Azhar Abu Srour, sits in her home in front of a picture of her slain son Abd al-Hamid Srour. (MaanImages/ Yumna Patel)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- It was an ordinary April day for the Abu Srour family in the town of Beit Jala in the southern occupied West Bank.
The warm weather was slowly starting to steady as spring turned into summer, and the family’s second of five children, 19-year-old Abd al-Hamid, was buried in his school books as he prepared for the “tawjihi,” the final high school exams.
“It was a normal day, nothing out of the ordinary,” Azhar Abu Srour, the mother of the boy commonly known as Abed, told Ma’an. “He was studying as if he was really going to take his exams. We even spoke about meeting with one of his teachers the next day.”
Azhar described her 19-year-old son as “the salt of the home,” an Arabic saying meaning that without him, the home had no flavor; the one who was always laughing, joking, and playing pranks on his family and friends; the one who was loved and adored by everyone in Aida refugee camp, where the family had previously lived for decades.
Tears began to well up in her large green eyes, but her voice remained steady. “When he left, he said he was just going to bring ice cream for his little sister Sham. To this day, if you ask Sham where Abed is, she says he’s going to bring her ice cream.”
Abed himself was left limbless and so severely burned that when his father was taken to identify him, he could recognize almost nothing about his once tall, handsome, boisterous son.
While Sham still waits for her brother to come home with ice cream 10 months later, Azhar waits for what’s left of her son’s body to come home so she can bury him.
Azhar Abu Srour shows a photo of slain son Abd al-Hamid playing with his youngest sister Sham. (MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
'If I had known...'
Azhar has speculated as to what drove her son -- a social boy constantly surrounded by friends, enamored with his three-year-old sister, and raised by a well-to-do family in a spacious home in Beit Jala unlike the family’s old residence in nearby Aida -- to commit this act.
There is no doubt in her mind that it was the death of Abed’s 21-year-old cousin Srour Ahmad Abu Srour
, who was shot in the chest and killed after getting caught in the middle of clashes on his way to class just three months prior, that had the biggest impact on her son.
Since a wave of violence erupted in October 2015, hundreds of other young Palestinians
have also been shot and killed by Israeli forces, and Abed watched gruesome videos
documenting the apparent extrajudicial executions which were widely shared amid the unrest.
“No matter how much I love my country and how much I believe in the resistance, as a mother, If I had known where he was going that day, I would never have let him go,” Azhar said, shaking her head as she held her youngest daughter Sham, whose pale cheeks flushed red in the January cold as she fell asleep.
“There is nothing too precious for our home country...but Abed, he was too precious to me,” Azhar repeated. “It would be impossible for me to let him go.”
Turning to Hamas
The Abu Srour family, according to one of Abed’s cousins, is one of the largest families in Aida refugee camp, and is as politically diverse as it is strong in number.
Ranging from the apolitical, like Abed’s father, to left-wing revolutionaries like his maternal grandfather, the Abu Srour family was open to letting their children choose their own political path.
Like many young people his age, Abed was inspired by the Hamas movement, particularly for its more consistent “resistance” efforts in comparison to other Palestinian political movements, according to his cousin, who asked to remain anonymous.
“More than anything, he was fascinated by Yahya Ayyash, always listening to his songs of resistance, reading about his operations,” said Abed’s cousin, a young man with left-leaning politics who also admitted to having been inspired in his youth by the infamous “engineer” and chief bombmaker of the Hamas military wing in the 1990s.
Abed, or “Aboud” as he was also called, didn’t necessarily align with the religious views of the Hamas party, nor was he indoctrinated into the movement from a young age by family members.
“It was his decision, a courageous and difficult one,” Azhar said of her son’s choice to work with Hamas and conduct the operation, which she guessed was inspired by Ayyash.
The bodies would instead be buried in an “enemy” graveyard, in a move speculated to be used as a token in future prisoner exchange talks with Hamas, who claims to hold the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were pronounced dead by Israel during the 2014 war in Gaza.
'We want our children back'
As Azhar spoke about her son, she received a call from the lawyer representing the families of the slain Palestinians whose bodies remain held, informing her that their latest and possibly final appeal to get the bodies back had been rejected.
Azhar Abu Srour holds her daughter Sham as she talks to a lawyer on the phone, moments after learning that Israel would not be returning the body of her son Abd al-Hamid. (MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
Azhar brushed off the phone call as another meaningless threat. She smiled as she let out a faint laugh. “They (Israeli authorities) have said this so many times. They can say it as many times as they want, it does not mean we will just give up.”
When asked how she could be so assured in her conviction to bring her son’s body home, Azhar pointed to international law, despite her awareness that the government keeping her son’s body from her had repeatedly violated such legislation.
“It is stated by international law, that the dead have the right to be buried in accordance with the traditions of their family, society, and religion, regardless of the circumstances of their death,” Azhar stressed, as her normally muted frustration became more apparent. “We are demanding something declared by international law, it’s not something that we invented or made up.”
Azhar’s unrelenting spirit has driven her to attend every meeting with the families of other slain Palestinians, to travel across the occupied West Bank for every demonstration, and to take the microphone at every protest, captivating the attention of every crowd she addresses.
“Even though they say they won’t give us back Aboud's body, we will continue the struggle, even if I have to take a Palestinian flag and picture of my son and stand alone in front of the separation wall in Bethlehem telling the people and telling the soldiers that I want my son’s body back,” Azhar said. “The families of all the martyrs are united, we just want our children back.”