Friday, December 8, 2006

Beit Hanoun- one month after massacre

mosque: gone

The day I arrived in gaza, among the first people to greet me, a stranger, was Ra’id Ethamne. I knew very little about gaza and was waiting for a contact of mine to pick me at the border when Ra’id and his friends made me tea. Most of the people I sat with that day have become my friends since that time, I see them often as I come and go through that border crossing. But it was a massacre, 15 months to the day after my arrival that brought Ra’id and me back together again.

The building he lives in he shares with his extended family, 108 members in all. On November 8th Ra’id was meeting with a journalist early and had left his home by the time the first missile struck the top floor of his building at 5:30am. Ra’id’s brother Iyad was awake and preparing himself for prayers. There was no running water in the home since it had been turned off during the Israeli invasion. So Iyad had left the building to wash his hands and feet from the water barrel beside the house. When he saw the missile enter the top floor of the four0story building he panicked and started to rush upstairs. A relative stopped him and warned of a wall that was about to collapse in the stairwell.

Seconds later a further missile smashed into the home. Iyad rushed to the back of the house where his sister was screaming for help, she had lost her legs and was partially buried under rubble. In a panic Iyad carried his sister to what he believed to be safety, the road adjacent to their home, and left her there with his mother and cousin, then dashed back into the building to rescue his wife and two sons. He managed to make it to their apartment, cradled his 15 months old son in his arms, while his pregnant wife led his oldest son by the hand out of the smoking building.

Then the unimaginable happened.

As Iyad was heading towards the spot where he had left the rest of his family, a missile landed in the very place he was trying to reach. Before his eyes Iyad saw his mother, sister and cousin and a neighbor reduced to body parts. The ricocheting shrapnel hit his son Ahmed in the head, to this day it is lodged there. Iyad’s main artery in his right leg was cut. That day the streets were soaked with blood. He dropped Ahmed into the hands of a cousin who came to the rescue. Iyad’s wife lost her foot and is currently being treated in Egypt. Because of the missile strike heavy dust filled the air, only the headlights of the ambulance heading towards them were barely visible. Once aboard the ambulance Iyad lost consciousness and awoke much later in the hospital room. A relative stood nearby and he pleaded with him to tell him everything that had happened. Seventeen relatives dead, including of course his mother and sister and 42 others injured including his wife and his young son Ahmed severely.

Ahmed had been sent to a hospital in Israel where the family was informed that the shrapnel lodged in his brain would not affect the boy’s growth. With a look of deep fear in his eyes Iyad explained to me that the family was considering sending him back to Israel because he was not alright. He was constantly throwing up and often falling unconscious. While recounting the events of that disastrous day, over and over again with a look of trusting resignation in his eyes, Iyad repeated the words Ilhamdu-lilah, praise be to God. His spirit was broken all the same.

Ra’id is a man haunted by the reality of the life he has been given to live. He explained that daily he calls his family at least twenty or thirty times just to hear their voice, just to make sure they are ok, just to ascertain they are still alive. His family and the entire city of Beit Hanoun still live with the fear that the soldiers and tanks may return at any point.

One of Ra’id and Iyad’s cousin’s is called Intifada. She is severely handicapped and sits in a wheelchair. She needs to be fed and pushed around in her chair. With her head in its natural position tilted to the left and her soft voice she exclaimed, “let the Israelis withdraw.”

As individuals continue to fire homemade rockets into the desert of Israel and the Israeli military responds with tank fire, fear still looms over the city of Beit Hanoun.

women: displaced