The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime


You go to sleep securely in your home. At 1 A.M. you wake up in horror to the sound of a voice on the loudspeaker calling you to go out into the street immediately. After the soldiers instruct you to return home, suddenly a frightening dog enters your apartment, grabs your child, who is sitting on his bed in shock, bites him hard in his leg and drags him down the 20 steps that lead from the second-floor apartment to the street.

Can you imagine the nightmare in which the Kassam family found itself last week in the Jenin refugee camp? It’s very doubtful. The members of the family didn’t believe it either. Their 12-year-old son, Mohammed, who suffers from epilepsy, shouted with fear, until he fainted. His mother grabbed him by the head, so he wouldn’t hit himself on the stairs. His father ran downstairs, helpless, pleading with the soldiers. All the children in the house were shouting in fear. Imagine.

Apparently it was “an operational mishap.” Maybe the dog, a fighter in the Oketz trained dogs unit of the Israel Defense Forces, overstepped the bounds. Maybe it was a mistaken address. It was certainly an “exceptional case,” not “human error,” but “canine error.” The dog entered the wrong apartment and grabbed the wrong person. It happens to the best of dogs. But anyone who, in the dead of night, sics a dog on a peaceful apartment where children are asleep for the night, cannot plead innocence afterward. In the Jenin refugee camp, they recall that this wasn’t the first time. About two years ago, an IDF dog grabbed another child here, a cancer patient, and dragged him outside in its jaws, too, leaving him wounded and bleeding. The dog was searching for a wanted man, Bassam al-Saadi.

Mohammed Kassam lies in the hospital, writhing in pain. The nurse removes the bandage from his leg. His left thigh is covered with wounds. One on the inner part of the thigh, near the crotch, is particularly deep. This is where the dog’s teeth pierced him. Last night, Mohammed fell asleep for the first time since the incident. During the previous four nights he hadn’t slept a wink; he had nightmares about the dog.

It happened last Tuesday night. The members of the Kassam family – the mother, Fatma, the father, Fadel, and their six children, went to bed at about 10:30. First they ate supper, the children did their homework and watched an action film that was broadcast on the city’s satellite channel. That was the start of the night of horror for this family, whose nickname in the camp, for some reason, is the Jidon family. Fadel works for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as a sanitation worker in the camp. Fatma is a housewife. Mohammed is their third child, a student in seventh grade in the camp’s UNRWA school.

At 1 A.M., they awoke to the sound of a loudspeaker calling on the residents of the house to go out into the street. Fadel went outside immediately, and the soldiers instructed him to knock on the door of the neighbors and get them out, too. They instructed the tenants to turn on all the lights in the house and open the doors. The soldiers were searching for a wanted man, Mahmoud Abed, in the home of his grandfather, the Kassams’ neighbor. They ordered the grandfather to go outside and to bring out everyone in his apartment. Fadel was allowed to return to his apartment. When he went upstairs, he heard a sound like thunder from the street, apparently a stun grenade thrown by the soldiers. The children in the house, including the 4-year-old daughter, were already thoroughly frightened.

Fadel says the soldiers ordered him to leave the door of the apartment open. Suddenly he saw a frightening dog enter the house. When he is asked now about the size of the dog, he describes with his hand movements an animal almost as tall as a human being – that’s how frightened he was. He says that the dog had electronic equipment, apparently a video camera, attached to his neck and head.

The dog began to sniff at objects in the house, and afterward at its inhabitants. He sniffed Fadel, who was so frightened he couldn’t breathe, and then went on to sniff Mohammed, who was sitting on his bed, still in shock from being awakened in the middle of the night. Suddenly the dog grabbed Mohammed’s leg in its jaws and began to drag him out of bed. The parents tried to release the boy from the dog’s jaws, pulling the child, but the dog was much stronger than they. Fatma ran downstairs, shouting to the soldiers that the dog was dragging Mohammed. “My child, my child!” she shouted. “Quiet, quiet!” the soldiers scolded her, according to her testimony. Fadel also rushed downstairs and shouted: “My child, he didn’t do a thing, he’s innocent, in God’s name, in the name of Islam, in the name of Judaism, release him!” But the soldiers didn’t react.

Fatma hurried back upstairs and saw the dog dragging Mohammed down the staircase, holding his leg in its jaws. Fatma says she grasped her son’s head so it wouldn’t hit the stairs. In that way they descended to the street, the dog dragging Mohammed by the leg and his mother trying to protect his head. Mohammed screamed for help until, say his parents, he fell silent and lost consciousness.

When the dog and the terrified mother and child arrived downstairs, the soldiers aimed their weapons at Mohammed, until they realized he was a child. They ordered the dog to release the child’s leg, and the well-trained animal did as he was told. Mohammed fell on the floor, blood flowing from his leg, which was covered by his torn pajamas. An army paramedic administered first aid. A few minutes later, a Red Crescent ambulance called by the soldiers arrived, and rushed Mohammed to the government hospital on the edge of this refugee camp. The hospital admission report said: “A wound 5 cm long and 2 cm deep in his left leg.”

Mohammed’s grandfather, Hamed Salem, happened to be a patient in the same hospital at the time. He was called from his bed to the emergency room to see his wounded grandson. It was almost 3 A.M. “I saw the child and I went crazy,” says the old man in the kaffiyeh, in fluent Hebrew, sitting next to his grandson’s bed in the hospital’s neglected and rundown children’s ward.

The wanted man, Mahmoud Abed, wasn’t in his grandfather’s house, and he wasn’t apprehended that night.

The IDF spokesman explained this week:

“During an operation to apprehend wanted individuals in Jenin on the night of November 3, 2005, IDF forces arrived at a structure in the city where the wanted man was suspected of hiding. After all the residents were sent out of the building, a dog was sent in to search for the wanted man. The dog went through the building and on leaving, found a half-open door. The dog entered through the door of an adjacent structure in which the Palestinian boy was staying. The boy was lightly injured in his hip and received first aid by the forces. At the same time, an ambulance of the Red Crescent was called, which evacuated the child, as his family demanded, to continued medical treatment in Jenin. The IDF regrets the boy’s injury. It should be noted that dogs from the IDF trained dogs unit have taken part in thousands of operations and this is only the third case in which an innocent person was bitten.”

Mohammed is a child with captivating dimples. Surrounded by relatives and friends from school, he is busy in bed playing an Atari game that someone brought him. At his head are two pages of Palestinian newspapers featuring his photo, as he lay wounded. His mother doesn’t move from his bedside, stays with him even at night. Mohammed suffered several epileptic seizures this year; not long ago his parents took him for a neurological examination in the hospital in Nablus. This January he had a seizure for the first time, and since then he has had another three. He was even hospitalized for two weeks because of them. He says that after hearing about a boy who was attacked by IDF dogs in the camp two years ago, he began to be afraid of dogs.

What if you see a dog in the street? “I’ll want to kill it. But not the Arab dogs, only the Jewish dogs.”

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