oPt

OPT - Cast Lead Aggression 1st Anniversary, Day 15: Left for Dead in Beit Lahiya, North Gaza

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Lives Destroyed

Series of Personal Testimonies, Reveal How One Year after Operation Cast Lead, Life in Gaza is Not Back to Normal

Day 15: Left for Dead in Beit Lahiya, North Gaza - Wafa Radea, 37

In the afternoon of 10 January 2009, Wafa Radea, 37, went into labour. At around 4pm, during the Israeli declared ceasefire hours, she left her house on foot with her sister, Ghada, 31, to try to reach a hospital. Due to the intensity of the shelling and shooting, they gave up a few minutes later and attempted to return home. As they turned around, they were directly targeted by an Israeli drone (unmanned aircraft). Drones have an array of sensors and are able to determine whether a person is armed. Their missile strikes are very precise. In the attack, Ghada was seriously injured and Wafa lost her right leg above the knee. Al Mezan interviewed Wafa, her son Ihab, 18, and her sister, Ghada, almost a year after the attack to see how their family is coping.

Going into Labour

"I could feel the contractions and I knew that I was going to give birth soon," says Wafa, "I already have seven children. There were no cars in the area so Ghada and I decided to walk to the hospital. We usually wear black abayas (long black coats) and black scarves but we put on white ones so that we would stand out. The streets were empty and there were planes and tanks everywhere; it was terrifying. After a few minutes, we realised that we would never make it to the hospital so we decided to turn back."

Ghada explains what happened next, "We heard the sound that a drone (unmanned aircraft) makes before it's about to fire a missile. I panicked and started to run, but Wafa couldn't because she was so heavily pregnant. I was thrown onto the ground and then I saw something fly over my head and land on the ground in front of me. I thought it was the angel of death and I was too afraid to look over. Then I heard a voice saying, 'cover me, cover me,' and I realised it was my sister. I was injured all over the right side of my body and I couldn't move my right leg. I crawled over to her like a child. She was black and burned and nearly naked. I tried to talk to her but she didn't respond. Then I saw a group of young men standing a distance away from us. I signalled for them to come over but they were too afraid at first. One of them approached us about five minutes later and helped me to get to hospital. We left Wafa on the ground because we thought she was dead," finishes Ghada before leaving the interview for a physiotherapy session.

Eventually an ambulance arrived and took Wafa to Shifa hospital in Gaza City. The doctors realised she was pregnant and successfully carried-out a caesarean. Wafa's son, Ihab, explains that the doctors had no hope of saving Wafa's life. "My father, Zeer, found out what had happened and made it to Shifa hospital. When he arrived they told him that his wife was not going to make it but that his newborn son had survived. My uncle, Raed, who is a doctor, came to the hospital and pleaded with the doctors to send my mother to Egypt for treatment. At first they refused; they said that they had to send patients who had a chance of surviving. Raed became so distressed that the doctors changed their minds. They sent her to Egypt accompanied by her brother Waleed."

Wafa stayed in a coma for over a month and woke up at the end of February. "The first thing my brother, Waleed, said to me was, 'Your son, Iyad, sends you greetings,'" she recalls. "I told him that I didn't have a son called Iyad. Waleed had to explain that I had given birth while in a coma, that I was in Egypt, and that my baby was in Gaza. I didn't believe him until I heard the Egyptian accents around me."

Wafa spent six months being treated in Egypt where she learned that she'd lost her right leg. "I heard the doctors talking about someone who had lost their leg. At first, I didn't realise it was me. I was in so much pain and I couldn't move at all for nearly four months. I started to ask the doctors if I'd lost my leg. They kept saying 'no', but I insisted until they told me the truth. At that stage, I was in so much pain that I didn't really care. I was too sick to care about anything."

When Wafa returned to the Gaza Strip in June 2009, she fell into depression, "When I saw my son, Iyad, for the first time, I couldn't believe how big he was. I was sad and happy all at the same time. But I couldn't pick him up or put him on my knee and I started to wonder what the point of life was. I was in so much pain and I thought I'd be in pain for ever. I really thought I was losing my mind. Eventually, I started to accept the situation I was in. My family are very supportive and my children help around the house. I feel this hurts their study, and this makes me depressed, but what else can we do? My husband helps a lot as well, but he's also very angry. He wants people in Israel to feel the same pain as we do so they can understand what they are doing to us."

Wafa still needs further surgery on her remaining leg which was torn apart in the explosion, "I had another operation a few weeks ago because I still have problems with my nerves. I've already had six or seven, and I'm going to need even more. My whole life changed in a moment when they attacked us. Suddenly I was in a war...suddenly I was in Egypt, and now I'm back and can't do anything for myself. I still can't pick up my baby, Iyad. Life in Gaza has always been hard but we used to be happy before."