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From the field

Testimony: Army shells Hamuda family home in Tel al-Hawa, Gaza City, killing two children and severely wounding their mother, Jan. '09

Tal'at Hamuda, clerk

Tal'at Hamuda

My wife, Intesar ‘Abd al-Wahab Hamuda, 40, and I had four children: Ihab, 23, Muhammad, 17, Kaliman, 15, and Fares, two and a half. We lived in a detached house with three rooms, a kitchen, and bathroom, in the Tel a-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City, next to the Abu Hanifeh a-Nu'man mosque.

Two days ago [Saturday, 10 January], at around 11:45 P.M., I was at home with my wife and children. I couldn't sleep because of the firing and airplane bombing going on outside.
I heard the sound of tanks next to the house. I gathered the family and we went into the northernmost room. The electricity has been cut off for some time now, so we sat on the floor, without moving, in the dark. We were nervous and scared. We stayed like that, and when somebody had to go to the bathroom, he crawled there as quickly as possible.

A few hours later, at 2:00 A.M., a shell hit the wall of our neighbors' house, and shrapnel landed in the room where we were hiding. Allah had mercy on us and nobody was injured, because we were lying on the floor. But we were really frightened. Kaliman cried and shook in fear. The baby also cried, so my wife picked him up and hugged him.

We escaped from that room and went to the room in the center of the house. After about five minutes passed, while we were lying on the floor, two shells hit the house. One of them landed in the bathroom and the other struck the western room. We heard loud explosions and the whole house shook and filled up with smoke and thick dust. I called to everyone to see if they were all okay. My wife answered that she had been wounded a bit but was all right.

Intesar Hamuda in hospital. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B�Tselem, 12 Jan. �09
Intesar Hamuda in hospital. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 12 Jan. ‘09

Five minutes later, when the smoke and dust had cleared, I discovered that Intesar had been severely wounded in the stomach, leg, left hand, and left thigh, and had burns and facial injuries from shrapnel. She was holding Fares, and I took him from her. He didn't make any sound, and I was afraid he had been hit without her noticing. I felt his body and discovered that he was bleeding from a deep wound in his stomach and from his nose. I felt for a pulse in his neck, but there wasn't any. He wasn't breathing. I tried to give him artificial respiration, but he had a lot of blood in his mouth, and he didn't move. I realized he was dead. I put him in the kitchen and covered him.

Then I went over to my wife and gave her a piece of cloth to bandage her wound. She was in pain. I checked the other children. Muhammad had a deep wound in his stomach and I saw his intestines. He groaned in pain and shouted for help. Kaliman was in shock. She was crying and jumping up and down, slapping herself and pulling her hair. I hugged her to calm her down.
We heard the tanks hitting the walls of the houses next to us. The bombing continued too. I asked Ihab to help me. He was pale and dazed, but he snapped out of it and helped me carry Muhammad to the kitchen. He was still alive and was screaming in pain. I prayed to Allah that he could hold on until we got to the hospital.

I called the Red Crescent for an ambulance and a-Shifa Hospital and to al-Quds Hospital. I told them all what had happened. They told me it was impossible to get an ambulance to us because the army was shelling anyone who moved or approached the place. I called the Red Cross and spoke with somebody named ‘Imad. I told him we needed an ambulance urgently, that I had a dead son and another dying, and that my wife had been severely wounded. I explained that the army was outside the house, and we were afraid they would bring the whole house down on us.
I was in horrible condition, I can't even describe it. I don't wish it on anyone. I couldn't do anything but wait patiently. I don't know how I didn't collapse, or where I got the strength to overcome the pain and anger I was feeling.

My wife asked how Fares was. She said she couldn't hear his voice. I told her he was okay. Later, she asked about Muhammad, and I told her everybody was all right. I wanted to calm her, so that she could hold on.

A doctor who heard my cry for help in the media called my cell phone and told me he would instruct me how to treat Muhammad. He told me to take a piece of clean cloth, put it on the wound, and press to stop the bleeding. I did what he said. I ran between my wife and my son.

At 3:00 A.M., I heard the sound of bulldozers working. I was afraid they would bulldoze our house and it would fall on our head. I looked out the window and saw bulldozers destroying the columns of the house of our neighbor, Abu Samhan, which is about two meters away. I called ‘Imad at the Red Cross and told him that bulldozers were demolishing our neighbors' house. I begged him to do something to save us from having our house brought down on our heads. He told me to light up the house so the army would know people were inside. I lit up four flashlights and put each in a different part of the house. I also lit our kerosene lamps. The soldiers apparently realized there were people in the house, because they stopped the demolition outside.

We stayed that way until 5:00 A.M. Ihab and I took turns putting pressure on Muhammad's wound. His breathing became weaker and weaker. I sprayed water on his face and gave him something to drink. He couldn't swallow, and spit out the water. He grabbed my hand and said, with difficulty, “I'm sorry.” I felt I was losing him. I was helpless.

I began to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but it didn't help. He stopped breathing. I felt his neck to check his pulse, but he had none. I realized he was probably dead. I massaged his chest for a few minutes, but it didn't help. I said goodbye to him, kissed him, and then closed his eyes and covered him. Ihab and I put him next to Fares and cried.

I pulled myself together quickly so the children would be able to hold on, and so my wife wouldn't know what had happened to her sons. I called the hospitals, the Red Crescent, the Red Cross and the radio again, and begged for them to help us. I felt we were going to die, one after the other.

At 7:00 A.M., the tanks began to retreat southwards. I called the hospitals again and told them the army had withdrawn. They all promised to send an ambulance, but none arrived.
At 8:00, Ihab couldn't wait any longer and decided to walk to al-Quds Hospital, which is about half a kilometer from the house, and come back with an ambulance. I told him I was afraid the Israelis would shoot him. He answered that he wasn't prepared to wait until his mother died. I let him go and asked him to be careful.

About half an hour later, he returned from the hospital with a paramedic and stretcher. He said that the hospital's ambulances were busy rescuing people in a similar situation. I went outside and shouted: “People, world, help us!” Some neighbors heard me and came to help. We put my wife on the stretcher and carried the dead in blankets. We walked a few meters and then two ambulances from a-Shifa'a Hospital arrived. It was 8:30 or 9:00 A.M. One of the ambulances took my wife, and Ihab went with her. I went in the other ambulance with my two dead sons.

My wife was taken to the trauma department and then to intensive care, where they prepared her for surgery. Ihab had been slightly wounded, and he was treated and released. We buried my two sons the same day.

I don't wish it on anyone to lose his children. They are so precious.

Tal'at Ass'ad S'adi Hamuda, 52, married with four children, is a clerk and a resident of Tel al-Hawa in Gaza City. His testimony was given to Iyad Haddad by telephone on 12 January 2009.