SA doctors fix Palestinian boy
“Don’t forget to make a wish before you blow your candles out,” a group of bubbly teenagers reminded 16-yearold Muhammad Tamimi at his birthday party at Johannesburg’s Windybrow Theatre in November.
But one of the Palestinian teen’s wishes had already been granted a month beforehand, thanks to a group of skilled SA doctors.
A year ago, Muhammad was shot in the head with a rubbercoated metal bullet by Israeli soldiers during a military raid on the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank.
At the time he was playing football with his friends.
“There was a lot of gunfire happening right next to the soccer field. Then the gunfire suddenly stopped.
“When that happens it usually means the Israeli army has either arrested or killed someone,” he explained.
Curious, Muhammad climbed a ladder to look over a 4m high wall that bordered the soccer field.
An Israeli soldier spotted him and fired a shot, he says.
“I fell off the ladder, landed on my back and lost consciousness.”
The bullet went through Muhammad’s nose and lodged in his brain. A large part of his skull had to be removed, causing his left eye to sink.
He lost vision in his eye and could not open his mouth fully.
Israeli authorities claimed the teen had sustained the injuries by falling off his bicycle – even though a surgeon had removed the bullet from his skull.
To this day no action has been taken against the Israeli soldier.
Doctors did not have the necessary equipment to perform reconstructive surgery, so for months Muhammad battled to see, speak and eat.
Nadia Meer of Durbanbased NGO Shamsaan (meaning “two suns” in Arabic), decided to assist Muhammad after seeing his post on Facebook asking for help to have reconstructive surgery.
Ridwan Mia – famous for groundbreaking skin grafts he performed on young burn survivor Pippie Kruger – was approached.
Mia then contacted maxillofacial surgeons Collette Smit and Jameel Desai.
Anaesthetist Hizir Mukaddam was also brought on board, and in October the team performed a 5½-hour operation on Muhammad in Johannesburg.
The group reconstructed a large part of his eye and mouth area, with Mia doing the reconstructive work and the maxillofacial surgeons the bone work.
The operation was a resounding success, and Muhammad healed well.
Mandla Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, visited Muhammad in hospital and commended all those involved in the operation.
“They are proud examples of South Africans who give real expression to Madiba's spirit of sacrifice and caring for one's fellow man, especially the most vulnerable among us,” he said.
The team of doctors say they feel privileged to have been able to help the teen.
“Muhammad was badly injured and people are quite strapped for resources in occupied Palestine.
“Coming from a country like South Africa, with its past of oppression, I can identify with his situation,” Desai said.
“We try to do what we can to help the needy in our country, but sometimes we need to reach out to people from the outside too,” he added.
Due to the nature of his facial injuries, Muhammad could not spend too much time in the sun, and missed simple pleasures like playing football with his friends.
Shamsaan and the team of medical specialists have brought the sunshine back to Muhammad’s life, but his other wish – to visit the beach – remains unfulfilled.
“The sea is 25km away from our village and I have never been there before,” he said.
“I see it every day from the balcony of my house but I cannot go because of the Israeli checkpoints. I’ve never been granted permission to go.”
There are more than 50 Israeli checkpoints in the Palestinian territories and Palestinians must obtain permits from the Israeli military to cross these checkpoints, which con- trol every facet of their life – from going to the beach, to visiting family members in the adjacent village, or going to school in a neighbouring city.
“My wish is for the occupation to end and freedom of movement to be granted to us Palestinians so that we, too, can live our lives like other people,” he said.
Muhammad has since returned to his village and has resumed his disrupted studies.
DANCING WITH JOY: Muhammad teaches South African youngsters how to perform the Palestinian dabke dance at his birthday party. In return they taught him how to vosho
FULFILLING WISH: Muhammad Tamimi has a new lease on life after undergoing reconstructive surgery in SA. Above left, during the 5½-hour surgery to reconstruct Muhammad’s face and below, the teen after the operation in Johannesburg
REACHING OUT: Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, visits Muhammad Tamimi in hospital