Kifaya Jadah with her daughter, Yara carrying the picture of her father, Omri Jadah.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
By Eetta Prince-Gibson
(August 24)- Two weeks ago, Omri Jadah, 24, and Mohammed Jadah, 26, first cousins from the village of Habla near Kalkilya, were lolling on the eastern shore of the Kinneret.
Good swimmers, they knew about the infamous undertow of the late-afternoon Kinneret, which has taken nearly a dozen lives this summer.
"Suddenly Omri jumped up and ran into the water," Mohammed recalls. "He yelled that a child was drowning. He swam out, about 50 meters. I followed him, but the current was too strong. Omri pulled the child onto his back, and began to swim towards shore."
Omri managed to push the sputtering and choking child into Mohammed's hands and the hands of others that had gathered to help. Then a wave pulled him back under.
"I saw him, and I heard him say, 'I'm drowning." But then he was gone, under the water," Mohammed says quietly. "It all happened so fast. He was so tired from the effort." Mohammed ran to call an ambulance, as others began to look for Omri.
Twenty minutes later, Omri's body was washed ashore, about 30 meters from where he had entered the water. He was still alive, but unconscious. He coughed and spit up. Mohammed and a bystander tried to resuscitate him, but he never regained consciousness.
Mohammed believes that Omri might have survived had it not taken the ambulance 45 minutes to arrive. Omri was taken to Poriya Hospital near Tiberias where he died 48 hours later.
Omri, 24, left behind two children, Malik, three, and Yara, 10 months old. His wife, Kifiya, 23, is six months pregnant. The courageous act of a Palestinian day laborer from a poor village who ran to save a Jewish child made headlines.
FOLLOWING Moslem custom, the Jadah family set up a mourners' tent. The men and women sit separately: men in a small, sad room inside the simple house, women outside under an awning. Thousands attended the funeral, and visitors - Jews and Arabs, most of whom never knew Omri - have come to pay their respects.
"MK Ahmed Tibi came to mourn with us. The rabbis from the moshavim in the area came, too. People even came from Alfei Menashe, the settlement. They said, let us be neighbors," relates Ghassan Samra, 50, Omri's uncle.
Tanya Leftov from Nazareth Illit has come several times with her son, Gosha, whom Omri pulled from the water. Gosha, six, doesn't want to talk about it, but repeats again and again, "Omri saved my life."
Samra says that he knows that because Omri died as a shahid, a martyr, he will go straight to heaven. Mohammed says that is a comforting thought.
"His death is from God," Samra says. "We believe in God, and we know that when a person is born, God already knows how and when he will die. Since God took him so young, it is good to know that he died as a shahid who saved a child."
But how will the Jadah family survive? Omri was the eldest of 14 children, and the only son old enough to work. He and his father, Abdul Karim Jadah, were providing a subsistence living for 20 people.
"Omri wanted his children to have a better life. Like most people he wanted them to go to school, and maybe even to university. But now I'm not sure how we will even manage," Abdul Karim says. IN THE women's mourning tent, the heat is oppressive. Eight women sit, their heads covered in stark white kerchiefs. The children dart about, providing an occasional diversion from the sadness.
Tagrid, Omri's mother, and Kifiya, his widow, sit apart from the other women. Tagrid stares off to one side. Kifiya seems too frail or too resigned to cry. She is painfully thin, and very pale, her skin almost transparent.
The children, Malik and Yara, stay close to her. They are too young to understand, but alert enough to know that something is wrong.
Kifiya says that she hopes that her baby is a boy. She will name him Omri, and she will tell her children what a good, kind man their father was.
From the side, Samra points sadly to Kifiya. They are a religious family, he explains, and from now on, she will devote herself entirely to her children. Even if she had skills, she would not be permitted to work outside her home.
So who will take care of her? Kifiya rolls her eyes skyward.
"Min Allah," she mumbles. "God will have to help us."
Stories are told and retold about Omri's good nature. Mohammed says that once Omri renovated the apartment of a Jewish woman from Petah Tikva, but when he found out that she was a poor widow, he refused to take the money.
"Maybe Omri's death will help Jews and Arabs to live together in peace," Samra says. "The politicians make agreements, but the people have to live together.
"We here in Habla are religious, hard-working people. It is a quiet village. Even during the intifada, there wasn't much trouble here.
"Everyone in the village is proud of Omri, because he saved a child, and it doesn't matter if he saved a Jew or an Arab," he continues.
He hesitates, then blurts out, "Omri saved Gosha on the same day that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called us snakes, and said that God is sorry that he created Arabs. That isn't the way to live in peace. Maybe now, after Omri died trying to save a child, he realizes that we aren't snakes."
"The name Omri means life," says Abdul Karim, Omri's father. "He gave his life, but he is still alive. The little boy's mother came to our home the day we buried Omri, and I hugged them and cried. Omri is alive in that little boy."