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الجمعة، 10 مايو 2013

“Life is a catastrophe now”

“Life is a catastrophe now”

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
Najwa, pictured in her home in the Gaza Strip

May 8, 2013
Najwa Alyan Awad Abu Daqqa (50) is a Palestinian woman who lives in the rural outskirts of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. Najwa was seriously injured in an Israeli drone strike during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in November 2012. 102 Palestinian civilians were killed during the 8-day military offensive, codenamed 'Operation Pillar of Defence’, which lasted from 14 to 21 November 2012. A further 649 Palestinian civilians were injured, including 97 women and 222 children.[1]
Najwa, a mother of four boys and three girls, describes the incident that occurred on 18 November 2012: "Just like every other day, I woke up very early in the morning. After my morning prayers, I began my routine of preparing bread for my children’s breakfast. I went into the open backyard to wash the big baking plate. It must have been around 6:30 in the morning. I could hear the sound of a drone in the sky, but that was normal during the war. We live just one kilometre away from the border. While I was washing the plate, there was a sudden explosion a few metres from where I was standing. I was terrified by the sound. The whole yard was covered in smoke, and I couldn’t see anything for a few seconds. I went numb and couldn’t feel anything. But then I looked down and saw that my hands and other parts of my body were completely covered in blood. I was so shocked by the sight that I fainted. I don’t remember what happened after that. When I woke up, I was in hospital. I couldn’t believe it when the doctors told me that I was in East Jerusalem and I had been in a coma for almost four months."
The backyard of Najwa’s house, where she was injured in the attack.
Najwa’s family experienced great stress following the attack. Not only were they afraid that she would never awaken from her coma, they also faced difficulties because Najwa could not receive the treatment she required in the Gaza Strip. Her husband Samir explains: "We tried to transfer my wife to al-Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem immediately after she was injured, but the Israeli authorities rejected our application for permission to travel through Israel. We had to wait until after the ceasefire was announced on 21 November. Four days after the attack, she was transferred to East Jerusalem. It took a long time to coordinate the journey through Israel, and there were a lot of restrictions on us. The Israeli authorities only allow one person to accompany the patient. I could not travel with Najwa, as I had to take care of our children here in Gaza, so her brother went with her to the hospital. The one and a half hour journey to East Jerusalem took them four hours because they had to wait at the "Erez" border crossing. Her condition was so bad that the ambulance driver told the doctor in East Jerusalem that he didn’t think she would make it."
Najwar’s husband Samir next to the place where she was standing before the attack
As Najwa was in a coma for four months, her family members had to rotate their visits to East Jerusalem. This was an issue in itself, as Israel places severe restrictions on travel in and out of the Gaza Strip, even when it is related to medical issues. The tight restrictions require that the person accompanying and visiting the patient be at least 35 years old and go through stringent security checks. Samir explained the impact of these measures: "Israel rejected many of our family members to visit Najwa. I cannot understand why they think we are a threat to them. We are not affiliated with any armed groups. We are peaceful people."
Remnants of the missile which caused Najwar’s injuries
Najwa awoke from her coma in early March of this year. Despite her poor medical condition, she faced problems at "Erez" crossing when she returned to the Gaza Strip: "I was in constant pain and, although they could see that had I arrived in an ambulance, they did not give me any sort of special treatment. A female Israeli officer frisked me with her metal detector and it went off because the doctors had implanted metal plates in my arms to help my injuries to heal. Even though I explained the situation to her, she made me strip to prove it. She could see that I had just gotten out of an ambulance and I was in a wheelchair, but still she treated me very badly."
Things were no easier for Najwa after she was allowed to pass through the crossing: "There is a small revolving security door that you must pass through to cross the gate. Even someone who is in good health cannot cross it easily as it is very narrow. I had to spend a long time convincing them that I could not pass through it, and to let me use the security door in their office to enter into Gaza. Finally, after a lot of arguing, they let me through. I had to walk through, as they would not let me use my wheelchair."
Since returning home, Najwa has experienced great difficulties: "Life is a catastrophe now. I need two or three people to help me with simple things, such as eating, and moving around." As a result of the attack, she sustained shrapnel wounds throughout her body, especially in her arms, legs, and abdomen. "They had to cut some skin from my thigh and attach it to my stomach. I’m in constant pain and cannot sit down properly. I can never get comfortable and I have difficulty sleeping. I have to live with a colostomy bag now. Life can never return to normal for me. I cannot move easily, and I am receiving physical therapy. If I skip even one session of physical therapy, my pain increases and some parts of my body swell up."
The road to recovery will be a long and arduous process for Najwa. She must travel back to the hospital in East Jerusalemevery few months for further operations, and she also requires plastic surgery to repair the enormous amount of damage to her skin. Samir discussed the hardship he and his family face when trying to cover the expense of Najwar’s treatment: "The treatment is expensive. Although the Ministry of Health in Ramallah covered the cost of the surgery, we have had to pay for Najwar’s medication and other medical supplies, like the colostomy bags. It is nearly impossible to find them in Gaza, so getting them is very expensive and difficult. I have had to borrow money from my family and friends to cover the costs."
When asked what the future holds for them, Najwa says, "I can only pray for my health to return, and that my daughter will be allowed to come with me next week, when I must return to the hospital in East Jerusalem."
Samir believes that his wife was directly targeted by the Israeli drone: "The missile was meant for Najwa, though there was no reason for anyone to fire at her."
International humanitarian law prohibits the deliberate targeting of civilians, as stipulated in Articles 48-51 of the 1977 First Protocol Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. This prohibition has been recognised as a norm of customary international humanitarian law by the International Committee of the Red Cross (Rules 1 to 6 of the 2005 ICRC Study). Moreover, the International Criminal Court defines the deliberate targeting of civilians as a war crime under Articles 8(2)(a)(i), 8(2)(a)(iii), and 8(2)(b)(i) of the 2002 Rome Statute. Article 27 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention obliges the parties to the conflict and the occupying power to respect civilians’ honour and treat them humanely. Moreover, Article 12 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, guarantees the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and obliges the State parties to create conditions which would assure to all medical services and medical attention in the event of sickness.

[1] According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ investigations, more than 1,250 Palestinians were injured during the Operation Pillar of Defence, and out of them 649 Palestinian civilians sustained moderate to severe injuries.


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