Abdel Nasser Halawa, a deaf man with mental disabilities, died of his wounds four months after being shot at a checkpoint. His brother accuses a Jerusalem hospital of releasing him despite his dire condition
Abdel Nasser Halawa, after he was hospitalized at Shaare Zedek in August. “After 45 days he was like a corpse,” his brother Anwar says now. Credit: Alex Levac
Standing at the Qalandiyah checkpoint this week, a few steps from where his brother was shot five months ago, Anwar Halawa asked himself which of the security guards did the shooting. And if you did recognize him, we asked. “He has a government to deal with him, not me,” he said. “If the government doesn’t deal with him, maybe he’ll shoot another disabled person? Maybe he’ll kill a Jew? So who loses if he stays on?”
Abdel Nasser Halawa was shot on August 17 and died on December 11 at home in the West Bank city of Nablus, after Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem – where he had been hospitalized for about 100 days – refused to keep him on any longer. He died about two weeks after being discharged. He was deaf and couldn’t hear the guards’ orders. They shot him. What was he doing at the checkpoint? We will never know. His brother thinks that a trip they had taken to the Dead Sea a week earlier fired his imagination – maybe he wanted to go back there.
The guards shot him in the leg.
For a week Abdel Nasser was totally alone in Shaare Zedek, no one having bothered to inform his family of his hospitalization. His brother Anwar, who had looked after him for years, was utterly distraught when he disappeared. Only after three days did he see a photograph of his brother as he lay on the ground at the Qalandiyah checkpoint. He recognized him by his clothes. A few days later, we brought Anwar to the hospital to see his brother – a week after Abdel Nasser was shot – after he had waited for two days to get an entry permit to Israel, with the aid of the organization Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights .
Abdel Nasser Halawa, 55, was hospitalized in room No. 7142 of the orthopedic ward. During the first 45 days of his hospitalization, his brother never left his bedside. Afterward, too, he was there most days. Only one of the injured man’s three children, 14-year-old Abdel Rahman, managed to visit him. His other two children, Rauhi, 17, and Mohammed, 16, weren’t allowed in. In cases involving Palestinian patients, Israel allows only one relative to come to the hospital; Abdel Rahman was let in without an entry permit because of his young age.
Abdel Nasser was in relatively good condition when we visited him, a week after he was shot. He was getting good treatment at the hospital. His injured leg was in an iron brace with screws when we visited; he was not allowed to step on it but he waved a smiling greeting to us and even answered a few basic questions with hand gestures. A video clip shot a week before he was wounded shows him walking in the street with his son, a big smile on his lips, as he explains with hand movements that they are going to eat.
Anwar Halawa at the Qalandiyah checkpoint where his brother was shot, this week. “Why did they send him away from the hospital? They didn’t want him to die there.” Credit: Alex Levac
Anwar, who is in his mid-40s, related this week that his brother’s deterioration began about 25 days after he was wounded. “His mind stopped working. He didn’t recognize his son and he didn’t recognize his brother. In a bad way. He wasn’t here anymore. He didn’t respond to anything. No head, no mind, no body. He was just done for. I thought he had a blood blockage in the brain.”
On one occasion, Anwar brought Abdel Rahman, his brother’s youngest son, with him to the hospital in part to check his reaction. But the father no longer recognized his son. Until then Anwar had thought that Abdel Nasser might be angry at him and for that reason wasn’t acknowledging him. But after the boy’s visit, on the 35th day of hospitalization, Anwar felt that he was losing his brother. After 45 days, Anwar started to go home on weekends and to visit his brother only a few days a week. On all the many days that he did stay with his brother at Shaare Zedek, he slept on an armchair next to the bed. Abdel Nasser had been divorced for two years, and his former wife, who in the meantime had remarried and been widowed, had cut off all ties with him.
After three months of hospitalization, Anwar tells us, pressure began from the medical center to discharge his brother. “I told the doctors: This man is going to die. But they said there was nothing more they could do for him, they had done all they could.”
Abdel Nasser, who was named after Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, was born deaf and with mental disabilities. Three of his other siblings were also deaf; one was named Castro, after the Cuban leader. Castro died long ago, Samiya, a deaf sister, also died – and now Abdel Nasser has died, too. Of the four deaf siblings, only Andleeb, 50, is still alive, and Anwar looks after her, too. Two of Abdel Nasser’s children were in his custody, and now they are fatherless. Anwar, who owns a body work and paint garage in the village of Mas’ha, southwest of Nablus, is now looking after them, too – in his wallet are envelopes with pocket money for each of them.
“After 45 days he was like a corpse. I wanted someone [a journalist] to come and see him. He was a person who was on the way into the ground,” Anwar says. After 100 days he was told to come urgently, with a walker, in order to take his brother out of the hospital. “How will I come to take him? And where will I take him to?” he asked the person from the hospital who called him. “He will die if he leaves,” Anwar added, to no avail. The physicians insisted that he come immediately. The hospital arranged for an ambulance to take his brother to the Qalandiyah checkpoint, to which a private ambulance was summoned to pick him up. Abdel Nasser was no longer able to stand up and he was incontinent.
Abdel Nasser Halawa with Dr. Mahmud Mahamid in Shaare Zedek in August.Credit: Alex Levac
Anwar says he was told by Shaare Zedek that they had coordinated with two Palestinian hospitals that were ready to admit his brother. “They lied to me,” he says now. The Palestinian ambulance driver who met them had no idea where he was supposed to take the wounded man. At first they went to the Abu Raya Rehabilitation Center in Ramallah, which was one of the two hospitals to which Shaare Zedek had referred Anwar. No one there knew the first thing about it; the hospital refused to admit him. “Take him somewhere else, or take him back to Shaare Zedek,” he was told at Abu Raya. But Shaare Zedek was no longer an option: He could not get another entry permit to Israel at that point. They proceeded to Rafadiya Hospital in Nablus, the second institution with which Shaare Zedek said they had made arrangements. They waited there for three hours until the staff said “take him back where he was before. No one spoke to us about him.”
Having no other choice, Anwar took his mortally ill brother back to his home, carrying him on a stretcher with the help of his nephews. Anwar lives in the same building as his brother and his children. In the days that followed he and the children looked after Abdel Nasser. Anwar visited every day, before going to work and after coming home. By this time Abdel Nasser did not get out of bed and did not recognize anyone. He was apparently suffering from a stomach infection and his arm had become limp, Anwar says. His leg was still in the orthopedic brace.
“I understood that he was starting to die,” Anwar says. “Why did they send him away from the hospital? They didn’t want him to die there, and the security company whose guard shot him also didn’t want him to die in the hospital. They used to phone the hospital a lot.”
On the morning of Friday, December 11, Anwar went in to check on his brother, as he did every morning. Although at first he thought he was asleep, he very quickly realized his brother was dead. He called an ambulance, which took Abdel Nasser to Al-Watani Hospital in Nablus, where he was formally pronounced dead.
A postmortem was performed in another Nablus hospital. The three physicians – Dr. Hiba Zaghloul, Dr. Said Shavita and Dr. Abdel Jabbar Salim – wrote, in their report in Arabic: “We attribute the direct cause of death to the sharp decline in cardiac functioning as a result of a pulmonary embolism in the major bifurcations of the pulmonary artery, which was caused by the breaking up of blood clots that had accumulated in the veins of the lower right limb, as a result of a bullet [fired by] the Israeli army.”
According to the report, then, Abdel Nasser died as a result of being shot in the leg by the security guard. Anwar is convinced that the deterioration in his condition stemmed from the wound and that it was wrong to discharge him in his condition.
The Qalandiyah checkpoint during an unrelated incident.Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN / REUTERS
Shaare Zedek Medical Center spokesperson Yossi Gottesman stated to Haaretz this week: “Shaare Zedek is no way connected to the patient’s death or to any deterioration that occurred in his condition, as his wound was an orthopedic injury that is not life-threatening, and he was discharged more than a month ago in good condition. The patient was hospitalized for a lengthy period in the wake of his injury. Beyond the extensive and successful medical treatment he received, the hospital assisted him and his family throughout the hospitalization, after various other organizations declined to treat or assist him. Even though he could have been discharged long beforehand, Shaare Zedek undertook to continue to hospitalize him until an alternative was found in his area of residence in the territories. The patient was also supposed to return for follow-up and continued treatment of his leg. We regret the allegations, particularly in light of the extensive and lengthy treatment he received at Shaare Zedek.”
Asked about the autopsy report, Gottesman replied, “I am not a physician and am not qualified to say. He received full and comprehensive treatment here, above and beyond, and was discharged in good condition. If something happened after two weeks, we are unable to respond or comment, besides which he did not come in for follow-up.”
After his brother’s death, Anwar removed the Ilizarov frame – the ring-like orthopedic brace that was attached to his brother’s leg – and went once more to Shaare Zedek to return it to the head of the department, Prof. Amos Peyzer, and asked him for written confirmation that he had returned the device. All he wants now is for someone to take care of his brother’s three orphan children.
“I have no problem with Jews, I have a lot of Israeli friends,” Anwar tells us. “All I want is for my brother’s children to get their rights. Is there a problem with that? Am I asking for something big? These are children without a father to look after them. I can’t put them on my neck. I want justice for these children. For them to live properly. Their father used to take care of them. He wasn’t smart, but he looked after them. He took home 4,500 shekels [currently $1,375] a month for working in a carpentry shop.”
The Qalandiyah checkpoint continued this week to be the ugliest place in the Israeli occupation. Massive traffic congestion, garbage rolling around, pervasive neglect, peddlers and beggars, scenes like India, and overseeing it all are the armed private security guards who walk around like lords with rifles drawn. One of them shot Abdel Nasser Halawa, deaf and disabled, to death because, as the police said later, he didn’t hear their calls to stop.