oPt

OPT - Cast Lead Aggression 1st Anniversary, Day 9: Playing on the Roof, At-Tuffah, Gaza City

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Isra' Qusay Al-Habbash, 13, and her cousin Shatha 'Abed Al-Habbash, 10, were both killed in an Israeli missile strike while playing on the roof of their home in the Al-Tuffah neighbourhood of Gaza City on 4 January 2009 at around 3.30pm. Shatha's 14-year-old sister Jamila lost both her legs above the knee and her 16-year-old cousin Mohammaed lost one leg. Al Mezan spoke with Jamila, now 15, and Jamila and Shatha's mother, Hala Al-Habbash, 36, nearly a year after the attacks.

I Used to Have Ten Children

"I used to have ten children, now I have nine," says Hala whose 10-year-old daughter, Shatha, was killed by an Israeli missile strike while playing on the roof of her home. Shatha's older sister, Jamila, was critically injured in the same attack. "They amputated both of Jamila's legs in Gaza, but they couldn't remove all of the shrapnel. Her legs were really inflamed and she was in a lot of pain. They sent her to King Fahad Hospital in Saudi Arabia for treatment. They have special equipment there to remove the shrapnel."

Jamila, 15, continues, "I found out the day after the attack that my legs had been amputated. I didn't really have time to think about what had happened. I just wanted to leave Gaza. I told my family, 'I hate Gaza, I really hate it.' I was just so afraid during the war. I stayed in the hospital in Gaza for around a week before being transferred to Saudi Arabia. Every day felt like a year. I was in so much pain. Especially at night when I was alone. During the day my family were all around me and it sort of distracted me."

Learning to Walk

Jamila's uncle accompanied her to Saudi Arabia. "My uncle came with me and we have relatives there as well. They came to visit me and look after me. In Saudi Arabia everything was provided. There were drawing classes and I had a lot of physiotherapy. They gave me new legs and taught me to use them. But after the first month I really started to miss Gaza. I really missed my Mum." Hala explained that Jamila was able to chat with her through the internet. "We used to wait all day so we could chat with her in the evenings. That is all we were waiting for. It was like we were waiting for...I can't explain it to you. In Saudi Arabia Jamila told me not to worry. She said to me, 'I'm still Jamila. I'm still your daughter. Life is not going to stop. Life has to go on.' I think God has helped her to cope."

After six months Jamila returned to Gaza, but was still struggling to walk with her prosthetic legs. Hala explains, "Eventually Jamila should be able to walk properly but now, she goes to school in her wheelchair. It takes her too long when she walks but sometimes she walks on the way home. She's still in pain. I think it hurts her when she tries to move her legs."

Hala continues to worry about what the future will bring for Jamila. "I'm trying to help her overcome the situation and to cope with what has happened. But I'm worried about who will look after her when I'm gone. She used to come to the shops with me every day. Now she prefers to stay at home. She was like a butterfly before this happened."

Hopes for Justice

Hala has heard about the international investigations into Israeli attacks during Operation Cast Lead, but is pessimistic about their result. "I don't think anything will come of the international investigations. People around the world know what is happening here but they do nothing. I lost a daughter. Another daughter lost her legs. All the people around me say, 'You are a Muslim. You believe in fate. You have to cope,' and I try but inside I'm in so much pain. What I show on the outside is not what is inside of me. After the attack, I went to my sister-in-law's house because we felt it was safer. There, I asked Jamila's sister to make some tea. She said to me, 'But Jamila used to make it.' That made me cry."