"They Thought I was Dead"
By Eva Bartlett at Mar 04, 2009
*Yahya abu Saif (20), missile victim. *Maher Habashi (24), missile victim.
"They thought I was dead. I was covered in blood. They put me in the morgue fridge. I was in there for maybe 10 minutes. A neighbour came to say his good byes and saw that I was breathing. He took my pulse and discovered I was alive. I was transferred to an operating room and had surgery to remove the shrapnel from my abdomen and side."
Maher Habashi was sleeping in his home in Tuffah neighbourhood outside Gaza city when a tank shell hit the house. It was 1:15 am on 15 January. "I was with my uncle and a friend. We all ran outside after the tank shell."
Two drone missiles followed minutes after, hitting the trio. The first hit two other people outside and injured Habashi in the torso and leg. The second was dropped as they continued to flee. This time it reached Habashi's uncle and friend, killing them.
"I lost consciousness," the 24 year old says. An ambulance from the Wafa rehabilitation hospital nearby located Habashi and transferred him to Gaza City's Shifa hospital where he underwent surgery on his abdomen.
"After the operation I was supposed to go to the I.C.U. but it was full, so I was kept in the surgery department. Five days later I regained consciousness."
He had another operation 2 days later, on his right leg, from which, as with his abdomen, pieces of shrapnel were extracted. A steel rod and seventy stitches, along with another 3 to 4 months bedridden, are the reasons he languishes and yet has hope that he may walk again.
Habashi must get through one more operation in the near future, on his shrapnel-speckled back.
For he and his brothers, more pressing are the financial constraints. With their father dead, and only Maher Habashi employed -as a tailor in Jabaliya- his older brothers are wondering how to pay the bills, let alone buy the medications needed for Maher's treatment.
He daily takes 2 tablets of Gaptin (400 mg, 20 capsule package), meaning that every 10 days they must buy a new box at 130 Shekels (roughly US$31, Cdn$39 ). If they can find it in be-sieged Gaza. He also requires a cream which must be replaced every other day and which goes for 60 Shekels/tube (roughly US$14.50, Cdn$18 ) of Healer Cream (15 g). Per month, then, he's spending nearly 1300 Shekels (~US$310, Cdn$400) per month on medicine alone, not to mention the lost-income to his family's regular daily needs.
Three months ago Habashi had reason to celebrate: he'd just gotten married. Now he's lost his income, a 35 Shekel/day salary which, with an average of 10-12 days work/month, helped the family to survive these strangling, expensive times.
Yahya Abu Saif (20) has a soft-spoken manner which doesn't betray any of the emotions he is feeling inside, which by all rights should be devastation and hopelessness: the Israeli-warplane-fired missile which hit outside the mosque he'd just left on 3 January ripped off 2/3 of his right leg and lodged shrapnel into his brain, rendering him paralyzed on the left half of his body. But more than his physical loss, the missile took from his fingertips his dream of being a primary school educator.
"It was around 5 pm and I was praying at the Ibrahim al-Makadma mosque in Beit Lahia. I had left the mosque and was at the outer gate when it was attacked by a missile from an F-16. I remember that I saw bodies all around me and passed out. I later learned that15 were killed."
He was taken to the nearby Kamal Adwan hospital and then was immediately transferred to the Shifa hospital I.C.U.
"He stayed 15 days in the I.C.U. where he had more than 1 operation," Yahya's oldest brother Mohammed confirms. The first and most pressing operation was to ease pressure from the brain Haematoma, an accumulation of blood between brain and skull. Next was to remove the bits of shrapnel from his brain matter.
While unconscious in the I.C.U., Yahya was kept alive by a mechanical ventilator, a vital piece of machinery which, like much of key hospital equipment, was scarce but in huge demand during the attacks on Gaza. After the 1st day alone, Gaza's hospitals were crammed with the dead and the near-dead, the latter outnumbering the required I.C.U. beds and machinery, meaning I.C.U. patients were lined up in waiting rooms until a bed was freed.
The explosions which hit outside the mosque in which dozens were praying tore Yahya's right leg off above the knee. A further operation smoothed the stump in the event that he can have a prosthetic limb fitted. But as the siege on Gaza prevents even artificial limbs from entering, Yahya will have to wait for a new limb and to see if his paralysis can be overcome.
From his bed in the Wafa rehabilitation hospital, damaged head on a pillow stained with blood and leakage, Yahya tells his story. He is one of 9 sons and has 5 sisters. His father, like many, is unemployed, but 3 brothers work as policemen, and apparently miraculously survived Israel's attacks on police stations across Gaza.
Like 4 of his siblings, the twenty year old is studying -enrolled at Al Quds Open University -and until he was hit by the Israeli missile had the drive to succeed with his studies and dream to teach. Incredibly, he still hopes to attain these goals.
He's on the same medication as roommate Maher Habashi, Gaptin (400 mg), but unlike Habashi Yahya doesn't face the severe financial worries of a family without income. Yet, they're both living in Gaza under siege, both facing the common obstacle of finding medicine within their closed-borders Gaza, their concentration camp.