The idea of the PCRF began when I was 23 years old and working as a free-lance writer for The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in the occupied territories. It was 1989 and I had just heard about a 10-year-old boy from Hebron who had lost his legs from a bomb that was thrown at his family by passing soldiers. I went to see him Makassed Hospital on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem to do a story and found a maimed boy full of pride, going up and down the halls of the hospital joking with nurses and other patients, so seemingly happy in his disposition despite losing both of his legs, his hand, and an eye just weeks prior.
Although my Arabic was poor at the time, the boy Mansour and I managed to find a common human language to communicate in. His family was too poor to come and get him from the hospital, so I took him home for the first time to see his family, and over the next few weeks, Mansour and I became friends. I was young then and the direction of my life had not yet formed. I had a strong desire to service justice in my life, to help others, and by living in Palestine, I wanted to do something for Palestinian children after seeing so many of them injured during the first Intifada. That is why I wanted to be a writer. At that time, there was no internet and mass communication was still limited, so writing to have an impact, to share stories of injustice and heroism, was limited. Almost no one read my story about Mansour when it was published.
At that time, I had just finished Kent State University in my home town, and I was in Palestine as a writer during the winter months while I worked as a landscaper in Ohio during the spring and summer to save money and survive. Back in Jerusalem, I bought a cheap Soviet camera which managed to take one decent photograph during its short life-span, this one one of Mansour during one of my trips to see him in the hospital. That was in January 1990.
Winter ended and I went back home again to start working for Creative Landscaping to save money and took this photo of Mansour with me to see if there was anyone to help him. Over the months that I knew him, I could see that Mansour was losing some of the positive spirit that he had when I first met him due to the reality of his terrible injuries starting to sink in. I felt very strongly that I needed to help him to at least get new legs and start walking again.
The quality of prosthetic care in the West Bank in 1990 was terrible and his family did not have the means to get him the care he needed outside, as they were hardly able to even feed their 12 children. Mansour’s own father lost his right leg many years ago in an accident and was unable to work. I never managed to understand how they survived, but they did.
I showed the photo that I had taken to an Akron orthopedic surgeon originally from Lebanon when I got home, who made some calls to different facilities in the area and managed to get his treatment arranged, as well as that of his sister Sabah, who also was injured in the bombing and needed orthopedic bone-lengthening surgery.
I went to my friends and grad students at Kent State who were from the Middle East and asked them to help me to go back to Palestine to bring Mansour and his sister out for treatment. In May 1990 I took time off of work and went back to Hebron to bring Mansour and Sabah back through Jordan to Ohio. In Amman, we went to the Palestinian embassy to ask them to cover our plane tickets, as I had no idea how we were going to get there. I didn’t have any money even for food and spent three days sleeping in on the floor in their relative’s apartment in a poor section of Amman until their tickets were arranged and we could travel.
When we arrived in Akron in May 1990, the two facilities in Akron who were treating them – The Crystal Clinic and Yanke Bionics – held a press conference and all of the TV stations in North East Ohio carried the story of the first two injured Palestinian children coming to the USA for free care. This here is one of the stories that were on the TV news then. There also was some nice coverage in the Beacon Magazine (below).
For the next several months, the two children had operations, appointments and the expert free care that they could not get back in Palestine. I was moved by the response from my community in Ohio, as everyday people who didn’t know much if anything about the situation in the occupied territories would ask us questions about the kids, how were they injured, why would a soldier toss a bomb at them, and for most of these folks, it was the first time they saw a different reality from what they were used to seeing in the mainstream media.
The Palestinian community in Cleveland organized and took care of the two kids while they were away from their families in Hebron. As they both began to walk again, Sabah after Ilizarov surgery and bone-lengthening and Mansour after stump revision of his leg. Both were learning English and making friends, and the community raised money for their college educations. We wanted to give them a better future as well.
I found within myself a deep spiritual satisfaction by doing something for these two injured kids as if it was my purpose in life. I also was helping the Palestinian people, who always treated me with such hospitality and respect during my time in their suffering country.
At the end of summer in 1990, Mansour and Sabah returned walking to their families back in Hebron. Both were different than when they first traveled four months before, speaking English, walking again and full of confidence at seeing part of the world. People heard about them and started to bring me to help other needy kids who needed surgery or prosthetics.
I make a decision then that I could try to help these other kids get free treatment in the USA. I didn’t know how I would do it, but if Mansour and Sabah could get treatment for free in Ohio, then I could try to help other kids as in other places where other Palestinian communities were willing to help, and in other hospitals who could care for them. All I had to do was to find the children, organize their treatment and travel abroad, and then start getting them out for care. In the Fall of 1990 and winter of 1991, I started to do that.
I soon found that I needed an organization to facilitate this kind of work. That’s how the idea of PCRF was started.