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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)

A bus driver for nearly three decades, Ghadban is an Arab Druze from the northern Israeli village of Pekiin. For the past four years, his daughter's genetic heart defect prevented her from attending school or playing outside. Tutors and friends visited her in her room. Ghadban received the call Saturday evening that a heart was waiting.

"About my daughter I feel wonderful, but about this boy I feel very sad," said Ghadban, who is trying to secure permission from Israeli authorities for the Khatibs to leave the West Bank and visit his home. "I believe in one God in this world, and that we are all family."

Ahmed, a seventh-grader at the U.N. school in the Jenin camp, rose before his five siblings on Nov. 3. It was the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day feast celebrating the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. He dressed and left his house on a steeply sloping alley to pray at a nearby mosque and make the customary feast-day visit to the Martyrs' Cemetery. He would be buried there three days later.

According to his family and friends, Ahmed returned home and helped his mother prepare tea for the family. Then he changed into new clothes he received for the feast, crowing that "he looked like a groom." His cousin Tamer arrived, and the two boys disappeared out the door.

To the youths of Ahmed's neighborhood, the gunmen staring from the posters or swaggering around the streets were heroes. Ahmed collected the martyrs' posters, bringing them home only to have his mother tear them up. He threw rocks at army Jeeps. A few days before he died, he left a drawing of a heart on Zbeida's doorstep, said the guerrilla leader, who helped shoulder his coffin to the grave.

"Yes, he liked to do these things," Abla said. "Whatever the older guys did, he liked to do as well."

Not long after he left to play that day, several dozen boys arrived at the Khatib home, bustling with people gathering for the feast. They told Abla that Ahmed had been hurt by Israeli soldiers a few blocks away. The family rushed to the hospital to find Ahmed had been shot once in the head and once in the pelvis.

His mother said she knew there was no hope for him. "I saw his clothes full of blood," she said.

The boy was taken to an Israeli hospital in Haifa. But doctors there were unable to detect any brain function, and it was only a matter of time before he succumbed. In the meantime, Ismail asked his wife if she would "mind someone touching her son" to allow his organs to be harvested. Moved by the children suffering in the same hospital ward, Abla agreed to the donation after Ismail called the mufti of Jenin and the Muslim cleric gave his blessing.

"I don't have much to offer," Abla said. "This is what I had."

Ismail's motives were personal. As a boy, he watched his brother, Shawqat, die after a 15-year battle with kidney disease. That was 22 years ago.

"The moment the doctor told me my son was dead, I saw my brother in the flesh of my son," said Ismail, 39, a tall, wan man with charcoal circles under his eyes.

Abla, her soft, round face framed by a pale-blue head scarf, also wants the choice she made about her son to stand as a political statement.

"This is a message from us to them: that we are the ones who want peace and they break their promises," she said. Later, she said, "In our nature, we do not like the Jewish people because they are the occupiers."

On the streets of the Jenin refugee camp, Ahmed's friends appear uncertain about the family's decision.

"I say it's forbidden to donate your organs to Jews," said Imad Bitawi, 13. "Tomorrow they will kill us. If it were Arabs, it would be easier."

Ahmad Tawfiq, 11, was standing three feet away when the bullets struck Ahmed that day. He said Ahmed held a toy gun shaped like an Uzi and that the boys stood among five Palestinian fighters exchanging gunfire with Israeli soldiers in Jeeps.

"The organs were given to the enemy that killed him," Tawfiq said. But he added that Jewish children deserved Ahmed's organs.

"The children, like us, have nothing to do with this," Tawfiq said.

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© 2005 The Washington Post Company