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7617Israel War Crimes: Independent Appeal: Victims of a terrible war receive pioneering help in Gaza - and across the Israeli border

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  • Zafar Khan
    Jan 1, 2007
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      Independent 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
      central Gaza.

      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".