David Kindred writes: Until the Israeli sniper shot him, it had been a good day. Shadid’s notebook was full because he had been eyewitness to a drama that was a perfect metaphor for the latest Israel-Palestine war. He started a long walk back to the hotel. There he would write for his newspaper, The Boston Globe. He was looking at his notes when he realized that his body was falling. He was halfway to the ground before he heard the gunshot.
It was March 31, 2002. Shadid remembered the sky over Ramallah as cemetery gray. Once the bustling hub of a new Palestine, the city was cloaked in silence. War in its third day had emptied the streets. That day, as on all days, Shadid was driven by a reporter’s questions: Why? How do I put the pieces of the puzzle together? Here in Ramallah, why did Israel’s army wage war against civilians when the nation’s prime minister said the objective was to eliminate a’ “terrorist infrastructure”?
Shadid had gone to Ramallah Hospital to interview doctors, nurses, ambulances drivers, and humanitarian workers. He wanted to talk to people who had found themselves in harm’s way by leading their everyday lives. As he arrived, so did the roar of war. A tank rolled up, and two armored personnel carriers unloaded soldiers. The soldiers rushed toward the hospital with rifles leveled on people who had come outside. Someone said, “This is a hospital!” The soldiers, seemingly in search of an enemy, shouted, “Everyone back, everybody inside!”
Shadid saw it all. The scene spoke to the asymmetry of the conflict Here were doctors in white smocks facing soldiers with M-16s. As an Israeli lieutenant talked to the hospital chief, Shadid listened. In their confrontation, he saw the war. The lieutenant was an army that had to search among civilians for the enemy. The hospital chief was Ramallah, powerless against power.
“The doctor and this Israeli were face-to-face and they were yelling at each other,” Shadid said. “I’m standing right next to them. And I’m writing down every word. This was one of those moments. Through it, I could tell the entire story of this fifty-year conflict. I was so excited. This is it. You could see how the entire story would be structured. So excited.”
When a peaceful compromise was made, Shadid headed back to his hotel with a colleague, Said al-Ghazali. They walked in the middle of the street lest they raise suspicion by moving along walls. Both wore white flak jackets marked on the back with red-taped “TV,” the best-known symbol for international press. He had his notebook in his hands, flipping pages to read notes.
Then he was falling before he heard the gunshot. “It was deafening, like they shot next to my ear,” he said. “Probably twenty-five feet away.” On the street, he couldn’t move. He first thought someone had thrown a stun grenade, a weapon that momentarily paralyzes its target. Then he felt pain on his spine. “Said,” he said to his friend, “I think I was shot.”
Al-Ghazali was down on the pavement with Shadid, searching for blood. “I don’t see anything,” he said. Shadid now reached behind his flak jacket and brought back a bloody hand. He thought to tell his wife and infant daughter good-bye. He thought of ambulances that couldn’t move on Ramallah’s streets. He also thought, “I’ll die if I wait for help.”
Al-Ghazali carried him twenty yards before they fell. “Journalists!” Al-Ghazali shouted. “Help! Bring us a car!” There was no one in the street, no one could hear them, no one except perhaps the Israeli who shot him. Shadid thought that man might now be watching him struggle toward a vehicle in the street ahead.
“He’s wounded!” al-Ghazali shouted.
An Israeli said, “Show us!”
Al-Ghazali turned Shadid so the soldier could see the white flak jacket red with blood. The bullet had passed through Shadid’s left shoulder, sheared off part of a spinal column vertebra, and burst through his right shoulder, a classic M-16 wound: tiny on entry, huge on exit. Twelve pieces of shrapnel remained inside the reporter’s back. In his Boston apartment years later, I asked Shadid, “Did the guy intend to shoot you?”
“There were rumors that Palestinians were posing as Red Cross workers and journalists. I don’t think if they knew I was an American journalist that I’d have been shot. They might have, who knows? They can be rough on journalists. I think they wanted to teach a lesson. ‘Here’s what we’re going to do to people acting as journalists.'”
“God,” I said.
“A cold-blooded execution.”
“From point-blank range,” I said.
“They were looking to kill me. Crazy, but reading my notes may have saved my life. I think they were aiming at my head, and I moved my head down looking at my notes.”
“The M-16 wound makes you sure an Israeli did it?”
“Yes. And the Israelis were in complete control of that area that day.”
He could have been dead. He could have been paralyzed. Instead, he was in a Ramallah hospital away from the one he had visited that day. From his bed, he called Boston and told his editor what happened. He also said, “I got this great story. I think I can still write it.” And the editor said, “If you think you can do it, we’ll take it.” Before Shadid could get his laptop, common sense, in league with morphine, prevailed against the idea. Besides, he hadn’t been in the hospital an hour before here came more Israeli soldiers, guns drawn, entering his room and shouting something in Hebrew, a language he did not understand. He said, “Back off. I’m an American journalist.” They answered, “Get your hands up”—as if he could. He was mummified in bandages around his chest and shoulders. He raised his forearms.
Later that night, an Israeli army officer stopped by. “If we shot you,” he said, “I apologize on behalf of the army.” Then he shrugged. “But you know, you were in a war zone.” [Continue reading…]