A friend just asked me if the situation in Gaza had calmed down because they had not heard anything on the news lately. I was shocked because of course it isn’t better in Gaza, it’s worse. Do we have so much going on in our lives that conflicts in other countries become abstract unless we have periodic reminders? Perhaps. If so, here’s a reminder in the form of the story of a friend of mine.
Ayman Hassan Al Masri lives in the town of Biet Lahya in the northern part of the Gaza Strip along with his wife Ghada and their six children. The kids range from one to fourteen years old. I met Ayman over repeated card games at our home in Gaza during 2004 and later in and around his farm lands. We spent a lot of evenings together and I knew him to be kind, even tempered and having a gentle disposition. In normal times, he runs the family nursery business raising fruit trees for local farmers and for export. But these are not normal times.
Early in 2004, an Israeli tank paid the Al Masri family business a visit. The results were catastrophic. The tank ran directly through a line of greenhouses carrying away the construction and irrigation system. It also destroyed the entire nursery stock. When I visited the site, six months later, it was still a jumbled mess of mud, torn plastic, broken piping and dead plants. But, it gets worse. In 2003, a year earlier, the nursery had also been paid a visit by a marauding armored vehicle. This previous attack had also completely destroyed the greenhouses and nursery stock. The family business was wiped out two years in a row and as far as I know, never did recover.
I never heard a word about either of these incidents until I was actually standing on the ruins of the nursery and demanded an explanation. Ayman, he never showed any signs of stress; he never voiced an angry word of any kind. A hard story to hear, but not an unusual one. Everything of value in Gaza is at risk at one time or another. But this story gets even worse.
In January of 2009, the State of Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, leveled or damaged most of the buildings killed around 1,500 people and injured 5,000 more. In the middle of that military action, the Israeli military authorities declared a cease-fire on January 10th. So that civilians could evacuate from targeted areas or seek food and medical service. Ayman’s sister in law Wafa, who was nine months pregnant at this time, decided to visit her doctor in the center of town. Ayman’s wife Ghada went along with her. They didn’t make it.
To put the attack in perspective, you need to know that the optics on the drone aircraft used by Israel are really excellent. The drone operator saw what he was doing as he closed in on two women walking along an otherwise deserted street.
Both women were blown off of their feet by the impact of two missiles. Ghada suffered multiple fractures of both legs. Wafa was struck by shrapnel all over her body, was severely burned, had her right leg blown off and her left leg mangled. The first ambulance to respond took Ghada to the local hospital but left Wafa for dead. A second noticed that Wafa was pregnant and took her to the hospital to save her baby. In the middle of an emergency delivery they noticed that Wafa was still alive. Both women were subsequently evacuated to an Egyptian hospital, where they required five and a half months to recuperate from their wounds. A full account of this ordeal can be read on page 17 of the PHCR report “Through Women’s Eyes” available at:
Both women are home now, although Wafa cannot walk and Ghada has limited mobility and use of her legs. Medicine is very limited and physiotherapy is nonexistent. Neither woman can adequately take care of their families.
So there’s a tale. And here’s a picture to go with it. The faces say it all. A very kind and caring individual has had his livelihood destroyed. His wife has been permanently disabled. Their sister has been traumatized and permanently maimed. Now they must find a way to raise six children in the hope that they will have a future and a better life.
Here are three things you can do. First, you can find a way to help this family or one of the thousands like it. You can specify that any money you donate to non profits working in this area be used to benefit children. Second, you can contact your elected officials and express your opinion. I need to emphasize that our government is an active supporter of these activities. Third, just think about this family every once in a while. Add them to your prayers if that is a part of your personal practice.
The Buffalo Activist 11/9/2009