood, the Abu Sneina neighborhood, because of a Jewish baby girl, and they refused to bury her until they avenged her death. We are simple people, we did nothing. All we did was to take our girl to the clinic. We didn't want to hurt anyone. I don't understand how the soldiers don't go crazy after they do something like that."
Here is a photograph of Amani from before the incident: a sweet little girl in the local studio, Disney figures in the background. She's holding a sweet in her hand - it looks like she has a strong grip. Here is Amani after the incident: with her head shaved and the stitches and the scars that will heal.
The spokeswoman for the Border Police, Chief Inspector Liat Perl: "The Border Police confirms the fact that there were severe disturbances that day in Al Khader, in which dozens of locals threw firebombs and stones at Border Police forces at the site. Because of the intensity of the events, the forces had to make use of means to disperse the mob. We have no knowledge of citizens who were hurt and we are sorry if that in fact happened.