By ISM Gaza | 22 July 2010
“She came in through and it wasn’t clear she was injured. Suddenly a lot of blood came from her nose and she vomited. All of the family saw this – her little brothers were very scared. She had just been playing in the front of the house.”
This is a mother describing to us her daughter, 9-year-old Sammah as she came in to her home at 4pm after the Israeli army reportedly shelled and fired four bombs into and around a residential area in Beit Hanoun, Northern Gaza. She is now in a semi-critical condition in hospital, suffering extensive blood loss and very low haemoglobin. She was hit by shrapnel and ‘flechettes’ from a nail bomb that landed 100m away, causing internal bleeding to the chest, severe head trauma and nails embedded in her body. Shells containing flechettes are illegal under international law if fired into densely populated civilian areas and Sammah ‘Eid al-Masri is one of four children injured in the attack yesterday, July 21st.
Two young men were killed: Mohammad Hatem al-Kafarna, 23, from severe shrapnel injuries in his back and chest and Qassem Mohammed Kamal al-Shanbari, 20, caused by injuries from nails embedded in his skull and shrapnel wounds to the back. It was unclear earlier whether they were resistance fighters or if they were civilians – the Israeli Occupation Force called them ‘militants’ – just as they called the four children, aged between 4 and 11, who were left hospitalised by their injuries ‘militants’. Their parents could be found weeping over their loved ones in Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City last night.
We first visited Haitham Tha’er Qassem, a four year old boy and a first and only child. He was sleeping on the hospital bed, occasionally gasping for breath through the strapping around his nose. He had suffered deep nasal trauma, and flechette darts from the nail bomb were still embedded in his tiny body, where they had pierced his back, right elbow and right leg. He was 200m from the impact of the bomb.
In his hospital ward his mother was standing to one side crying quietly and another relative at Haitham’s bedside explained what had happened.
“We had asked Haitham to get shopping for her from the market…then we heard the bombings and somebody came to our home and told our family that he was in the hospital and was injured in the bombing. We came quickly to the hospital.”
In a nearby ward we then visited 9-year-old Sammah ‘Eid al-Masri who was in a worse state. The doctor told us she was in a ‘semi-critical’ condition with severe chest, head and abdominal pain. Her blood-loss was a major concern, arriving at the hospital with 7.5 haemoglobin levels, 4-6 below the normal levels, the problem exacerbated by the fact that she, like three of her brothers, already suffered from a blood condition known as Thalassemia for which the drug Exjade is in extremely short supply due to the Israeli blockade. She was clearly in pain and confused, trying to remove the nasal tubes. Her mother showed us the bandages on her chest.
“She was in a very bad condition when she arrived – it’s difficult for children and very traumatic to insert a chest tube. Very painful. Blood was mainly coming from the chest. We will have to perform surgery and we will further explore her abdominal pain”, the doctor tells us.
This is not the first time the family was attacked, Sammah’s 4-year-old brother Ryad ‘Eid al-Masri was injured during Operation Cast Lead, the three week Israeli assault over the New Year of 2009 period, during which over 400 Palestinian children were killed.
“Our house was hit during the war, a neighbour sheltering inside was killed and our son suffered severe head injuries. He wasn’t able to access the care he needed and because of this his sight is now permanently damaged.”
As we left Sammah, she had begun to cry, moaning in serious discomfort and confusion. There were two more injured children in the hospital following the attack: Mohammed ‘Azzam al-Masri (aged 9) fractured his right hand as he fell while trying to escape; and Ibrahim Wissam al-Masri (aged 6) whose back was injured by shrapnel.
It’s not just the siege. Criminal Israeli violence continues unabated, resulting in Palestinians in Gaza – children like Sammah, Haitham, Azzam and Ibrahim – and their families experiencing horrific pain and suffering. Last week it was the Abu Said family, attacked in their home on the border East of Gaza city; they lost Nema, a 33-year-old mother of five as she went outside to look frantically for her youngest son. Three more family members were also injured, again by the thousands of ‘flechette’ darts unleashed by the nail bomb assault. Many of these darts will remain permanently embedded in their bodies.
Palestinians remain incredulous to the idea of justice. They will remain so as long as they’re allowed to be dismissed as footnotes by those supporting, or blindly ignoring, what has happened to them and is being done to them. But those who meet them like we did yesterday will never forget what they go through. And people of conscience around the world are beginning to open their eyes instead of turning their backs and acting against these ongoing atrocities.
28 July 2010: The details of names, ages and specific injuries in this post were corrected slightly according to PCHR (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights) information (opens as PDF).
PCHR reports that a fifth child was also injured as a result of the attack: Baraa’ Rajab, 8, wounded in the head.