Ramallah, October 29, 2018—Atta S., 17, describes the day he was shot with an even voice. He does not stumble on his words when he describes looking for his backpack, the clack of gunfire, not being able to feel his legs as the car barreled toward the hospital.
It had been a calm Tuesday in May of 2013, unmarred by the clashes that often erupt in the refugee camp that Atta calls home. Located on the outskirts of the central West Bank city of Ramallah, Jalazoun sits squarely against the encroaching Israeli settlement of Beit El. Fences, checkpoints, and other Israeli military infrastructure hem the camp in on its southeast side
One day earlier, on May 20, Atta, then 12 years old, was playing toss with his school bag. Instead of throwing it back, his friend threw Atta’s bag backwards. Atta went to get it but saw that his bag had fallen into an area manned by soldiers. The soldiers waved him off, telling Atta to come back later for the bag.
With final exams foremost on his mind, Atta returned the next day to try and get his bag. Before he even spotted the soldier obscured by the wall, a bullet tore through the air and into his spine.
Four children carried Atta. Mahmoud M., who was 15 at the time, told Defense for Children International - Palestine that he heard gunshots behind him as the group struggled toward the main road.
“Atta's back was bleeding. Soldiers followed us and I heard three bullets being fired,”said Mahmoud.
“In the car, Atta kept asking for water,” Mahmoud told DCIP. “He said he could not breathe, and that he was feeling pain in his back which was bleeding so much.”
For the first few weeks after the injury, Atta held on to hope that he would walk again. The bullet that had struck Atta entered through his stomach, travelled through his spine and exited out of his back. In addition to paralysis from his waist down, the bullet damaged his liver, lungs, pancreas and spleen.
“What do you expect for your future?” DCIP staff can be heard asking Atta, in a filmed visit in 2013. He is sitting in his hospital room beside his mother.
“That I have my legs and I’m able to walk again, like before,” says the young Atta.
When the news sunk in that his future did not include walking, the lights went out for Atta. He was beside himself with grief and anger.
The lawsuit the family filed against the soldier who shot him yielded nothing.
In the bumpy years that followed, Atta spent many hours with his beloved pet birds. He met with human rights and media groups and told his story. He joined DCIP’s child protection groups and began participating in workshops and trainings about children’s rights and how to document violations.
During several years of group sessions, DCIP staff saw a transformation. Atta became a thoughtful and outspoken participant. He became an advocate for all children and especially those with disabilities. He has met with local leaders to press them to work on greater access to basic rights and services for Palestinian children with disabilities.
In September of this year, DCIP nominated Atta for the 2018 Children’s Peace Prize. The International Children’s Peace Prize is “awarded annually to a child who fights courageously for children’s rights.” It was founded in 2005 by the KidsRights Foundation, and is presented to a child by a Nobel Peace Laureate each year.
“Atta is an intelligent and articulate person with an incredible inner drive,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “At the young age of 17, he has already achieved great things and I know he will go on to do more.”
“I can tell you that when I first met him, soon after his injury, he was a different person — withdrawn and angry, even despairing,” said Abu Eqtaish. “What happened to him was unjust and yet he has not allowed one bullet to become his whole story. We are so proud of him.”
Now 17, this will be Atta’s last year of participating in DCIP’s children's programming. He has this message for other children: “Children should not lose hope even if their rights get violated. Obstacles and frustration should energize them to continue and to change their realities. You think the child is small? He can do huge things!”