Palestinian Astrophysicist in US Recounts How His 11-Year-Old Son Died When Israeli Warplanes Bombed His Family’s House
Democracy Now 16/01/2009
As the Palestinian death toll in Israel’s assault on Gaza climbs above 1,100, we take a look behind the statistics. Suleiman Baraka is a Palestinian astrophysicist working at Virgnia Tech with NASA. His eleven-year-old son Ibrahim was killed in an Israeli air strike on his house. His wife and three other children are now homeless in Gaza, along with seventeen members of his family. In his first broadcast interview in the US, Suleiman Baraka tells his story.
AMY GOODMAN: As the Israeli assault on Gaza continues, the Palestinian death toll continues to mount. Over the last twenty-one days, more than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, 5,200 wounded, at least 700 civilians among the dead, including more than 350 children. Today, we’re going to find out about one of those kids.
Suleiman Baraka is a Palestinian astrophysicist. He works here in the United States at Virginia Tech with NASA. On December 29th, Israeli war planes bombed the house where his wife and four children were staying. His eleven-year-old son Ibrahim was killed. His wife and three other children are now homeless in Gaza, along with seventeen members of his family. Suleiman Baraka has never before told his story in the United States. He joins us now from Norfolk, Virginia.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
SULEIMAN BARAKA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. And our condolences on the loss of your son. Suleiman Baraka, can you tell us what happened to Ibrahim?
SULEIMAN BARAKA: Yes. Thank you, first, for giving me this chance to talk to a American public. I was in my office. I received a call that there was a bombing in my area, and then, after a while, the bombing was my house, and then I lost communication with the family for ten hours. It was really very hard, at the emotional, psychological level, because I had known that there something happened, and I cannot follow up. Ten hours later, I knew that my son Ibrahim was critically injured and my mom was moderately injured when they bombed my house with a one-ton bomb and destroyed the house, injuring my son and my mom.
I lived a very, very hard time as a father who is far, who has lack of information. I don’t see my son, who was—I am preparing for him, to bring him to the United States to live here, to value diversity, to go to school, to make new friends. I was, you know, preparing for them to bring him here. And then, once in a sudden, I understand that my son is in critical condition then.
The other day, I got the news that, because his condition was critical, he was moved to Egypt for medication. Then, automatically, I just went to Egypt to follow up my son. One day after I arrived, they said that the brain can come again and he can be awakened, because he was in deep coma. There was a shrapnel in his right hand, brain and leg and hand, and a cut in the back. I stand by him, and there is no need to describe what the feeling of a father who is looking as his child dying.
January 5th, midday, I received a call from the doctor that my child passed away. It was really very hard to break in and very sad moment. Also, the sadness is accumulated when I could not go back to Gaza for the funeral and the condolences of my son, because Gaza is closed. And it’s only open for bringing into Egypt wounded and sending back dead in coffins. So, as a father, it was really a very hard difficulty.
And I’m still remembering the last message five days before he was—you know, before the accident. Because I am diabetic and he was worried about my health, and he told me that how I am feeling and I should take care of myself. He is my son, talking to me like my father. And he said, “I bought a new bicycle, and I am happy with it.” So I still remember this message in my mind.
And last September, I was in Paris, and I was talking to French astrophysicists, the professors who are teaching in Paris universities, and I told them I built a new house, two-story house. I wanted to invite in a Jewish family to live with me, side-by-side, where my children play with their children. Now, they destroyed the house, and they killed my child. What is this?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. Baraka, I just wanted to ask you, when your child was transferred from Gaza to Egypt, they did not allow any family members to come with him out of there? And what’s happened to the rest of your family?
SULEIMAN BARAKA: No, yeah, no, my son—no, they allowed my brother, who was accompanying. Every wounded person is accompanied by one family member. So my brother was with him. Yes, my brother was with him, and my brother went back with him with the coordination with Red Cross Egypt and Israel.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the rest of your family?
SULEIMAN BARAKA: OK. Within one week, they destroyed my house, my old house, with three-story buildings with other two brothers, and they destroyed the houses of four brothers. So a total of twenty nephews and nieces are without shelter and probably without food now. A total of eight houses had been totally destroyed.
And the old house I had—I was worried about my library, who I collected in twenty years. And yesterday, my daughter called me, and she was crying because we lost our telescope. The building that killed my son, I used to take my children on the roof and show them Venus and Jupiter and the sky, because typically, if you ask any Palestinian children, a child, “If you look at the sky, what you see?” he will say, “I will see Apache and F-16 jet fighters.” So I wanted just to show them that there is something beautiful behind these stereotypes. I wanted to help not only my children, but the Palestinian children. And I did lots of public lectures on astronomy just to create a sort of hope and expanding the imagination of our children that there is something beautiful than this cocoon, what’s called Gaza, which had been closed for two years. And after two years, it had been bombed in this crazy war that is unjustified and a very excessive use of force.
My house is not a military base. Ibrahim is eleven years old. He doesn’t need F-16 jet fighters to kill him. My house roof was there for me and my children to use my telescope, not anti-aircraft missiles or rockets.
I have no language to express what I feel about this. Now, all our houses are destroyed. My family, I lost communication. I rarely have some, you know, with my family, because my daughter with my wife is at their grandpa’s. The other members of my family, I have no communication with. It’s really hard to break in, and I don’t know—sometimes I feel speechless. I cannot say, as a father, and when I look at the photo of my son, I cannot convince myself that I will never see him again. I lost my son, but I didn’t lose my inner peace. But how I can convince my son Daoud, who is five, who witnessed the bombardment of his house and the killing of his brother? Is that investment for hatred and violence and anti-violence?
I think Palestine and Gaza, especially, doesn’t need initiatives, talks, demonstrations. Palestine needs interference and a password to end all of this: end occupation. End occupation. End occupation. You eliminate the action, then there will never be reaction. Whatever is whatever the language describing the situation, the problem is in the occupation. When the occupation is ended, and it—there is legitimacy. There is United Nations resolutions. There is everything. It’s very easy. It needs a will, and it needs those people who are wisdom-guided, not power-guided. Civilization of power will not work forever. Power of civilization always bring in and bring about prosperity, peace, coexistence. It’s enough of everything for everybody.
AMY GOODMAN: Suleiman Baraka, we are also joined from Gaza by your brother, by Sayed Baraka, who was, what, fifty yards away from Ibrahim when he was hit by the Israeli bomb. Can you describe what happened, Sayed Baraka?
SAYED BARAKA: Sure. I would like to thank you all for giving my brother Suleiman and me a chance to talk about our sad story. And if Suleiman hears me, let me say, Suleiman, we all love you. We all pray for you. You just need to have patience. Beside your home, your six brothers’ homes and your mom’s were completely destroyed. Sixty-four houses of your neighbors were destroyed. Seventy of your neighbors were injured. Sixty-four of them had bones broken. Please pray for them.
About what happened to my beloved Ibrahim—Ibrahim is not only your son, Suleiman. Remember when he was one hour old? I gave him the first kiss, and you thanked me that time. But when we buried him, I couldn’t give him the last kiss, because all the town were saying bye to Ibrahim. They all went with us.
At that time, Monday the 29th, he went to help my mom, his grandma, to make the afternoon prayer just beside your new home. I was looking there, waiting for her, for my mom to finish her prayer and to come back to me with Ibrahim. Suddenly, I saw a very like white smoke going down at your home. Then, in a few—in just like no time, very loud noise disturbing everybody, with very dark smoke covered everything there. I went running. I was just beside your old home, maybe sixty meters or less than that. You know it. I saw my mom, her face covered down to the earth. I saw your son. He was covered by black smoke. I saw him like dead, because he couldn’t move anything. He was like—he was like sleeping. I couldn’t control myself. Then, some of the neighbors and the people around us, they came to help. I tried to carry my mom. I see, I hear, like I witnessed some kind of heat in her body, and I had the feeling that she is still alive. They left Ibrahim. And we brought—you know, as a Canadian citizenship, I can go with him there, but at the moment I arrived in the hospital with my mom. She was like crying. She was like dying. My brother was close [inaudible] Ibrahim. Then he left with him to Egypt.
AMY GOODMAN: I am so sorry to say that we’re coming to the end of our show, but, Suleiman Baraka, you are asking for your family to come to the US?
SULEIMAN BARAKA: Yes, yes. I don’t want to receive another bad news. It’s enough. I had enough. Now, I will work—
AMY GOODMAN: Your children are how old, your surviving children?
SULEIMAN BARAKA: Mohammed is thirteen. Irwad is my daughter, is ten. Daoud is five.
AMY GOODMAN: Suleiman Baraka, I want to thank you for being with us, astrophysicist, speaking to us. He teaches at Virginia Tech, speaking to us from Norfolk. We have twenty seconds. I want to end with our guest here in New York, Professor Rashid Khalidi.
RASHID KHALIDI: I mean, what can one say when one hears that kind of thing? There are 1,100 stories like that. 1,100 people have been killed, most of them civilians, 300 of them children—350 of them children. One can’t say anything. Nothing justifies the slaughter of children. Nothing. Nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it there.