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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

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.

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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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