The Apaches of the Middle East

War in Gaza is the rule. Peace is the exception. Thus most Gazans are born and die during wartime. So it was for the Jihad Family.

At midnight, September 11, 2001, a white Peugeot 404 sped down a dusty road in Gaza City, headlights slashing the darkness, toward a ubiquitous Israeli roadblock. This one, a huge dirt pile surrounded by a deep ditch and reinforced with concrete barrier blocks and a sandbagged machinegun, sat at the convergence of three narrow roads. The surrounding zone was denuded of trees and depopulated by the destruction of houses to improve lines of sight and fields of fire.

Cutting around roadblocks to avoid delays on the way to work, school, or a doctor can be hazardous to Palestinian health. So too is not cutting around them.

Bashar Jihad, the Palestinian driver, did not slow until two fresh IDF draftees were about to fire at him and his wife, Layla Jihad, who, her robe hiked up and her knees wide and suffering, lay on the back seat. Her unborn child was in breech position. Immediate medical attention was necessary to save two lives.

An Arabic aphorism claims that “children are fed hatred through their mothers’ milk.” But not in the case of the imperiled child within Layla Jihad. If hatred was transferred to him, it was by another vector. For despite beseeching, imploring, and bribing by Bashar Jihad, a Christian engineer who dropped to his knees and begged permission to transport his wife to Al-Shifa Hospital, the teenaged Israeli soldiers refused to allow the Jihads past their barricade until their identities were checked for terrorist affiliations. When Baby Jihad would not be denied, he bulled into this world kicking, screaming, and covered in blood—his and that of his mother.

Within ten minutes, the boy’s mother named him “Muhammad” and exsanguinated from a uterine rupture that was preventable had the Jihad family been sent through. Muhammad Jihad lost his father two minutes later when Bashar Jihad, a pacifist wild with grief at the death of his wife and choked with rage at the conduct of her killers, died from a hail of bullets fired by Israeli soldiers who falsely claimed in their after-action report that Bashar made a “series of aggressive movements and actions posing an imminent threat” to their lives.

On hearing the news, Bashar’s twin, Jamil, rushing to Al-Shifa Hospital to donate blood, approached another roadblock where he was shot and killed with three rubber bullets to the head.

The first person to cradle Muhammad Jihad was the Israeli soldier who orphaned him.

The IDF commander reviewed the after-action report and immediately transferred custody of Muhammad Jihad to the maternity ward at Al-Shifa Hospital.

The attending doctor took one look at the boy, then turned to the nurse. “He was born at a roadblock. He’ll die at a roadblock. What happens in between will make no difference. If we take off our masks, what will we find? We’re the Apaches of the Middle East.”



Tommy Cheis is a Chiricahua writer, medicine leader, veteran, and Cochise descendant. After traveling extensively through distant lands and meeting interesting people, he now resides in southeastern Arizona with his horses. His short stories (will) appear in The Rumen, Yellow Medicine Review, Carpe Noctem, ZiN Daily, Spirits, Red Paint Review, Pictural Journal, Little Fish, and other publications. While his first novel, Rare Earth, is under submission, he is at work on his second.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, June 30, 2024 - 21:02