Hitler, Saddam: Palestinians cope with loaded names

2017-11-03 19:14
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Hebron - Hitler, Castro and Saddam Hussein meet in a bar. It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but in the Palestinian territories it is actually possible.

Palestinians often name their children after famous celebrities, national heroes or backers of their cause.

But from time to time, they pick far more controversial names and the children have to live with the consequences.

Hitler Abu Hamad is not proud to carry the name of a man responsible for the slaughter of millions.

"There is no relationship between my name and the actions of Adolf Hitler", he said at his home in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. "I hate what he did."

"I am against killing, violence and human rights abuses, but I got used to my name and it is part of my character."

How the quiet, polite 41-year-old school teacher came to be named after the most hated man of the 20th century says a lot about Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community.

Jewish settlers moved into the territory and the occupation continues.

When Abu Hamad was born in 1976, his father wanted to send a message, though in perhaps the most offensive way possible: picking the name of the man who systematically murdered six million Jews in the Holocaust.

"My father gave me the name to provoke the occupation," he said.

"He was not political. He was a simple man who made mistakes. He wanted to make the occupation think with my name."

The father-of-two studied English literature and is a deputy head at a school near his home, while also teaching adults.

His name is "weird for the kids at school", he said.

He says it also causes him endless problems at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank.

'You are a criminal'

When he was 15 and living in Hebron's Old City, an army officer approached him and asked him his name.

When he told him, the soldier flew off the handle, he alleges.

"He said 'You are a criminal,'" Abu Hamad said, alleging he was then beaten by soldiers, leaving him with a broken nose still bent out of shape.

Israel's military did not respond to a request for comment.

He believes the name also stopped Israelis from giving him permits to study or work outside the Palestinian territories.

"We are not against the Jews," he said.

"We are against the occupation and don't respect it. It destroys our homes, confiscates our possessions and restricts our freedom."

Saddam Hussein

Many Palestinians have named children after their longtime leader Yasser Arafat, while other names heard include Castro, Guevara and Chavez – after the Latin American figures who supported their cause.

In Hebron, there is a Carter Abu Isneyna, named after former US president Jimmy Carter, who tried to get Israel to end the occupation and led the Camp David peace talks between Israel and Egypt.

Qais Hussein Omar was born in 1976 under a different name – Saddam Hussein.

He alleges he was regularly harassed at checkpoints by Israeli soldiers angered by his name, and was once hospitalised by a particularly brutal beating.

"My name was the source of psychological and physical suffering", he said.

In other countries, too, he faced issues and it all affected his health, so seven years ago he changed it.

He urges parents not to name their children after famous people as it "won't fit the personality".

"His name could be Yasser Arafat and he wants to become a ballet dancer."

Benjamin Netanyahu Nicola

In the city of Haifa in northern Israel, an Arab Israeli man is named after Jules Jammal, a Syrian military hero believed to have driven his boat into a French warship during the 1956 Suez crisis.

"I am happy with my name", he told AFP.

Naji Obeid, a Christian Arab who tries to encourage members of his community to join the Israeli army, named his son after former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

"I loved the leader Menachem Begin and he was my friend, so I called my son Begin Obeid, and he serves in the Israeli navy", he said.

Arab Israeli Christian Waheed Nicola named his son Benjamin Netanyahu after the right-wing Israeli leader won elections in 1996.

Delivery man Benjamin Netanyahu Nicola, 21, has said in previous interviews with Israeli media the name has caused him no end of problems when he delivers goods in Arab areas.

Israeli media reports have said he wanted to change his name but his father, who is a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, refused.

He didn't want to speak to AFP.

"My son is beautiful and kind and his name has caused him a lot of problems, especially after media interviews", his mother said. "So we won't do any more."

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