OPT - Cast Lead Aggression 1st Anniversary, Day 22: No Safe Place
Series of Personal Testimonies, Reveal How One Year after Operation Cast Lead, Life in Gaza is Not Back to Normal
No Safe Place
On 17 January 2009, at around 6:00am, the Israeli military fired white phosphorous artillery shells over Mashrou Boys School (Beit Lahiya UNRWA School) in north Gaza. The school had been opened as an emergency shelter on 5 January and the GPS Coordinates communicated to Israeli army by the United Nations. Nujud Al-Ashkar, 30, lost two of her children, Bilal, 5, and Mohammed, 3, and is now permanently disabled. Al Mezan interviewed Nujud nearly a year after the attack.
"We fled from our home on 10 January because the Israelis dropped warning leaflets saying we should evacuate the area. We went to a UN shelter in Beit Lahiya town. On 16 January, in the night, we heard shouting and screaming. A young girl sleeping in the classroom next door had been injured. The school guards kept telling us not to be afraid, but I was terrified. I was afraid that if there was an attack, the glass in the windows would shatter on the children. I got up and measured the distance from the window to the children. I decided it was safe but I covered them with more blankets to try to make them safer.
Nujud and her children were near the door of the classroom when the shells struck. Mohammed and Bilal were killed instantly, while Nujud was seriously injured and lost consciousness. When she came to she found blood pouring from her head. "I was bleeding and yelling, 'What's happened! What's happened!' I heard people shouting, 'Ambulance! Ambulance!' I couldn't see my fingers and then I fainted. It's like I was half asleep. I could hear people but I didn't really know what was going on. I don't remember anything else. I woke up two days later in hospital. My sister-in-law, Sahar, was there. I asked about my children, Bilal, Mohammed, Madeline and Sabri. She said, 'Don't worry, they're fine. They're at home. They don't want to see you like this.'"
Treatment in Egypt
After undergoing surgery on her head and hand, Nujud was transferred to Egypt for treatment. "I still didn't know that my children were dead. I kept asking to see them but my family told me I should just go to Egypt. Sahar came with me. We stayed there for one month and three days. I was in intensive care for 23 days and then in a normal ward. There, some people from Egypt came to visit me. They asked me about my children and brought presents, clothes and toys for them. Their visits made me really happy but I missed my children so much. I was longing to see them. I told Sahar that I needed to speak to them, just to hear a word from Bilal. She told she didn't have any credit on her phone so I asked a stranger if I could use hers. When she said yes, Sahar's face changed. She became really panicky. I called my brother and told him to put Bilal on the phone. He told me that Bilal was at a relative's house and I said, okay, I'll call him there. That's when he told me that Bilal was dead. That two of my children are dead. Then I remembered and understood. In the hospital in Gaza my husband, who is deaf and dumb, held up two fingers and made a sleeping sign. He was trying to tell me that two of our children were dead."
My husband says it's all my fault
Back in Gaza Nujud is struggling to cope. Her right hand was amputated and she's lost all feeling in her left. Her husband blames her for the death of their children. "My husband keeps telling me that it's all my fault. He tells me that I killed our children. He says that I am disabled now and that I'm useless. I think he blames me because we were the only family injured in that classroom. He tells me he wants to marry someone else. He's horrible to me every day. But how will I cope if he leaves us? I used to ask my husband to help me with things, but now he refuses. My daughter Madeline, who is eight, helps me in the kitchen now. She tries her best but everything takes her ages. I feel like I want to shout at her to make her do it quickly. Then I feel awful because she's just a child. I can't do anything for myself now, even brush my children's hair. Sometimes I ask the neighbours for help, but often I'm too afraid. I feel ashamed. Life before was lonely sometimes because I couldn't speak with my husband. But I was happy. Those memories are so painful."
Now Nujud's only hope is that she can get a prosthetic hand. "I went to the prosthetic hand place in Gaza, but they only have hands which don't move. I told them I didn't want it. I want a hand that I can use. When my husband puts my headscarf on for me, he says, 'You've lost your hand. You can't use your other one. Your head is a mess of scars. Nothing is left of you.' I feel like I'm dead now. I wish I'd died with my sons. My only hope in the world is to get a new hand. Yesterday my father came over and dressed my son for me. I just started to cry."