When Aljazeera.net visited the 12-year-old in his Hebron home last month, he initially did not want to speak, preferring to stay in the company of his two small lambs kept in a small shack a few blocks away.
When he finally showed up, he said he was sorry for keeping us waiting for more than two hours. However, he explained that the lambs gave him serenity and a good feeling and he had not wanted to leave them.
Asked why he did not go to school, Muhammad showed his hands. The fingers had been severed.
“You are a journalist and know a lot of things about the faraway countries. Do you know of schools that admit fingerless people like me?” he asks.
More than two years ago, Muhammad was thrown into a life-or-death situation.
On 5 April 2002, then nine, he was playing outside his home in al-Haras neighbourhood.
The remains of the car in which
“I was cleaning and decorating our new car outside,” he says. “An Apache helicopter was hovering above the neighbourhood. Then a few minutes later, the Apache fired a missile or two right into the car and I was engulfed with fire. It was hell. I was in it,” he says.
Seconds later, Muhammad’s father ran outside to see his son being incinerated in a fire ball that had already consumed the car. His father threw himself on the youngster’s burning body in a desperate effort to put out the flames.
The father’s actions might have saved Muhammad’s life.
At Hebron’s Ahli hospital half an hour later, doctors made a grim prognosis: “Severe burns to 90% of Muhammad’s body.” Muhammad slipped into a coma.
Fighting for survival
After the attack, the Israeli army admitted the firing was carried out “by mistake” due to “faulty intelligence”.
But the admission provided little comfort to Muhammad who was in need of better medical facilities than Ahli could provide for plastic surgery to partially restore his bodily functions.
After hesitation from the Israeli authorities, he was transferred to the Hadassah Hospital in West Jerusalem where he underwent several operations, including a colostomy and the amputation of all his fingers, toes and one ear.
According to a report issued by the Hadassah department of plastic surgery, Muhammad had “full thickness [and] partial thickness of [his] face, neck, chest, abdomen, back, arms and legs.
“A nine-year-old male of Arab origin admitted on 5 April after he was involved in an explosion and sustained 85% IBSA third degree burns,” a medical report said at the time.
In 2003, Muhammad was transferred to al-Qasr al-Ayni hospital in Cairo for further treatment of the multiple wounds to his head, neck, trunk and limbs.
Muhammad still hopes doctors
He underwent nine reconstructive operations that allowed him to stand up and walk slightly, giving him a modicum of hope and renewed self-confidence.
In August 2004, Muhammad was due to undergo six additional reconstructive procedures. However, because Israeli occupation authorities denied his father an exit permit, Muhammad is still waiting and wondering why the “only democracy in the Middle East” which nearly killed him now refuses to allow him to continue his treatment abroad.
Nevertheless, Muhammad expresses some hope as he steadily recovers, both mentally and physically, despite his injuries.
When asked how he is feeling two and a half years after his injury, he puts on a brave face.
“At least I am alive and can talk and walk a little. I saw many children in hospital whose hands and legs had been severed. There are many who lost their lives, so I am lucky,” he says.
His father, however, says Muhammad is showing the bravado of most boys of his age, but he has problems sleeping and experiences constant nightmares.
Muhammad also panics uncontrollably and urinates involuntarily whenever he sees or hears a helicopter overhead.
“You forgive a person whose conscience is alive, but how can you forgive a person who insists that what he does is right and who says he will do it again and again?”
Muhammad Sughair, 12,
Asked what he would tell the Israeli pilot who fired the rocket at him if he were to meet him, Muhammad falls silent for a few seconds.
“I would ask him a simple question: ‘Why did you do [this] to me? Why? Why?'”
“You forgive a person whose conscience is alive, but how can you forgive a person who insists that what he does is right and who says he will do it again and again?
“Maybe I can’t get justice from him in this world, but I will meet him face to face on the day of judgment and God will get me my dues from him.”
Muhammad says when he grows up he wants to be a doctor specialising in plastic surgery and treating burns.
However, he soon remembers the loss of his fingers. Despite this he remains hopeful that doctors will eventually be able to “fix his fingers” or develop artificial ones.
“Do you think they could do it in America?” he asks.
Then, on reflection: “Oh, I am sorry, the Americans are our enemy. They gave the Israelis the Apache and the missiles that did all of this to me. I hate the Americans even more than I hate the Israelis.”
According to figures published last month by the Israeli human rights centre, B’tselem, the bulk of Palestinians killed and injured by Israel since 28 September 2000, when the most recent intifada began, were civilians or people who played no part in the resistance against the Israeli occupation.
The report suggested that the Israeli army knowingly killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including about 500 children and minors, under the pretext of fighting “terror”.
The 500-figure is tentative. The ongoing Israeli army rampage in northern Gaza has killed dozens of additional Palestinian children and other innocent civilians.
The US, far from condemning the wanton bloodbath, vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the killings.
A Palestinian columnist, voicing his frustration at the US’s allegiance to Israel, asked recently: “For how long shall the fate of our children remain hanging between the hellfire missiles and the American veto?”
The Israeli army has failed to apologise for its action. Instead, one military official said Israel was in a state of war with the entire Palestinian population and that what happened to Muhammad ought to be viewed in this context.
Muhammad has not received a penny from the Israeli government in compensation.