OPT - Cast Lead Aggression 1st Anniversary, Day 5: The Targeting of Medical Teams

Originally published
Lives Destroyed

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

On Wednesday 31 December 2008, several people were wounded in an Israeli attack in Jabal Ar-Rayis neighbourhood, north-east of Gaza City. Dr. Ihab Al Madhoun, 33-year-old director of Az-Zeitoun Clinic in Gaza City, ambulance driver Hishmat Ajour, 30, and medic Mohammed Sa'id Abu Hasira, 30, sped out in an ambulance to rescue them. As they stepped out of the vehicle they were targeted by an Israeli warplane. Hishmat was the only survivor. Mohammed died instantly and Ihab died the next day. Al Mezan interviewed Ihab's widow, Roshana Al Madhoun, 28, and his brother, Iyad Al Madhoun, 35, nearly a year after Ihab was killed.

In the Line of Duty

"He was doing his duty that day," Roshana says. "He went out to rescue the wounded. My sister-in-law came to tell me he'd been injured. I told her I was preparing myself for the worst. I'd always had a feeling that one day he would go out and not come back. My sister-in-law said, 'Don't say that. It's going to be okay.' The next day she came over. She was crying. I didn't realise why. I thought she was crying because of all the people who were being killed and injured. When she told me I went into shock. I was dizzy. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't do anything. I even forgot about my children. People took me to the condolences (similar to a wake). They had to tell me what to do; where to sit. I just kept thinking, 'How am I going to cope? I'm all alone now.' I couldn't believe he was dead."

Originally from Russia, Roshana plans to stay in the Gaza Strip with her four children, Nour, 9, Sujud, 8, Khalid, 6 and Amal, 2. "The hardest thing is that I come from another country. I met my husband in Russia 10 years ago. He was studying medicine there. I left my family and my country and came to Gaza to be with him. When I got here I saw that many people are killed. So I used to ask my husband, 'What should I do if you die?' He told me I should stay in Gaza. When he was killed, my family in Russia told me I should leave; that I should go to Russia for a while. But there is something holding me here. I'm attached to this country. My in-laws have really helped me to cope. I stayed with them all the time after Ihab died. They didn't leave me alone. Then I found work in a kindergarten. I'm a teacher there. That is how I cope."

Iyad is angry about his brother's death. "A doctor...in an ambulance...in a fluorescent jacket. It is obvious he wasn't a fighter. He even told the medics not to take the stretchers out of the ambulances during incursions in case the Israelis thought they were weapons. He took every precaution. We want Israel to stop killing civilians; killing doctors and children." Iyad doesn't believe that his brother's killers will be brought to justice. "Israel has carried-out many invasions and committed many war crimes. But nothing ever happens."

Roshana worries about the impact of her husband's death on their children. "For us it is a tragedy. Nour has been affected the most. She became very introverted after he died. She just kept crying all the time. Even now, when she sees his picture she cries. Amal was really close to her father even though she was so young. Whenever she sees a man holding a bag like her father's, she thinks it's him. When my cell phone rings, my children still think it's him. During Eid (a major holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), they became really distressed. They saw their uncles taking their sons and daughters out for the day and said to me, 'Dad used to take us out, who is going to take us out now?'

Life used to be hard before Ihab died. Now it is even harder. You feel like you are in a prison here. It's so difficult to come and go. I still haven't recovered from the last war, psychologically, I mean, but I'm already afraid of the next one. My children are afraid too. They say, 'I'm afraid, I'm afraid, I'm afraid,' over and over and they don't want to be alone. People say it gets easier; that you start to forget. But for me, it's the opposite. It hurts more and more. I'm so alone here."

Ihab and Mohammed are two of seventeen emergency workers killed by Israeli forces in the line of duty during Operation Cast Lead. A further 50 were injured. Emergency workers are afforded special protection under the Geneva Conventions.