I can remember going out the first time to throw stones out of pure anger, hatred, nationalism, all of that kind of mix — it was that evening. It got worse from there.
And it was with your brother’s tragedy that this hit painfully close to home for you. How much later was this?
It was very much around the same time. It was Ramadan; you fast from sunrise to sunset, but you wake up before sunrise to eat and drink a lot of water so you’re not dehydrated.
A group of soldiers broke in and came into my room, which I shared with my four brothers — we are seven siblings, two sisters and five brothers. They came to our room and talked to my brothers and decided eventually to arrest Tayseer, who was eighteen at the time. We didn’t know why. He was taken.
The first few days we didn’t know what was happening, or what the accusation was. On the eighteenth day, my Dad was able to visit him for the first time, and told us that he was in prison for throwing stones. Tayseer refused to admit it in the beginning, and he was beaten up so he would talk. He waited a bit too long, I guess, to do it. He was sentenced to one year in prison, but he got out a little earlier.
I got to visit him once. It was a full-day activity. It’s organised by the Red Cross, you have buses, loads of people going, you stand in line for half a day. There are two fences. On one side are the visitors; on the other side… He was on the other side. You have ten minutes to yell at each other with about one foot between you and the person. You have ten minutes. That’s the only time I saw him while he was in the prison.
And then what happened when he was released?
When he was released he was already throwing up blood. He was in a lot of pain. We took him to a hospital right away, where he went through tests and stuff and they figured out that he had liver failure, and a lot of other health complications. He needed surgery to save his life, so he had surgery, but it was a bit too late.
I remember the doctor came and asked my Mum if she had any more sons, and when she answered, “Yes,” he said, “It’s good, because you’re going to have one less very soon.” Which, sure enough, a few days later… My sisters were living in Egypt at the time, and so we had to call them. They made it barely in time before he passed away.
What changed in you at the moment of your brother’s death? Obviously you felt grief and intense mourning. But did you feel something change?
Oh yeah. I’m the youngest of my brothers and sisters, at least nine years younger than all of them. I’m the “oops” child. In that situation, the parents don’t really spend as much time with you. The person who’s just older than you becomes the person in charge of your life, and Tayseer was the brother just older than me. So your first day in school, for example, your parents take you to school. That’s the common thing. On my first day of school, my parents didn’t show up, it was Tayseer who took me. When I had any problems at school, fights with neighbours, with kids, with whatever, it was him that came. He was really the main person involved in my life.
When this happened, the thing that was clear to me right away was that it wasn’t a natural death. All I could remember were the soldiers who took him in. I was pretty mad, I was pretty angry. My life shifted completely at that moment, where I felt the beginning of my duty to revenge. There is no choice in that moment. It’s what you have to do.