“They can attack our bodies but not our strength.”


Posted by: Siba Bizri

Yahia Abu Saif (24) sits on his bed in the living room of his family home in Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip.

November’s Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip left around 1,275 Palestinians injured, 98% of whom are civilians. Now that they are recovering from their injuries, some of them are in need of rehabilitation and special facilities. Due to the ongoing illegal closure imposed by Israel, some of the required medical supplies and devices cannot enter the Gaza Strip, causing additional suffering to patients throughout their recovery process.

Those who were injured during Israel’s 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip and are in need of long term rehabilitation are also still struggling as a result of the medical shortages. Yahia Abu Saif is one of them. He was severely injured in an Israeli airstrike on 1 January 2009.

“I was praying in the mosque that afternoon. When I was on my way out, a bomb hit us. 20 days later I woke up from a coma in Shifa hospital, in Gaza City. My right leg was gone. After 10 days I was transferred to al Wafa rehabilitation center where I stayed for 6 months. I also received medical treatment in Egypt for a few days. I was supposed to be transferred to a hospital in the West Bank or Israel but I was too afraid to go there, having to pass by the army in the border.”

“I have shrapnel in my head which has affected the left side of my body. It is very difficult for me to use my left hand, even after a lot of therapy, so I cannot move around in a normal wheelchair. I need an electric one.” Yahia’s normal wheelchair is broken beyond repair and the electric wheelchair doesn’t function either at the moment. “We can’t find the required spare parts to fix the electric wheelchair. So then the only solution is to try and find another wheelchair, but there aren’t any.”

Until now Yahia receives physiotherapy from several medical NGOs in the Gaza Strip. One of these NGOs is the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) which provides him with psychosocial support, physiotherapy, technical support and other follow up. Bassam Zaqout, PMRS’s Project Coordinator, underlines the problems caused by the closure: “We face many difficulties in our work. For example, we lack spare parts for machines and devices because they cannot be imported. Usually there is a refusal or a delay in the approval for the supplies that we want to import. It is also difficult to bring wheelchairs into Gaza. Electric wheelchairs especially take a very long time to be imported.”

Because he has no functioning electric wheelchair Yahia is mostly bound to his family house in Jabaliya. He spends his days sitting and chatting with friends, going to the mosque, and doing his rehabilitation exercises.

Yahia had just started his first year as a student in Al Quds Open University when he got injured. He was studying in the Education Department, aspiring to become a teacher.

His disability has not deterred Yahia pursuing his dreams. “Life doesn’t stop because of a disability. In the new year I will go back to university. I will join the Education Department again but I don’t know in which field, probably Sharia’ Law or Islamic religion. I am very happy to continue my education.”

Yahia has a clear idea of what he wants and hopes for in his future. “First I want to finish my study, so that I have a basis for the future. After that I hope to get married and have a family. Just like everyone else, I want to live a normal life, just live my life.”

The destructive 2008-2009 offensive left permanent marks on the lives of people in the Gaza Strip. Despite his trauma, Yahia is confident that his spirit cannot be broken by war and violence. “In the war they tried to kill us and destroy our lives. They can attack our bodies but not our strength. We lost many things in our life but not our strength.”

The targeting and severe injuring or killing of a civilian, a protected person, is a war crime, as codified in Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Articles 8(2)(a)(i) and (iii) Article 8 (2)(b)(i) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The ongoing closure of the Gaza Strip constitutes a form of collective punishment of the civilian population living under occupation, which is in contravention of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

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