Iman Darweesh al-Hams and I were both born in 1991. But in late 2004, while I spent my days chasing basketballs and hurriedly finishing spelling tests, Iman’s bullet-riddled body fell to the ground, lifeless.
I was introduced to her a few months after her death. The Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs ran an article about her final moments and never did I cry so hard for someone I never met.
Although it’s been over five years since I shed those tears, her story still brings back those heavy emotions. The world went black the day she was murdered. This might be five years overdue but this is my tribute to Iman. This is her story.
October 5, 2004 — Carrying a small backpack, 13-year-old Iman made her way to school one early morning. Her route took her past a refugee camp in Rafah within sight of a fortified Israeli surveillance post. She took a small detour – almost as if she was looking for a change of scenery – but still continued on her way to school. She never got there.
At least 70 meters away from the surveillance post, she was spotted by soldiers.
A girl about 10, she’s behind the embankment, scared to death.
Radio from soldier in watchtower
She was identified as a child but her schoolbag prompted soldiers to fire at her. They suspected the bag held a bomb and they used that as justification to shoot her while she tried to dodge their sights.
We saw her from a distance of 70 meters. She was fired at … from the outpost. She fled and was wounded.
Testimony of a witness soldier
Iman dropped the backpack and ran for cover while blood spilled from her wounds. Her schoolbag was hit by another round of bullets, confirming that it contained no bomb of any sort. However, the commanding officer wasn’t convinced. He ordered his platoon of soldiers to storm the scene and fire more bullets towards Iman who had already collapsed at this point.
To “confirm the kill”, the commander (identified only as Captain R) stepped up to Iman’s body and fired two shots at her skull. Having completed his mission, he turned away and took a few steps before turning right back around, switching his weapon to automatic mode, and firing the rest of his clip at the 13-year-old’s body. Just yards away, soldiers under his command begged him to stop. All Captain R had to say was:
This is commander. Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over.
Captain R to the watchtower
Iman was dead, but the injustices endured by her and her family didn’t end just yet. Palestinian officials gained wind of the murder and dispatched an ambulance to the scene. Israeli soldiers delayed the ambulance for an entire hour before it was given clearance to transport Iman’s body to al-Najjar Hospital.
When it finally reached the hospital, doctors found seventeen total bullets lodged in her body. She had bled so much that her body was almost completely drained of blood. Her school uniform, funded by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, was scarlet red, torn, and virtually unrecognizable.
Captain R’s actions immediately prompted investigations. But only ten days after the crime, he was cleared of all wrongdoing. The Army released a statement:
The investigation did not find that the company or the company commander had acted unethically.
And that was that. Captain R was free to walk. Iman, on the other hand, was wrapped in a white cloth and buried. Her backpack was found and in it were school textbooks, also riddled with bullets.
I was Iman’s age when I found out about her death. Technically, we could’ve been classmates.
She wasn’t the first child to die at the hands of an Israeli soldier nor has she been the last. But her story still stings. In my humble opinion, the murder of Iman al-Hams tops the list of most gruesome, most vile, most indecent, and most inhumane moments of the Occupation. Captain R murdered her out in the open. By clearing his name, the Israeli justice system murdered her again. And if we ever forget or disregard the story of Iman’s final moments, that’ll be another murder that her family will have to endure.
Please pray for her soul and for the souls of many others who’ve passed under this illegal, inhumane, and counterproductive occupation. When will the killing stop?
Iman Darweesh al-Hams
1991 – 2004