Revenge for the death of a baby girl


By Matthew McAllester, SPECIAL TO THE STAR

The Toronto Star, August 17, 2005


KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip The settlers of Neve Dekalim cried yesterday because they are leaving their homes, and the Israeli soldiers evicting them cried because they are forcing their fellow Jews from their homes.

Palestinian Suzanne Hejjo cried yesterday because the soldiers protecting Neve Dekalim's settlers fired a tank shell on May 7, 2001, that ripped into her 100-day-old daughter, killing her in her mother's arms.

The dramatic exodus of settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank as it unfolds may briefly obscure almost five years of violence that preceded the withdrawal, much of it around the perimeters of settlements. Many died - most Palestinian.

Few deaths in the uprising caused as much anguish and anger around the world as the death of Hejjo's 3-month-old Iman. She was then the youngest victim of the violence.

Palestinians felt Iman's killing meant they were all now fair game to Israel's army. Israelis shuddered with fury at the way Palestinians were saying Israeli soldiers had killed a baby intentionally, and they were sickened when Palestinian suicide bombers said they were killing Israeli civilians in Iman's name. Iman - in the world such a short time - had become a powerful political tool as much as a tragic figure.

In her own way, Suzanne Hejjo mirrors the complex emotions that erupted around the world after her child was killed.

Asked yesterday if she believed her daughter had died for the Palestinian cause and somehow contributed to the withdrawal of the settlers from Gaza, Hejjo was dismissive.

"My daughter had nothing to do with the occupation," said Hejjo, 23. "If her death had had something to do with the occupation, everyone would throw their babies into the fight. She was only a little child who died."

But this mother's rage also has a political side. "After the death of my daughter, a series of suicide bombs happened in the name of my daughter," she said in the interview at her home in Khan Younis. "I approved of it."

She said she did not want civilians to die but, when the bombings happened, she "felt better."

This exodus of Neve Dekalim's settlers, who lived 320 metres from her - and the army that protected them and killed her baby - will not satisfy her.

"I still don't feel full revenge has been taken. They are leaving now just to protect themselves. We want them to leave all the territory occupied in 1967 and 1948."

Hejjo recalled the death of her first-born.

"We were lying on the ground," she said yesterday, of the moments after the third tank shell hit her parents' house, where she had been visiting overnight.

"I didn't recognize my daughter because her intestines were out of her body. She looked like a toy. I looked at her face and then I knew she was my daughter."

Hejjo was wounded too seriously to attend the funeral. Months later, she said yesterday her police officer husband Mohammed joined the hardline militant group Islamic Jihad. He wanted revenge. A year ago, he was arrested transporting guns for Islamic Jihad and is serving 4 years in an Israeli jail.

His wife says she will not celebrate when the settlers and soldiers have gone but will when her husband is released. Then she hopes the struggle will continue and her daughter will be avenged.


GRAPHIC: Viorel Florescu NEWSDAY Gaza's Suzanne Hejjo, with son Ayman, 2, recalls yesterday how a shell from an Israeli tank killed her daughter Iman, below, in 2001.

Copyright 2005 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd