Israeli airstrikes and shelling on the Gaza Strip between May 10 and 21 last year killed over 250 people, including 66 children, and some 2,000 Palestinians, resulting in long-term disability in many.
Two victims of the fighting, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) patients, told Al Arabiya English that they were still grappling with mental and physical wounds one year on.
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“I was injured on the first day of the bombings. I was at home when the house was hit. We didn’t know if it was a bomb or if something in the house had exploded. We just heard a massive noise and the house trembled. That’s when I saw my hand hanging from my arm,” explained Gaza resident and father of four, Ahmed, 41.Ahmad was surrounded by family when this happened as it was during the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. As a result of the bombing, parts of his house were destroyed, two of his cousins were killed and one relative was left “disabled.”
‘Death is the only way out’
“The blast was so strong that the neighbors were also injured. The neighbor’s son was walking outside and lost both of his eyes.He explained that he and four other victims were in the car on their way to the hospital when one child died.
“I was in the car with four other victims. One of them was another neighbor’s child. She died on her father’s lap, right next to me, on the way to the hospital. The rest of us didn’t know if we would make it to the hospital alive, everything was being bombed all around us.”
Ahmad was first treated in Al Shifa Hospital before he was transferred to MSF in Al Awda Hospital.
“In both hospitals, they feared the bombs were going to hit us. Even hospitals were not safe this time.”
The father of four underwent eight surgeries and had his hand amputated.
“While I was at the hospital, I was fearing for family. Their mental health was deeply affected, and loud noises still make my younger two [kids] cry.”
“My mother was the one that suffered the most. She had a nervous breakdown, and she is now being cared for by mental health specialists. She still can’t talk about it without going into a panic attack.”
He now struggles to provide for his family because he is unable to work as a driver since losing his arm.
“What hurts the most is that I can’t provide for my family. I was a driver, and I can’t drive without my hand. I was responsible not only for my wife and kids but also for my elderly parents.”
“Sometimes I ask myself why I survived. Sometimes I wish I had died with the others, so I could finally leave Gaza. Death is the only way out.”
‘It was like seeing hell on earth’
Another victim, Mohammad, 36, lost his son to a bombing on the first day of the 11-day war between Palestine and Israel.
“I was outside my house with my son, when a missile hit the car less than a meter from us. I don’t remember exactly the order of things, but then I saw my legs were completely injured,” said Mohammed.
“When I looked to the side, my boy was not awake. His abdomen was open, and both his hands were gone. I started to scream. My wife and my two daughters were in the house and came running. They were also screaming. There were so many people injured around us and no ambulances in sight,” he explained.
In a state of complete panic, the neighbors tried to take the dead and injured to the hospital.“My son went first in a car [to the hospital], but I think he was already dead by then. There was no space for me in that car. I was carried to another one, with three other severely injured people. I had to go in the trunk with my legs hanging out.”
“The road to the hospital was like seeing hell on earth. Everywhere we looked was destroyed, fires all over the place, bombs kept dropping from the sky. Half of Gaza was bombed.”
He said that it was unlike anything he had ever seen before.
“They [Israel] were targeting civilians, there was nowhere to run. Flames were everywhere.”
Mohammad said that the incident destroyed his family.
“My wife left me; she had a mental breakdown from which she never recovered. She blamed me for the death of our only son. Only one of my daughters stayed with me and now she is always standing with me, next to my hospital bed.”
The father of two remains in hospital, one year on.“… I’m still trapped in a hospital bed. I’ve been through so many surgeries and interventions that I lost count. I think I might have broken the record of the number of surgeries. I’m smiling because there is nothing else I can do, I need to smile.”
‘Bombs every second, everywhere’
MSF medical professional Ashraf, 30, said that the aggression he witnessed in May 2021 was unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
“My kids were scared and screaming. Nothing we said could calm them down. I tried lying to them, saying it was fireworks, but my daughter could tell I wasn’t speaking the truth; she said fireworks were never that loud and they had pretty lights; these ones were too loud and all she could see was fire around our building,” Ashraf said.
“Both me and my wife are health workers and we needed to take turns to go to the hospital and stay with the kids. While at the hospital, I was constantly worried that my phone was going to ring, and someone would tell me that my family was dead.”
He said that the aggression was so intense, MSF ambulances “could not move.”“The intensity of the bomb was also something I’ve never seen in previous aggressions. It was a rain of missiles, a pouring rain. Bombs every second, everywhere. Gaza seemed to be completely on fire.”
Ashraf and his wife had to drive to the hospital with other colleagues, not knowing whether they would make it to work and back alive. He said that on the way to the hospital, he saw buildings “completely destroyed” and “bodies on the streets.”
“We had to get a ride with colleagues with no assurance that we would arrive safely to the hospital. They [Israel] were targeting everything. Not even the hospital was safe.
While we were in the operating theatre, bombs fell around us. One was targeting a building north of the hospital, not more than 300 meters away. Another one was 100 meters down south of the hospital.”
“The operating theatre was constantly shaking, as if there was an earthquake. We were scared that we might be the next target.”
Waves of crowds arrived at the hospital where Ashraf worked. Given the circumstances at the time, there was not enough blood for transfusions and not enough capacity in the intensive care unit.
“Once again, we were overwhelmed by the mass casualties Israel inflicted on Gaza. We just could not treat that number of people at the same time. We were just aiming to save as many lives as we could on the spot. Sepsis was everywhere, potential COVID-19 transmissions and other communicable diseases.”
“Nothing we learned from previous escalations helped us this time. We were all just waiting for our turn to die. Before, we had breaks from the bombings, and humanitarian corridors. This time, there was nothing, nowhere to run to, nowhere to be safe,” the MSF medical professional said.