Bara Farid Abu-Dheir, 26, suffered brain trauma as a toddler and never fully recovered. His father, a journalism professor, encouraged him to travel to Turkey and Jordan to look for work. What happened when he tried to return to Nablus is every parent’s nightmare.
Gideon Levy and Alex Levac
When Bara Farid Abu-Dheir was 2 years old, one of his toys fell off the small bridge near his home in the West Bank city of Nablus. Trying to see where the toy had gone, the toddler himself fell off the structure from a height of 6.5 meters (21 feet) and sustained serious injuries: a brain hemorrhage and a skull fracture. The event changed the course of his life and that of his family. His parents, Basmah and Farid, hurried back to Britain, where Farid was working as a university lecturer, with their son. For the next three years, Bara underwent treatment in St. James’s University Hospital, in Leeds. He developed hemiplegia – paralysis of one side of the body – lost the power of speech and for years suffered from memory loss and an inability to concentrate. In time, thanks to intensive treatment, his condition gradually improved. He regained his speech and the paralysis passed completely – but he did not recover completely from the brain injury.
Today, at 26, Bara has difficulty forging social ties and is introverted and solitary, although he has been an excellent student. His parents dote on him, he has been the apple of their eye. The couple have four other, younger children, but Bara is their primary concern. He lives with them and has accompanied them back and forth between Britain and Nablus, in the wake of Farid’s academic career. Currently, the father is a lecturer in communications at An-Najah University in Nablus; among other things, the subjects he teaches include media ethics, international media, public opinion and introduction to media studies.
A week ago, Farid issued a desperate appeal, in Hebrew, English and Arabic, to Israeli and world media and human rights organizations: “The Israeli Occupation Authorities have arrested my son, Bara Farid Abu-Dheir … Since his arrest, Bara has been subject to an intensive investigation, accompanied by extreme pressure in the investigation center at Petah Tikva. On his first appearance in front of his family at Ofer courtroom, Bara was in complete astonishment and severe breakdown. He was crying heavily, telling the court how he was forced to confess things that he has never done, how he was forced to fabricate lies. I hereby give this plea to human rights organizations and Israeli parties with such concerns, related authorities and the media to stop this comic play, to avoid an innocent human be[ing] tried without proof … Thank you for your kind concern.”
We met Dr. Farid Abu-Dheir, 53, this week, smoking a narghile on the elegant broad porch of A-Ram restaurant in the western section of Nablus, between Jneid Prison and An-Najah University. His son Bara was born in Britain, the father says, while he was studying there. The accident occurred in 1992, during a year the family spent in Nablus. They have lived in its shadow ever since, constantly concerned about Bara’s health.
Bara went to school in Britain and afterward in Nablus, obtaining an undergraduate degree in computer science from An-Najah University in 2014. His father proudly shows us a photograph from the graduation: Bara is wearing a black robe and cap. In the two years since, he has been trying to improve his proficiency in three-dimensional animation while looking for a job. He also had a stint at a Jordanian television station in Amman to better his skills.
Farid was invited to Finland to take part in an international conference sponsored by the United Nations to mark World Press Freedom Day, May 3. Since his flight passed through Istanbul, he suggested to Bara that he accompany him and stay with his, Farid’s, nephew, who lives in the Turkish city, and try to find work there or do courses in 3-D animation. Bara spent a month in Turkey, went for job interviews and looked into the possibility of continuing his studies, all to no avail. His father then suggested that he try to pursue M.A. studies at a British university. He registered his son at Bournemouth University, where Bara was accepted for the fall semester, subject to passing an exam in English, in which he is fluent.