“We just want to live”: Voices from Gaza

Jouma’ Khadoura | Nisreen Abu-Amra | Fr. Manuel Mussallam | Ghada Riad Rajab Abu Halima | Nafez a-Daiyah

Jouma’ Khadoura
“We collected empty cans and we brought a small ball. We mounted the cans on top of each other then we made two teams,” said 10 year old Muhammad, telling Caritas Project Coordinator in Gaza Jouma’ Khadoura about the moments before the Israeli shell struck. “In this game you have to roll the ball in order to knock down the cans. Then you have to mount them on top of each other before you get caught by the other team”.

Mohammed was playing outside his home in Al- Maghazi neighbourhood in central Gaza with his siblings and friends when the Israeli shell hit. The next thing he remembers is waking up in Al- Aqsa Hospital.

“I thought I was dead when I woke up in hospital. I could not believe that I was still alive,” said Muhammad.

Muhammad has now returned to his home and will visit the hospital every few days for follow up treatment.

For Jouma’ Khadoura it is just one incident of many that he’s witnessed over the last month.

“People were wandering the streets with lost faces, because of the things they have seen,” said Jouma’ Khadoura, recalling aftermath of the attack that destroyed the Caritas medical point and 20 homes on 9 January. “As I was walking, people could see I was an aid worker wearing a Caritas vest. They expected me to know where their lost relatives were. When they asked me, I felt helpless.”

Jouma’ began volunteering with Caritas in 2003. He has also worked with Doctors without Boarders, Red Crescent and Red Cross. He says that he has not seen anything like this intensity, “I have seen children with amputated arms and legs. Body parts all over the place. I lost my friend who worked on an ambulance. Sadly my aunt also died.”

These twenty-two days of conflict have left over 1,300 Palestinians dead and over 5,300 injured. That is 1 in every 225 Gazans either killed or injured. Of the dead, 431 are children and 112 are women. This number does not include those who have died due to lack of access to regular health care.

At 29, Jouma’ does not think of getting married or having children at this moment. He believes that it’s a punishment to raise children in Gaza under these circumstances. The life they would have would be miserable.

“They have no playgrounds to play safely or freely like other children. I would always worry,” he said.

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Nisreen Abu-Amra

Nisreen Abu-Amra is a 30 year old resident of Tal Al-Hawa near Gaza City. She has 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls. While on his way to buy oil for cooking, her husband broke both of his legs when Israel struck the Mosque in Jabaliya. On Friday morning she arrived at the Holy Family School outside Gaza City seeking refuge after 20 days trapped in her home.

She said by phone today, “I didn’t know where my husband was for a whole day. The day after he left he managed to call and told me what happened. Because the hospitals are so overcrowded he had to leave that day so I took him home. But even that day, Israel began attacking my area and we were trapped; unable to move. Anyone who moved outside was shot. Our neighbours lit a candle and their home was destroyed. They all died.

“The next day, from my building I could see the tanks and army trucks surrounding the area. Soldiers went into high tower buildings and arrested all the men but let the children and women go. They then made holes in the buildings and snipers were all over the buildings. We heard heavy shooting. Our building was shaking, I saw lights flashing outside and every time I did I thought that we would be next to be hit.

“My children kept crying from fear. I heard people injured outside screaming from pain.

“From my window I saw one man who was already injured coming out of his home for help. He was waving a white scarf for surrender and immediately he was shot. Two bullets: one in the head and one in the stomach. Anything that moved or breathed was shot. My children turned white and were frozen with fear. I saw this with my own eyes.

“At home, in order to do anything, we had to crawl around. For two days I did not have even a sip of water. My youngest baby is only one year old. A baby needs constant cleaning and I am using whatever I can find to do it. Because of his injury, my husband also needs constant care and cleaning.

“We were trapped like for that for 20 days. When I heard it was a bit quiet I called an ambulance to come and take me and my family. I thought to myself where would I go? I have no-one. Then I thought of Fr. Manuel so I asked to be taken there. I worked in this school as a teacher for five years.

“I came to him for help and he welcomed me with open arms. He gave me a room in the school and he is trying to provide me with all the necessities for me and my family and helping to take care of my husband.

“I cannot believe I am alive. Every moment I heard the strikes I thought this was the last moment. Really, really I cannot believe that I am here and that I am alive.

“Please, I plead to the world that you save us and our children. Let us live and have a normal life, with just basic necessities we just want to live.

“We don’t want anything else.”
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Fr. Manuel Mussallam

Fr. Manuel Mussallam is Catholic Parish Priest of Gaza. It is the school that he runs that Nisreen fled to this morning.

He said by phone earlier, “We now have 3 families, which is 15 people, staying at our school. I have turned the classrooms into rooms for them to stay but we lack blankets, mattresses, clothes and pillows. There is not much here to offer.

“Nisreen came here with her husband who has two broken legs. He cannot move. We are not equipped here for such things, and I have no medics here to help me. One of the cleaners in the school, her husband was killed just yesterday. My driver’s brother, sister-in-law and both of their children have been killed so I don’t have much help. I can only do so much. I am helpless.

“My biggest concern now is the generator for electricity. I am running out of diesel and the cables were hit so it’s not working properly. I am only using it for 6 hours a day so it will last longer but if it finishes I don’t know what I will do. What about the people who come to the school to bake their bread everyday? What then? There is no other food.

“Currently, we are using the water that is in the well but even that not sure how long it will last.

“I feel helpless, I really need help.

“The people’s situation is unimaginable and inhumane. This is the worst war we have ever seen. People are lost and they have nowhere to hide. They are tired and helpless. They have given up.”

Testimony of  Father Mussalam on January 3rd

From God’s church in Gaza to the beloved saints in Palestine and the rest of the world,

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

From the valley of tears, from blood-drenched Gaza, whose one and a half million residents have been robbed of the joy they once had in their hearts, I send you these words of faith and hope. As for love, that’s a word that even we Christians no longer dare utter, not even to ourselves. Today, the priests of the church are raising the banner of hope. May God have mercy and pity on us and leave a remnant in Gaza. May he not put out the light of Christ, which was spread by the deacon Philip at the time of the early church. May the compassion of Christ be what reawakens our love for God, which is currently like a patient in a hospital’s intensive care unit. As a priest and a father, I bear the sad news of the death of a beloved girl who was a tenth grader at the Holy Family School and the first Christian to die in this war: Christine Wadi’ Al-Turk

Christine passed away on the morning of Saturday, January 2, 2009, due to fear and cold. The windows of her house were open to protect the children from being hit by flying glass fragments, and as missiles passed over her house and her neighbors fell victim to Israeli attacks, her entire body would shake with fear. When she could not longer bear it, she cried on her Creator’s shoulder and asked Him for a home and shelter with no crying, shouting, or wailing but joy and happiness.

My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, what you see and hear on your television screens is not the complete painful truth about what our people in Gaza are going through. Their suffering is so widespread over our land that no television or radio could report the whole truth about it. The brutal siege on Gaza is a storm that escalates by the hour; it is not only a war crime but a crime against humanity. Today, the suffering people of Gaza are appealing to the conscience of every human being with goodwill, but it will soon be our just God who decides the case.

The children of Gaza have been sleeping with their families in the hallways of their homes (if they have them) or in bathrooms, for protection. They tremble with fear at every sound, every movement, and every violent F-16 attack. While it is true that so far the F-16 jets have for the most part targeted the headquarters of the government and Hamas, they are located in residential areas no more than six meters away from people’s homes, the minimum distance required by construction law. That’s why people’s houses are severely affected by the violence, and it leads to the death of many children. Our children are suffering from trauma, anxiety, undernourishment, malnutrition, poverty, and lack of heating.

The situation in hospitals is unspeakably deplorable. Our hospitals were not properly equipped before the war, and now there are thousands of injured and ill patients streaming in, to the point that operations are being done in the hospital hallways, and many patients are being sent to Egypt via the Rafah Border Crossing. Some of them never return because they die on the way. The conditions in the hospitals are horrifying, heartbreaking, and hysteria-inducing.

I would like to tell you a short story about something that happened in a hospital to the Abdul-Latif family. One of the children disappeared during the first attack, and his parents spent the first two days of the war looking for him but did not find him. On the third day, as the family was walking around a hospital, they found some people from the Jarada family gathered around a disfigured and injured boy whose leg had been cut off. His face was distorted not because of the F-16 attacks he had suffered but because of the glass that had fallen onto his face when part of the hospital was attacked. The Adul-Latifs approached the Jaradas to console them. When they reached the injured boy, Mr. Abdul-Latif realized that it was his son and not the Jaradas’. The families argued with each other over the issue and waited for the boy to wake up and tell them who he was so that he could be taken by the Abdul-Latifs.

I will keep my letter brief. I lift our suffering up to God just as I have presented it to you. Our people in Gaza are being treated like animals in a zoo; they don’t get enough to eat, and they cry but nobody wipes their tears away. Instead of water, electricity, and food, there is fear and terror and restriction. Yesterday, the baker refused to give me bread, because he did not want to let me eat something made from flour not suitable for human consumption — which he had begun using when he ran out of good flour — so as not to insult my priesthood. I vowed not to eat any bread for the remainder of the war.

We want you to pray to God fervently and continually and to mention the suffering in Gaza before God in every mass or service that you hold. I send short letters with Scripture to the Christian community here to bring hope to their hearts. We have all agreed to say the following prayer every hour on the hour: “O God of peace, shower us with peace. O God of peace, bring peace to our land. Have mercy on your people, O Lord, and do not be angry with us forever.” I ask you to stand up now and say the same prayer. Your prayers with us will stir the world, showing it that any type of love that is not extended to your brothers and sisters in Gaza is not the love of Christ and His church, which does not let religious and social obstacles or even wars stand in its way. When your love is extended to us here in Gaza, it makes us feel that we are an indispensable part of Christ’s one universal church. The Moslems among us are our brothers and sisters. We share with them their joys and their sufferings. We are one people, the people of Palestine.

Despite all that is going on, our people in Gaza reject war as a way to achieve peace and insist that the road to peace is peace itself. We in Gaza are patient and have decided that we have no choice other than bondage or death for our country. We want to live so we can praise God in Palestine and to witness for Christ — we want to live for Palestine, not to die for her — but if we must die, then we will die honorably and bravely.

Let us all pray together for the true peace that Christ gives. May wolves and lambs one day live together, and bulls and cubs graze together, and children be able to put their hands in the mouths of snakes without being harmed.

And may the peace of Christ, “into which you were also called in one body,” be with you all and protect you. Amen.

Your brother,

Father Manuel Musallam
Holy Family Priest

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Ghada Riad Rajab Abu Halima, 21

Until last week, I lived with my husband, Muhammad, 24, and our two little daughters, Farah, 3, and Aya, 6 months, in the a-Sifa section of Beit Lahiya. We lived in the same house as Muhammad’s parents, Sa’dallah Abu Halima, 44, and Sabah Abu Halima, 44, and his brothers and sisters: Omar, 18, Yusef, 16, Abd a-Rahim, 13, Zeid, 11, Hamzah, 10, Ali, 4, and baby Shahd, 1.

On Saturday night [3 January], Israeli jets dropped leaflets calling on residents of the area to leave their homes. The army did the same thing in previous incursions and we didn’t leave the house, so this time, too, we decided not to leave.

Around 4 P.M. the next day [4 January], when all the family was in the house, the army started to shell our area. A few minutes later, shells landed on our house. Fire broke out in the house and several members of the family burned to death: my father-in-law, his baby daughter Shahd, and three of his sons – ‘Abd a-Rahim, Zeid and Hamzah.

My mother-in-law and her sons Yusef, Omar and Ali suffered burns. The fire spread throughout the house. I was holding my daughter Farah and we were both burned too. My clothes went up in flames, and some of my skin and Farah’s skin was scorched. Luckily, my baby daughter Aya wasn’t hurt. I ripped the clothes off my body and cried out that I was burning. I was naked in front of everybody in the house. My body was burning and the pain was excruciating. I could smell my flesh burning. I was in a horrible condition. I looked for something to cover me and shouted non-stop. My husband’s brother took off his pants and gave them to me to wear. The top part of my body stayed naked until my husband came and covered me with his jacket.

Then he ran to the road to get an ambulance or find some people to help us get the killed and injured people out of the house. He couldn’t find any ambulance or firefighting vehicle. His cousins, who live nearby us, Matar and Muhammad-Hikmat Abu Halima, came to help. My husband lifted me up, and Nabilah, his aunt, picked up Farah. Another aunt, who also came to help, took Aya.

Muhammad, Farah, Nabilah, her son Ali, Omar, Matar and I all got onto a wagon hitched to a tractor. Muhammad Hahmat drove it, heading to Kamal ‘Adwan Hospital. We also took the body of the baby Shahed. We left all the others in the house.

On the way, we saw soldiers about 300 meters from al-‘Atatrah Square. Muhammad stopped the tractor and suddenly, the soldiers opened fire at us. They killed Matar and Muhammad-Hikmat. Ali was wounded and managed to run away with Nabilah and ‘Omar.

The soldiers told my husband to undress, which he did. Then he put his clothes back on and the soldiers told us to continue by foot. We left the three bodies in the wagon. My husband, Farah, and I walked toward the square, where we got into a car that happened to be passing by. He took us to a-Shifaa Hospital. It was about 6 P.M. when we got to the hospital.

I am still hospitalized. My whole body was burned, and so was my face. Farah has third-degree burns.

We were referred to further treatment in Egypt and they tried to take us to Rafah by ambulance, but the army fired at us on the way. The driver was slightly wounded in the face and he drove back to the hospital. Now we are waiting for authorization to leave for Egypt.

Ghada Riad Rajab Abu Halima, 21, married with two children, resident of Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip. Testimony was given to Caritas Ireland (Trocaire) partner B’Tselem at a-Shifaa Hospital on 9 January 2009.
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Nafez a-Daiyah, 38, policeman

Our family’s house was in the centre of Gaza City, next to the Hassan al-Bana mosque. It had four floors, and more than thirty of us lived in it. My brother Amer and my four married sisters live elsewhere.

Three days ago, the army called the house of our neighbours and told them that it intended to bomb the house. Their house is only fifteen meters from ours, and only one house stands between us. The family left the house after receiving the notice.

My wife, children, and I went to stay with my wife’s parents. The distance from their house to our house is about 500 meters. Yesterday morning, after prayers, I heard two explosions from the area of our house. The local radio reported that the army blew up “the house of the a-Daiyah family,” in the centre of Gaza City. I was at our house in five minutes.

I was shocked. The house was totally destroyed, with only a few pillars remaining. There were body parts everywhere. I started shouting the names of my family, hoping that somebody would answer. Neighbours came to help look for survivors. I only found my brother Muhammad. He was crying and screaming. He told me that the house had been bombed while he was on his way home from prayers, right when he was about to enter. We found Amer. He was lightly wounded from shrapnel and was in shock. Then we found my brothers Rida and Radwan, who were in very bad condition. We managed to take them to a-Shifa’a Hospital. They’re both in intensive care, and Radwan is brain dead.
From six in the morning until evening prayers, we kept on looking for body parts. This morning, we continued our search until noon. The neighbours helped us, using their two tractors. Rescue forces didn’t come because they were busy in other places that had been bombed.

The members of my family who were killed in the bombing are my father, Fayiz, 60, my mother, Kawkab, 55, my sisters Raghdah, 30, and Sabrin, 26, both single. My brother Muhammad’s wife, Tazal Isma’il, 26, who was nine months pregnant, and they had four children, Amani, 7, Qamar, 5, Arij, 3, and Yusef, 2. My brother Iyad, 35, his wife Rawdah, 28, and their children ‘Ali, 10, Khitam, 9, Alaa, 8, Duha, 6, Sharaf a-Din, 5, and Muhammad, 1. My brother Ramez, 25, his wife Wafaa, 20, and their children, Baraa, 3, and Salsabil, 4 months.

Nafez Fayez a-Daiyah, 38, married with seven children, is a policeman and a resident of Gaza City. His testimony was given to Trocaire partner B’Tselem by telephone.
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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in the Palestine, Jerusalem, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding

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