OPT - Cast Lead Aggression 1st Anniversary, Day 3: Yebna Refugee Camp, Rafah

Originally published
At about 1am on 29 December 2008, the Al-Absi family home in Yebna Refugee Camp, south of Gaza's southern town of Rafah, was bombed and completely destroyed by an Israeli aircraft. All 10 family members were sleeping at the time. Three of the family's children - Sidqi, aged four, Ahmed, 10, and Mohammad, 12 - were killed. Their four sisters and their parents were injured, some of them very seriously. The children's mother, 41-year-old 'Afaf, went into a coma for two months and her 16-year-old daughter Zakiya still requires further surgery to her left arm. Ne'meh, who is now three, was thrown by the force of the blast onto the roof of the adjacent house. Only one of the children, Mahmoud, now 18, escaped without injury. Al Mezan interviewed, 'Afaf's sister, Samira, 45, about how the family is coping almost one year after the attack.

I thought my sister was dead

"We thought 'Afaf was dead," Samira explains. "She stayed in intensive care in Gaza for ten days because she was too weak to travel, then she was transferred to Egypt. I accompanied her and slept in a room next door. She was in a coma for about two months. When she woke up, she asked for Ne'meh first. Then she asked about her other children. I told her they were in Gaza and that they were fine. She said, 'I don't want to be here. I want to go home to my children.' During that time her surviving children called her on the phone. She started to ask me, 'Why doesn't Ahmed call me? Why doesn't Mohammed call me?' When she spoke to the others they made up excuses. They said that the three children who had been killed were out; at the shops or with relatives."

Samira couldn't keep hiding the truth from her sister. "'Afaf told me she felt I was hiding something from her. She said, 'I feel as though my children are dead,' and begged me to tell her the truth. I kept denying it. Ziyad, her husband, had told me not to tell her. In the end I thought it would be better to tell her in Egypt while the doctors were still around her. I told her psychologist that I was going to tell her and waited until the psychologist was there. I didn't know how to do it. I said to her, 'If I told you the missile had fallen in your house, which would be better, if three children had died or if all of them had died?' She said, 'If three of them had died,' and that's when I told her.' I hugged her and comforted her and she prayed to God."

'Afaf and her family are now living in cramped conditions with relatives not far from their old neighbourhood. As Israel continues to prohibit the entry of all building materials into the Gaza Strip, none of the thousands of families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli forces in the past few years have been able to rebuild. Samira believes that the continued displacement is hindering 'Afaf's chances of psychological recovery. "Afaf doesn't do anything now. Her nervous system is damaged. She can't pick anything up. She can't cook. She hardly eats. She says to me, 'What is the point of me eating? It is a waste of food to feed me. I can't even look after my children anymore.' She is still so weak. If you were to just tap her, she'd fall over. She used to be a perfect mother. There was always food on the table when the children got home. Now she sleeps all the time. I think if she had her own house...a home to look after, she might start to get better."

The lives of 'Afaf's surviving children have also been permanently affected. Nineteen-year-old Nida' had hoped to enrol at university this year to study religious studies, but now has to stay home to care for her mother. Following three operations, Zakiya, 16, still has only partial use of her badly disfigured left arm and has been told that no more treatment is available in Gaza's under resourced hospitals. Her family are hoping to raise the money to send her for an operation overseas. Fida, 20, spends most of her time worrying about her mother, "We lost three children this year. My mother nearly died. I'm still so afraid for her. What do you have if you don't have your mother?" she asks.