Testimony: Members of Abu Halima family killed and burned in army's bombing of their house, 4 January 2009

Ghada Abu Halima, 21

Ghada Abu Halima

On 29 March, ten weeks after giving her testimony to B'Tselem, Ghada Abu Halima died in an Egyptian hospital from injuries she suffered when struck by the white phosphorous.

Until last week, I lived with my husband, Muhammad, 24, and our two little daughters, Farah, 3, and Aya, 6 months, in the a-Sifa section of Beit Lahiya. We lived in the same house as Muhammad's parents, Sa'dallah Abu Halima, 44, and Sabah Abu Halima, 44, and his brothers and sisters: ‘Omar, 18, Yusef, 16, ‘Abd a-Rahim, 13, Zeid, 11, Hamzah, 10, ‘Ali, 4, and baby Shahd, 1.

Our house had two floors. On the first floor were 250 square meters of storage rooms, and we lived on the second floor. We are farmers and have land next to the house.

On Saturday night [3 January], Israeli jets dropped leaflets calling on residents of the area to leave their homes. The army did the same thing in previous incursions and we didn't leave the house, so this time, too, we decided not to leave.

Around 4 P.M. the next day [4 January], when all the family was in the house, the army started to shell our area. A few minutes later, shells landed on our house. Fire broke out in the house and several members of the family burned to death: my father-in-law, his baby daughter Shahd, and three of his sons - ‘Abd a-Rahim, Zeid and Hamzah.

My mother-in-law and her sons Yusef, ‘Omar and ‘Ali suffered burns. The fire spread throughout the house. I was holding my daughter Farah and we were both burned too. My clothes went up in flames, and some of my skin and Farah's skin was scorched. Luckily, my baby daughter Aya wasn't hurt. I ripped the clothes off my body and cried out that I was burning. I was naked in front of everybody in the house. My body was burning and the pain was excruciating. I could smell my flesh burning. I was in a horrible condition. I looked for something to cover me and shouted non-stop. My husband's brother took off his pants and gave them to me to wear. The top part of my body remain stayed naked until my husband came and covered me with his jacket.

Then he ran to the road to get an ambulance or find some people to help us get the killed and injured people out of the house. He couldn't find any ambulance or firefighting vehicle. His cousins, who live nearby us, Matar and Muhammad-Hikmat Abu Halima, came to help. My husband lifted me up, and Nabilah, his aunt, picked up Farah. Another aunt, who also came to help, took Aya.

Muhammad, Farah, Nabilah, her son ‘Ali, ‘Omar, Matar and I all got onto a wagon hitched to a tractor. Muhammad Hahmat drove it, heading to Kamal ‘Adwan Hospital. We also took the body of the baby Shahed. We left all the others in the house.

On the way, we saw soldiers about 300 meters from al-‘Atatrah Square.  Muhammad stopped the tractor and suddenly, the soldiers opened fire at us. They killed Matar and Muhammad-Hikmat. ‘Ali was wounded and managed to run away with Nabilah and ‘Omar.

The soldiers told my husband to undress, which he did. Then he put his clothes back on and the soldiers told us to continue by foot. We left the three bodies in the wagon. My husband, Farah, and I walked toward the square, where we got into a car that happened to be passing by. He took us to a-Shifaa Hospital. It was about 6 P.M. when we got to the hospital.

I am still hospitalized. My whole body was burned, and so was my face. Farah has third-degree burns.

We were referred to further treatment in Egypt and they tried to take us to Rafah by ambulance, but the army fired at us on the way. The driver was slightly wounded in the face and he drove back to the hospital. Now we are waiting for authorization to leave for Egypt.

Ghada Riad Rajab Abu Halima, 21, married with two children, resident of Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip. Testimony was given to Muhammad Sabah at a-Shifaa Hospital on 9 January 2009.