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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

13 February 2001
Subject: The death of Hilmi revisited


Over four years ago, in November 1996, a Palestinian boy named Hilmi was killed. He was ten years old at the time, and he was killed because he and a couple friends were out on the road throwing stones at a car that drove by. It was Hilmi’s bad fortune that the car they chose to stone was driven by a settler named Nahum Korman, who decided to show these Palestinians that they couldn’t get away with throwing stones at him. He chased the boys up the hillside and finally caught up with Hilmi, the slowest. Using the butt of his gun and well-aimed kicks, Korman beat the boy into unconsciousness and then death.

I remember the condolence call to the home of Hilmi’s family, together with a group of Israeli peace activists. After sipping the traditional bitter coffee outdoors, the women were led indoors and upstairs to a room where a large photo of Hilmi had been hung on the wall. The photo showed a boy of slight build, small brown eyes staring out, not comprehending the sudden turn of events or the room full of women milling around awaiting his mother’s appearance. She entered the room also looking bewildered, with red eyes and a very used tissue in her fist. She said nothing, knowing no Hebrew. We all stood there for a long moment, knowing no Arabic, wondering how to express ourselves to her. Suddenly, one of the women approached her, took her hand, and kissed her on both cheeks. Then each woman walked over to her, some embraced her, some kissed her, some grasped her hands and stared intently into her eyes.

Afterwards, we sat down on the plastic stools in the room and listened to her as she spoke in Arabic describing the terrible tragedy. A family member interpreted for us. As she spoke, a young girl, a toddler, perhaps three years old then, would not leave her side or her lap. This is the sick child, explained the cousin – the one who needs the bone marrow transplant – and Hilmi was the only match that was found. Oh my god, we gasped. Never mind, said the cousin in that way that “never mind” is used to understate enormous woe in the Middle East. The doctors can still use the bone marrow from Hilmi’s body. “Thank god” seemed wanting.

Today, four years after this brutal killing, the protracted court proceedings of Nahum Korman finally came to an end. It took years not because the case was so complex, but because the court found Korman not guilty, for insufficient evidence. Not that Korman denied kicking and striking the boy with his gun, but that the judge felt that the coroner had not proved beyond a doubt that Hilmi had died from the blows, and not from a prior, unknown condition. This shocked the legal community sufficiently so that the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ultimately did find Korman guilty. The problem is, the Supreme Court returned the case to the lower court for sentencing. Same courtroom, same judge – Ruth Orr. And suddenly a plea bargain was struck (why was a plea bargain necessary at all?) and the sentence agreed upon was six months of community service and $17,000 in “damages” to be paid to Hilmi’s parents. Six months and $17,000. Is this the price of a Palestinian boy’s life?

A group of us – organized by Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, the Committee Against Torture, and Defence for Children International (Israel chapter) – protested outside the court today, holding signs that decried the discrimination of the system. Some of us entered the courtroom to hear the final stage of this sentence – where the “community service” would be done. As the judge ended the hearing, two of our group unfurled pictures of Hilmi and held them up for Korman to see. He didn’t look, and the police quickly confiscated the pictures. I shouted “How does it feel to kill a child?” to Korman, but he didn’t look at me either. And then I shouted “Great judging, your honor” to the judge, and was ushered out.

The Israeli court system has an abysmal record on prosecuting Israeli settlers who harm Palestinians in the territories. To quote a B’Tselem report about this very subject, “The [Israeli] authorities have adopted an undeclared policy of absolution, compromise, and mitigation for Israeli civilians who harm Palestinians.” Recent settler violence, unpunished, is a violent reminder that this is true.

Tonight, the man who killed Hilmi is sleeping soundly in his own home. Hilmi’s parents are not sleeping as well. And should Judge Orr have a fitful night of sleep herself, I encourage her to open her bible to Exodus 16:19-20 and ponder the words “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality... Justice, and only justice, shall you pursue.” And these words end “that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you.” That connection is worth thinking about.

Bilal Ramadan, a 14-year-old from Gaza, was killed at 11 am this morning with a bullet to the heart.

Gila Svirsky

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

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© 2001 Gila Svirsky.

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