By Dr Rory Truell, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Social Workers
The 25th July started like any other day for the Abu Maria family. Hashem, 45, and his children were building a chicken coop by their house that overlooks the ancient stone laden lands of Palestine and the small village community of Beit Ummar.
Hashem, a social worker for the Defence for Children International, (an NGO headquartered in Geneva), left the family activity to do what he always did: ensure the safety of children.
On this day the people of the West Bank had organized protests against the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) bombing of the peoples of the Gaza. The people assembled at the entrance of their village, which is marked by a Israeli check point tower. The tower sits amongst the village shops and streets where horse-drawn carriages interplay with cars that are held together by the ingenuity that only people forced by poverty can master.
Hashem arrived early and called the children to remain behind him at the back of the protest. All too often children respond to the taunts of settlers or the IDF solders by throwing stones. All too often children from the age of 10 find themselves then detained sometimes for months without trial, at times subject to physical assault and trauma. Hashem knew as he left his home that keeping the children away from the soldiers spared them for tumbling into traumatized lives, where arrest also prevents them from attending school and removes their ability for future travel.
Shortly after the protest began Hashem stood at the back keeping the children calm. He wasn’t waving a flag, he wasn’t shouting, as always he remained a role model for children. Without warning a bullet hit Hashem directly in the heart from an IDF sharp shooter who had commandeered an upper floor a village house 100 meters from where Hashem stood. The distance was so close the bullet passed through Hashem’s heart hitting another person in the head. Hashem collapsed, looked to this colleague and said, ‘They have killed me’. He then died. According to the family whose house had been commandeered by the IDF, the sharpshooter then immediately left. Assassination completed.
The Abu Maria children saw their father’s death live on television and within a short time the IDF raided their house arresting the whole family. No time to take stock, no time to embrace, no time to breath. With the exception of one of Hashem’s brothers the family was later released without charge, explanation or apology. A brother still remains in custody for voicing his anger while under arrest.
Sadly I never met Hashem. His colleagues, friends and family described him as a gentle, quiet man. He was devoted to his family and community. He qualified as a social worker to protect the dignity and the future’s of children who were born under the horrific conditions of Occupation.
Last week I visited Hashem’s family with messages of intentional support and small gifts. Along with me was Guy Shennan, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers and his colleagues to express condolences on behalf of UK-based social workers. We were greeted by Hashem’s wife, children and extended family and sat by the unfinished chicken coop and garden of herbs that Hashem had planted. The children bought us tea and cakes as their mother sat still, frozen with grief while embraced by her family and Hashem’s social work colleagues.
A spokesperson for family explained that following the shooting the IDF had issued a statement in the media stating that they were pleased with the outcome and that they had achieved their objectives. Two other protesters were killed in the same village demonstration, and at least 10 sustained injuries. The family spokesperson said that in a completely unprecedented action the IDF later made a further statement, after receiving letters from social work organisations worldwide, and announced that they had shot the wrong man. But no apology was given, no investigation into the shooting announced. Still today there has been no investigation.
As we left the Abu Maira house the hens flapped and squawked and Hashem’s children picked mint from their garden as a gift to bring home to our families.
Social workers throughout the West Bank experience daily the trauma of living under occupation. They are regularly imprisoned for carrying out the same duties that social workers worldwide would be familiar with. And they remain committed to the profession’s values, treating all people with dignity and respect and always looking for peaceful solutions that grant people their basic human rights.
In honor of Hashem’s social work role of protecting and supporting children, IFSW has on International Human Rights Day, December 10th, highlighted the treatment of Palestinian children who have been arrested.
Hashem is survived by his wife Samira, his son Ayham, 11, and his two daughters, Siba, 6, and Majdal, 13.