No one really volunteers to become the symbol of a people's movement, a hero, or a martyr for a just cause.
Mohammad Jamal Aldura was only 12 years old. He lived in Bureij Refugee Camp in the desolate and poverty stricken Gaza Strip along the Mediterranean Sea.
On Saturday, Sept. 30, little Mohammad and his father, Jamal Aldura, stumbled into the brutal crossfire of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. No one counts the clashes anymore. They happen often, between spurts of the peace process.
So there was no way that Mohammad or his father could have been warned that on that day in Palestine, they would find themselves in the focus of a French television camera, huddled against an obscure building's wall of cinder block, clinging against a tiny abutment. Mohammad was wearing gym shoes, blue jeans and a colorful shirt.
His father was wearing a light t-shirt with English words that could have been the name of a University.
We don't know much more about these two Palestinians, except that their faces were tortured with fear as bullets flew back and forth, striking the wall behind them leaving deep, dark holes as they struck.
What kind of boy was Mohammad Jamal Aldura? What were his dreams? Did he have ambitions to become a doctor or an engineer? Was he dreaming of someday becoming a gymnast representing Palestine in the Olympics that he and his father may have watched that week on Palestinian TV. Two Palestinians were among the thousands of Olympic athletes competing in Sydney, Australia.
We really may never know much more about this 12 year old boy, yet it was his final, horrific moments of life that have left people around the world aghast in horror.
Mohammad Jamal Aldura. His death was shown around the world, first picked up by French television, and then rebroadcast on the much more widely viewed CNN, and then, frame by frame, published as black and white photographs on the front pages of newspapers around the world.
The photographs that preserve each moment of the boy's terror, have the most impact. At first huddled and clutching his father side. His father's face torn by anguish, mouth wide open, eyes fixed on the cameraman who records his moments of suffering.
Then there is the silent scream in the second picture, and the gun fire must have been so intense that for a brief moment, the father reacts, naturally, by lifting his hands to cover his face. The boy's mouth is wide open and you can see his face cringes in fear.
And then the final picture. The most tragic and the most powerful. Three large bullet holes border the scene like a macabre rainbow in the cinder block wall. The boy's body is stretch on the ground, his legs now stretched out, hand on his face, laying on his father's lifeless legs. His father rests against the wall, battered by a round of bullets, but not yet dead. Mouth open in shock. Head hanging near lifeless to his right side.
These photographs that the world's news media used to sell newspapers were splashed across pages around the world.
In Chicago, the newspapers succeeded in doing what not even the most articulate or charismatic leader could have achieved, galvanizing the community and washing over political and societal divisions. More than 700 Palestinians chanting Muslim slogans from the Quran paraded down the city's grandest street, Michigan Avenue, walking from the plaza under the towering Chicago Tribune Office Building whose walls are adorned by relics stolen from the great wonders of the world, to a section of street in front of the Israeli Embassy cordoned off by blue shirted police officers.
"I saw those pictures and I started to weep," one Palestinian woman said as she marched down Michigan Avenue across a bridge named in honor of one of Israel's greatest newspaper champions. Across the Chicago river, from the marchers gathered and protested with demands of "Death to Israel," you could see the modest six story Chicago Sun-Times building, which is the sister company to the Jerusalem Post and a newspaper so dedicated to anti-Arab news articles and columns that Arabs have begun refusing to sell them in their stores or purchase them.
Thirty two Palestinian children surrounded by the protesters, fell to the ground in a staged protest. Their parents poured thick, red ketchup (tomato paste) on their chests to symbolize the killings of civilians and children that has taken place during Israel's brutal occupation.
Cameramen from the city's half dozen TV stations zoomed in and around the children and the protesters who waved Black, Green, White and Red Palestinian flags in the air, screaming in a near rage in anger.
I marched and chanted with the protesters, and took pictures to reprint in a small English language Arab American newspaper that I publish each month. Americans that we passed paused to watch as if we were some kind of entertainment, wondering what we were screaming about in our strange, Arabic language chants.
Everyone I was with was energized to do something. But what? They all wanted to scream and they did. A young Palestinian girl in w white Hijab carried a poster above her head that read "Stop Killing Palestinian Children." And as she walked, she looked into the eyes of the pedestrians who casually walked passed, and yelled, "They are killing little children. How would you feel if they were killing your children? Your brothers? Your sisters?"
The people just walked past, some clutching the flyers that were hastily printed, barely legible and peppered with misspellings, typos and poor English grammar. The flyers could not even come close to telling the poignant story of Mohammad Jamal Aldura, and instead were filled with slogans, phrases and single sentence demands.
Shouldn't we have this emotion everyday? Shouldn't we feel this passion even when no one is killed and the newspapers are not filled with pictures of a dying and dead young Palestinian child.
Are we marching to make ourselves feel good? Is that why Mohammad Jamal Aldura died?
Shouldn't we be on the street everyday, protesting and demanding that Americans take responsibility for their role in this crime?
We are not because we are the slaves to a Western media that treats the Palestinian people like statistics, rather than people with real lives, hopes, dreams and ambitions. We protest when the media decides that we should, publishing photographs of a young boy who is brutally murdered by an unknown Israeli killer.
But there are Palestinian dying all the time, and where are we.
When the protest march is over, the hundreds of men, women and young children return to the yellow school buses rented to carrying them to the protest site, and now return them to the comforts of their homes, where they can sit in front of their televisions and watch the agony of Palestine continue.
Tomorrow, they will go back to work, their children will go to school. But the story of Mohammad Jamal Aldura will remain painfully etched in their minds, difficult to erase, impossible to really comprehend, and hopelessly abandoned by a news media that will never give us the complete picture about who this boy really was.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American author, writer and publisher of the Arab American View Newspaper.. His columns are archived on the Internet at www.hanania.com. He can be reached by email at [email protected])