7617Israel War Crimes: Independent Appeal: Victims of a terrible war receive pioneering help in Gaza - and across the Israeli border
- Jan 1, 2007Independent Appeal: Victims of a terrible war receive
pioneering help in Gaza - and across the Israeli
By Donald Macintyre in Khan Yunis
Published: 01 January 2007
The moment that changed three-year-old Mohammed
Kulab's life for ever came when he was buried in the
rubble of his home after an Israeli shell exploded
during an incursion into Gaza's southernmost town of
Rafah in March 2004.
It wasn't only that both his parents were killed; it
was also that trapped and starved of air, Mohammed,
until then a normal, healthy one-year-old, suffered
brain damage. By the time he was pulled out of the
wreckage of his house he was in a coma.
Mohammed only came out of the coma after being
transferred for three months to the Israeli Ichilov
hospital in Tel Aviv.
Mohammed suffers from cerebral palsy as a result of
the oxygen shortage that terrible day, and requires
constant attention from his grandmother, Etas, 47, a
woman who lives in one of the poorest areas of the
Khan Yunis refugee camp.
"It's no more than my duty," she explains without
fuss. She talks to Mohammed, who has a slightly
crooked, winning smile, without ceasing. "What's
four?" she asks. Mohammed holds out four fingers.
"What does Arafat do?" In cheerful imitation of the
late Palestinian president, he puts his outstretched
hand to his forehead in a military salute. "What
happened to you?" Here Mohammed points his index
finger at the side of his head and makes a mock-angry
The exact nature of the disaster which crippled and
orphaned Mohammed isn't clear even today. Local health
workers and his extended family say his father, Awni
Kulab, was a Palestinian policeman and the house was
hit by Israeli shells. Reports at the time said that
Mr Kulab was a leader of the armed militant
Palestinian Representatives Committees faction and the
Israeli military said an accidentally exploded
Palestinian bomb was to blame.
Across town, 23-year-old Fawzia Abu Ims'ad lies in
Nasser hospital with her right leg bandaged below the
knee. She says that four years ago she was walking
home when two Israeli soldiers started shouting at
her. "They said dirty words," she says. "I don't look
at them or say anything. I just kept walking." Then,
she says, the soldiers shot at her twice.
The first bullet missed her, but the other hit her
leg, smashing into the bone. Ms Ims'ad was also
transferred to Israel, and spent 22 days in Tel
Hashomer hospital where she says she had 15 separate
operations. With the prognosis looking grim, doctors
there secured her written permission to amputate the
right leg. Then when she was under the anaesthetic and
they could see more clearly the nature of the injury,
they changed their mind.
When Ms Ims'ad came round they had the greatest
difficulty in persuading her the leg had not, after
all, been amputated. "I was very happy," she says. "I
couldn't believe it."
Not that it has been easy since. Ms Ims'ad, a lively
and attractive young woman, whose marriage prospects
in a deeply conservative society have nevertheless
almost certainly been impaired by her injury, is back
in hospital because her leg had developed an ulcer.
She badly wants to be transferred back to Israel - or
possibly Egypt - because she has little confidence
that the doctors here can treat her leg as well as
those in Tel Hashomer.
But she complains that Nasser medical team aren't even
bothering to fill in the forms for a transfer because
they say the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority wont be
able to refer her out of Gaza because of the
international boycott. This may mean, she fears, that
her leg could still, after all, be amputated.
But if Mohammed's life, and Ms Ims'ad's leg, were
saved in Israeli hospitals, it is a project for
rehabilitating the war disabled which has helped to
give them hope of living anything like a normal life.
Using the skills of paramedics at the Al-Wafa Medical
Rehabilitation hospital in Gaza City, the Gaza
Community-Based Rehabilitation Programme (which is
funded by the Welfare Association, one of the three
charities in the current Independent Christmas appeal)
started up soon after the second intifada in September
2000. It serves those disabled by the conflict. At the
same time, it provides Al Wafa physiotherapists and
occupational therapists with something valuable to do.
They had previously been prevented from getting to
work by the Israeli-operated Abu-Houli checkpoint in
Now the project provides support for between 375 and
500 war disabled people a year in southern Gaza and
hopes to extend to the north of the Strip. It gave
Mohammed a walker; and provided vital training for his
grandmother and her family to look after him. Its
therapists helped Ms Ims'ad to walk despite the
"dropped foot" problem resulting from her injury.
The project's occupational and physical therapists
also worked hard with brain-damaged Sari al-Bardaweel,
badly injured, and initially paralysed, by shrapnel
from a tank shell. His unemployed father, Khaled, says
the shell struck Sari's head and neck as they were
both sitting one evening three years ago with friends
in the yard of a house a few doors down from their
Sari, who is now 13, has no memory of the attack. He
was one of the brightest and sportiest members of his
class until his injury. After brain surgery at Gaza
City's hospital he was gradually coaxed back to being
able to walk and talk by the paramedical team. Now,
although Mr Bardaweel says his son still has learning
difficulties and easily gets irritable, he goes
regularly to school and can think about the future. "I
want to be a policeman in the national security
force," the boy says without hesitation.
Al Wafa's Akram al Satari, who co-ordinates the
programme, says it adopts a "holistic approach" to its
clients. It provides aids in the form of wheelchairs,
and training in basic needs such as dressing and going
to the lavatory. It also offers health education for
the patients and the carers.
But above all, he says, both its therapy and its
campaigning in the wider Gaza community is aimed at
ensuring that the disabled victims of the conflict are
being rehabilitated "not as an act of charity but
because it is their human right".