OPT - Cast Lead Aggression 1st Anniversary, Day 20: Fleeing Tel Al-Hawa
Series of Personal Testimonies, Reveal How One Year after Operation Cast Lead, Life in Gaza is Not Back to Normal
Fleeing Tel Al-Hawa
Throughout Operation Cast Lead and in clear contravention to international humanitarian law Israeli forces deliberately bombed and shelled governmental infrastructure such as ministries, police stations, a prison and the Palestinian Legislative Council, reducing in minutes, large compounds and tall imposing structures to rubble. Many of these ministries are located in the Haddad family's neighbourhood of Tel Al-Hawa in Gaza City. When the bombing and shelling escalated on 15 January 2009, the Haddad family decided to flee the neighbourhood. Salam Haddad, now 19, fled on foot at around 7am that morning. The rest of the family decided to wait until the Israeli declared 'humanitarian ceasefire' hours which started that day at 11am. At that time, they got into their car and drove for around 100 metres when they were hit by an Israeli munition believed to be white phosphorous. Salam's father, 'Uday, 55, mother, Ihsan, 44, brother, Hatim, 24 and sister, Alaa, 14, were killed. Mohammed, 26, was seriously injured but survived. Al Mezan interviewed Mohammed about how he is coping a year after the attack.
"Our neighbourhood had turned into hell," explains Mohammed, anxious to emphasize that this was no overstatement. "They were bombing and shelling mosques, apartment blocks, and houses. The sound was incredible. We were completely terrified. Salam couldn't take it anymore and left on foot at around 7am. The rest of us decided to wait until the Israeli declared ceasefire hours which started at 11am that day. We got into our car and had only driven for around 100 metres when we were hit. The force of the explosion threw me from the car."
Even though Mohammed was horribly injured - one of his eyes had burned away - when he came to and saw the burning car, he ran over and tried to push his way into it to save his family. A neighbour who witnessed the attack from his window ran over and dragged Mohammed away. He managed to get Mohammed, who had by then lost consciousness, to hospital where he woke up several days later.
"I stayed in Shifa hospital in Gaza City until 13 February," Mohammed explains. "I had lost my left eye and sustained third-degree burns to my legs, hands and forehead, and a broken jaw. They operated on me three times to clean the burns and removed what was left of my eye. Then I went to the Medicine Sans Frontiers (MSF) hospital for skin grafts."
Trying to Recover
Mohammed stayed with his aunt for two months while he relearned how to walk. He's been fitted with a glass eye but requires further reconstructive surgery, complex procedures that Gaza's hospitals are unable to perform. He hopes he will be able to travel abroad for the treatment, but for now, doctors have told him he's too weak to make the journey, in light of the extensive delays Palestinians face at the crossings when trying to leave Gaza.
He still cannot understand why his family were targeted. "None of us are fighters," he says. "My father was a bank manager and my brother was a student. My mother was a housewife, and Alaa, well of course...she was just a child. It was the Israelis who declared the ceasefire hours, not us. Why did they attack us? The Israelis always talk about what was done to the Jews in the Holocaust. I know the Europeans feel guilt about this. But the Israeli forces burned my family to death in front of me. Why doesn't anyone care about that?"
For Mohammed, one of the hardest things was to move back into his family home. "I stayed at my aunt's house until April. I was afraid to go back to the house. The first few times I tried, I couldn't go in; I just drove around the house in my car. Even now, it's hard to be here. I keep expecting my parents, my sister and my brother to walk in the door. My life has completely changed. I used to depend on my Dad for everything. I was a student and life was sort of carefree. Now I'm responsible for everything, for the house and for my younger brother."
The Haddad family also lost their life savings as a result of the attack. "My father had just sold our land, but because of the (Cast Lead) offensive, we couldn't get the money to the bank. It burned in the car along with my family."