Asel Asleh, a seventeen-year-old Palestinian Israeli, was shot to death by the Israeli police on October 2, 2000. He was one of 13 Israeli Arabs killed during demonstrations of Palestinian Israeli citizens against the Israeli government at the outset of the al-Aqsa Intifada.
None of the subsequent investigations have been conclusive in determining who shot Asel and why. However, his father and other eyewitnesses assert that Asel was led by three Israeli policemen into the village olive grove; he was beaten with rifle butts and shot in the neck at point blank range. No ambulances were allowed in the area that day. His distraught parents begged the police to let the car carrying the wounded Asel pass through at the numerous checkpoints on the way to a medical center in a nearby village and, from there, to a hospital. On arrival, almost two hours later, Asel was pronounced dead by the doctors.
A brilliant student and a computer freak, Asel shared the frustration of young Israeli Palestinians. According to his sister, Nardeen, “he could not sing the Hatikva [the Israeli national anthem]. He is a Palestinian and the anthem does not represent him. The country is far from giving us [our] rights.” He felt he was caught in the middle between both sides of the conflict. He turned those feelings into being a bridge that would connect people on both sides. So, in 1997, he joined Seeds of Peace, an American-sponsored non-profit organization, which helps teenagers from regions of conflict learn the skills of making peace. He was an active member who ended up a counselor in the summer camps in Maine. There he made many friends, including Jewish Israeli, whom he invited to visit him in his village. When he was killed, he was wearing his green Seeds of Peace T-shirt.
Asel wrote “I will make this planet a better place to live… and I will go on.” The tragedy is that, without rhyme or reason, this young man devoted to peace was prevented from going on.
Written by Asel for “Seeds of Peace” on March 30, 1998. The essay was left unedited.
30/3/1976… nothing but anger that day brings to my people’s mind.
“youm el-ard” they call it in Arabic, or “The land day.” Nothing but memories from that sad day when a group of Israeli soldiers tried to kick the local citizens out of the village. What village was that? It was my village, “Arrabah” they call it…
As this day has came like any other year, I should full-fill my duty as an Arab an[d] bring their memories to life. We should never forget, but we should forgive…
All that anger… Where did it come from. As for the years I saw, this anger came from the fathers to the fathers of those people. For some how most of us don’t know what happened that day… Like I said it became a duty. And it’s our job to be there when they bring their memories to life.
They will say they fought bravely. They protected their land, they died for a reason, but I think nothing is worth dying for. But sometimes it’s the only way to save others.
What can I say for a mother [who] lost her son, or a sister who lost a brother? I stand worthless to bring them back, but powerful enough to bring their memories back by not forgetting them.
8 months ago… I went to this camp. It was nice… Jewish people, Arabs from some countries, some Yankees too. For those 40 days I spent there, those people became my friends, not for what they are, but who they are. I didn’t see them as Israelis, or Jordanians, but as Saed, Ned, and Tim…
Now I know who are my friends. Few years from now they will become soldiers, they will go to the army to protect their families. But will they stay the same? What will happen if they become like those soldiers? And the duty will call them for what they call “protect,” what then? Will they be the same?
That’s a question that time is only one that can answer it. But until then they will be the same for me. The same people I lived for 40 days, the same people I played with, same people I shared with them my thoughts and feelings, and so they did too.
What I learnt [in camp] will only show up in here 8 months after. Today in “youm el-ard”…today I will know what seeds of peace really gave me. I will know what to do when some one will call my friends “killers” & “murderers,” no friend of mine is a killer, and I’m not a friend of one either.
Today I will be asked to choose between what they call as “protecting and remembering” and between what they call “forgiving.” I will be asked to choose. And I will, will my choice be the right thing to do, or will it be the wrong thing to do. Well… as a friend of mine once said: “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
And I will be there… and I will see you when you get there.
For the thoughts that surround me… and the feelings that guard me, I won’t forget a friend’s words, and I will remember his words, by making others remember mine… I will go on.
I will make this planet a better place to live… and I will go on.
For all the souls who only saw pain and sorrow in their eyes? For the soles [sic] who will never see a pain of another soul… I promise you I will go on.
Until we meet in the field, my friend… take care.
Uncannily — almost prophetically — Asel had written “What can I say to a mother who lost her son, or a sister who lost a brother?. I stand worthless to bring them back, but powerful enough to bring their memories back by not forgetting them.” Two years later, it was for Hasan, Asel’s father, “to bring back the memory” of Asel by composing (in Arabic) a poem eulogizing the son he lost. Below are excerpts.
The Wedding of Asel
Take me in your arms, Father
Put your hands on my head, Father
And bind the flow of my blood with the other hand
Extinguish, with your tenderness, a fire that burns my body
Here, in the vein, the bullets of their betrayal have settled
And in the side, there is hemorrhage of a burning fire
They slaughtered the spring of my life and my budding dream…
Stretch your hands to the olive trees, Father
And write the tales of oppression and dark injustice
Stretch your hands to the soil, Father
And plant in its depth my stretched root
Expel the ravens from my country
Release the sparrow and the sad nightingale
Take me to my wedding, Father, and gather the friends and the town
For my wedding and Palestine’s is today and not tomorrow…
Her dowry is my blood and the bouquets of a life renewed
Do not be sad, Father, and bless our wedding.
Mother, take me to my bride with songs and ululation
Mother, beauty of my life, where is my stallion?
Where are the friends and the sharp sword?
Where are my classmates, my teacher and the wreath’s torches?
Do not be sad, Mother, for I am upon a star
Watching your steps and the blessed soil
I will sprinkle the earth with jasmine and sweet basil…
You have fed me the milk of burning pride
So wipe the sighs, the tears and the wailing
You have sent me as a good messenger of shaded glory
From all directions to all generations.