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April 9, 2013 8:23 am

A Rock is a Bullet: The Consequences of Palestinian Rock-Throwing

avatar by Anav Silverman / Tazpit News Agency

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iAhikam Simantov holds the rock that hit his head as an infant, causing permanent brain damage. Photo: Tzuriel Cohen-Araz.

For over 25 years, Palestinian rock-throwing has become a part of routine life for Jewish residents living in Judea and Samaria. On the roads to the settlement communities, many of the 300,000 residents living in the scenic region have experienced some kind of rock attack on their vehicle. While there has been much debate about the political significance of a Palestinian rock thrower by outside media observers and political commentators, for residents impacted by such rock attacks, the rock is simply seen as lethal.

For Ahikam Simantov from Ofra, a community established in 1975 on the main road between Jerusalem and Nablus, a rock thrown at his family’s car forever changed his life 23 years ago.  On May 1990, after celebrating Jerusalem Day in the country’s capital, the Simantov family was driving back home to Ofra when rocks began pelting their car along the way.  One rock smashed through the car window, hitting Ahikam’s head, who was seven-months-old at the time.

“It was a period when you couldn’t drive home without getting hit [by rocks],” said Edna Simantov, Ahikam’s mother to Tazpit News Agency in an exclusive interview. “My husband’s car had been hit the week before – this was the height of the first intifada – the roads were dangerous and everyone was getting protective shielding for their cars.”

“Ahikam began crying, his head hadn’t opened but it had begun to swell. At home, we washed him and removed all the pieces of shattered glass,” Simantov recalls. There were three other siblings in the car at the time.

Because there were no ambulances available, the Simantovs drove back to Jerusalem that night, and checked Ahikam into a hospital. The baby lost consciousness during the ride.

“There was a lot of internal bleeding and the doctors weren’t sure that Ahikam would even survive,” said his mother.

Ahikam did survive but suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the rock crushing his skull, which later led to heavy epileptic seizures. When medication could no longer control his seizures, Ahikam’s parents began exploring options for surgery.

Although the Simantovs eventually located, with the help of family and friends, the Montreal Neurological Institute, where Ahikam underwent successful surgery at age 16 that stopped the epilepsy attacks, the 23-year-old feels that he got the hard end of the deal.

“I can’t read or write, I will never be able to serve in the army, or get my driving license,” Ahikam recounts sadly. “I will always have to depend on others to help me even with something as simple as sending an SMS. There are many days when I think to myself, why me?”

Ahikam as a baby hospitalized after a rock thrown by Palestinians struck his head. Photo: Simantov family.

Ahikam’s mother still keeps the rock that changed the trajectory of her son’s life and that of her family.  “We always knew that rocks were weapons and we’ve been suffering from this rock for decades,” says Edna, holding the giant rock in her hand. “Because of this, one-third of my son’s brain is missing. He walks with a limp, has back problems, cannot feel with his right hand and suffers from a weaker right side. I take him to physiotherapy three times a week. I had so much hope for him when he was born, there was so much potential.”

“This is an ongoing tragedy not only for Ahikam, but for our entire family,” concludes Edna. Ahikam’s older sister, Yael, 25, adds that “our entire family has lived in the shadow of this rock. My childhood changed, I feel as though I never really had one.”

Despite all this, Ahikam completed his National Service, a year of volunteer work for the state, where he says he gained more confidence taking care of horses, an activity that he continues to do today. He also gives talks and presentations about his life experience to Israeli police, soldiers, and students, which have been well-received.

“I speak to groups about what a rock thrown at you can do to your life. You have to treat a rock like a bullet – there is no difference between the two,” stresses Ahikam. “I share this dark story to make people aware, but not so that they should pity me.”

The Simantovs, whose families originally come from Iran, have been living in Ofra for 35 years and now have grandchildren who also live in the community. “Without my family, I never could have survived this ordeal – my dad, my mom and my siblings have been beyond supportive of me,” says Ahikam.

The only other worry that Ahikam’s mother has is that her son should find love. “I want him to be happy, to find a girlfriend,” she says.

The most recent Palestinian rock-throwing incident that left a child critically injured took place three weeks ago in Samaria near Ariel. Palestinian teens threw rocks at a vehicle driven by 32-year-old mother, Adva Biton, whose three-year-old girl, Adele was critically injured, and her two older sisters, moderately injured, when a stone struck their vehicle in Samaria on Thursday night, March 14. Adele, who is still unconscious, has been fighting for her life in an Israeli hospital for the past three weeks.

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  • yazn

    It didnt kill him??!! AW damn it!

  • J.S. Strauss

    There should be a law that will provide harsh penalties to the rock-throwers, whatever they are Jewish or not. The intent to throw rocks is akin to someone who is purposely shooting us down.

  • Ovadyah

    If every sane jew arms himself with a slingshot and starts attacking arabs as opposed to defending, it is a win win situation; either their offensive will drive arabs out, or the israeli government will outlaw slingshots and rocks. one reason i refuse to move to israel is because of its dumb government. if you throw a rock at a police officer in the states – you see what happens!

  • Sonia Willats

    OF COURSE the stones/rocks cause both physical damage (even death) and economic damage. Is the Israeli government too overwhelmed with other, even bigger, problems to tackle this one? Perhaps the rock-throwers should be detained until they can have these “harmless” missiles thrown at them whilst they cannot defend themselves.

  • HaDaR

    It’s about time to realize that one answers to bullets with bullets: rock throwers must be shot.

    • elliot j. stamler

      HaDaR is one million percent right. I’ve been saying this for years. When oh when will the Israelis realize that every Arab rock-thrower is a modern day nazi SS man and treat them accordingly. No tear gas, no rubber bullets. After a few score of them are shot dead then – but not until then – will they stop trying to kill Israelis by fracturing their skulls with rocks.

  • EthanP

    Unsaid is that the Palestinians often use slings and slingshots. Both quite accurate and potentially lethal.

  • jerry hersch

    “For over 25 years, Palestinian rock-throwing has become a part of routine life for Jewish residents..”
    I knew they were just rank amateur beginners..this was decades after the first Haredi rocks were thrown in my direction.
    Being economic leeches maybe they fially created a business-teaching others to throw pay or benefits-but the Haredi seem to enjoy.. it and the authorities do not molest them.
    Perhaps when a Haredi rock causes someone to swerve..??

  • cityca

    The main stream media constantly downplays the effect, not just of rocks and stone throwing, but even of rockets out of Gaza. They call them fireworks – home made contraptions.

    Following a highly aggressive interview of an Israeli politician by UK tv journalist Jon Snow on Channel 4 news during Cast Lead, I wrote to him, inviting him to holiday with his family in a tent in Sderot. He had described the rockets out of Gaza as fireworks, implying their were harmless.

    I challenged him to back up his words. Guess what? He never replied and as far as I know, he never camped out in Sderot.