Life and Hope Flow From Palestinian Boy's Death

A relative mourns at Ahmed Khatib's funeral in the West Bank town of Jenin. Next to him, a boy plays with a toy gun.
A relative mourns at Ahmed Khatib's funeral in the West Bank town of Jenin. Next to him, a boy plays with a toy gun. (By Emilio Morenatti -- Associated Press)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 12, 2005

JENIN, West Bank -- A photo of a slightly smiling Ahmed Khatib has joined the martyr posters on the walls of the refugee camp here. But the 12-year-old boy is shown cradling a guitar instead of the assault rifles brandished in the grim tributes around him. A large red question mark appears at the bottom.

"Why the Palestinian children are killed?" it asks in stilted English.

Ismail Khatib and his wife, Abla, have offered a response that has drawn praise from Israeli leaders and challenged Palestinians in this cramped refugee camp, a focal point of Israeli-Palestinian violence for years.

Ahmed, the couple's son, was shot twice last week by Israeli soldiers in what the military said was a mistake made during the heat of street fighting near their house. The boy had been holding a toy gun. He died two days later in an Israeli hospital, and the Khatibs made the surprising choice of allowing his organs to be harvested for transplant to Israelis.

Six people, including five Israeli Jews, have received the boy's heart, lungs, liver and kidneys since then. The recipients range from a 58-year-old woman to a 7-month-old girl, who died two days ago after failing to recover from surgery that gave her half of Ahmed's liver. The rest are recovering.

"My son has died, God rest his soul," Abla, 34, said Wednesday in the family's small living room, filled throughout the morning with women paying quiet condolences. "Maybe he can give life to others."

The donation, which the mechanic and his wife have described as a peace overture that others should emulate, has at least momentarily transformed a persistent conflict between two peoples into a shared drama of ordinary people looking beyond a war that Israeli human rights groups say has killed 672 Palestinian and 118 Israeli minors in the last five years.

Israel's finance minister, Ehud Olmert, called quickly to apologize for Ahmed's death and to thank the family for its decision. Members of the Israeli parliament, particularly the Arab bloc, have praised the gesture. Ismail Khatib was summoned Wednesday to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who he said told him, "What you have done serves our cause." Even the guerrillas here say the family's sacrifice has proved more potent than their armed operations.

"This kind of action is a form of resistance," said Zakaria Zbeida, leader of the ruling Fatah movement's armed wing in the Jenin refugee camp. "Five members of the Israeli community are now carrying part of a Palestinian. I don't think someone with a Palestinian organ will now kill a Palestinian. Not to mention, these families now have a family in Jenin."

The Israelis who received Ahmed's organs are still recovering in intensive-care units in Israeli hospitals, including an 8-year-old boy whose ultra-Orthodox parents say they intend to visit the Khatibs here as soon as possible. Fewer than half of families in Israel agree to organ donations, many because of religious convictions. More than 500 people are waiting for kidneys.

But Riyad Ghadban is watching his 12-year-old daughter, Samah, gradually recover with Ahmed's heart beating inside her frail chest.

"It's like she has changed her whole body," Ghadban, 55, said from his daughter's bedside at the Schneider Children's Medical Center in the Israeli city of Petah Tiqwa. "She is feeling very nice, smiling and beautiful."

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