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From the field

‘Abla a-Nabahin of al-Maghazi R.C. recounts bombing of her home on 13 July 2014; her sister Laila al-‘Awedat, 34, was killed

I’m a widow. My husband was killed twelve years ago. Ever since, I’ve been living with my son Yasser, who is now 12 years old, in my family’s home in a-Za’fran, a neighborhood in a rural area of al-Maghazi in the central Gaza Strip. My mother, Fatmeh, my two sisters, Laila and Nisreen, and my brother Muhammad also live in the house. Laila is divorced and has two sons: Tareq, who is 12, and ‘Amru, 11. Nisreen has two daughters: Arij is 3 and Nuran is two years old. My brother Ahmad, who got married just two months ago, lives in the house next door.

We didn’t sleep at all on Sunday night, 13 July 2014. There were more and more airstrikes. We watched television coverage of the strikes. We heard a drone flying in the air above us. My son Yasser said he couldn’t fall sleep because he was so scared. I remember seeing my niece Nuran sleeping with her hands over her ears. Before she fell asleep, I heard her arguing with her sister, threatening to send her to where the bombings are because she had taken her doll. Every time she heard bombings she’d run to her mother and hug her until the quiet returned.

The children had a hard time falling asleep that night. At around 3:00 A.M, we ate suhoor [the last meal before the daily Ramadan fast]. Then we recited the morning prayers. At around 6:00 A.M., we heard an explosion nearby. We didn’t know where the bombing had been but realized it had been very close. Then suddenly, my brother Ahmad and his wife Suha, who live next door, came in. They were in a panic. Ahmad said that their roof had been hit. I saw that Suha was very frightened. She was trembling. She asked that we get her something to cover her head because she had left her house bare-headed and in her night-clothes. My sister gave her a prayer garment. Ahmad said he was worried that it was a warning missile and that the house was about to be bombed. He asked us to get out of the house immediately. There was a great commotion in the house as we got ready to leave. I put on a robe and head covering. I took my handbag and cell phone and called out to my son to leave the house with me.

Before we managed to get out, my mother said she wanted to use the toilet. I accompanied her to the bathroom and waited in the passageway. All of a sudden, I felt something pulling me into the house and everything collapsing on top of me. There was black smoke mixed with white dust. I felt I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I was buried in rubble. I cleared the dirt that had filled my mouth. I managed to shift some of the rubble covering me and got my head out. I shouted, calling my son Yasser. He didn’t respond at first, but after I called out a few times he answered me. He said he couldn’t move. I told him not to be afraid, that soon he’ll be pulled out of the rubble. Then I heard my mother calling my name and I realized that she was alive.

A few minutes later, my sister Nisreen reached me. She tried unsuccessfully to pull me out of the rubble. She asked me where our sister Laila was. I said I didn’t know. I heard Nisreen going through the house, calling Laila’s name. My brother Muhammad came to pull me out. I asked him to leave me and go help Yasser, who was in the next room. Meanwhile, some neighbors came over. Together, they managed to clear the rubble that was on top of me and pull me out. Then a few ambulances arrived and took everyone who had been wounded to the hospital. At the hospital I was told that my sister Laila had been killed.

I have a hair-line fracture in my left leg and am bruised all over. But I’m not thinking about myself, only about my sister who was killed, leaving two young, homeless orphans. My mother broke her pelvis, collarbone and chest bones. The doctors say it’ll take her six months to recover. She’s elderly and has diabetes and high blood pressure, and I’m worried that she’ll have complications and die. Eight days after the incident, the doctors decided to transfer my mother to a West Bank hospital for further treatment. I went with her. We were given permission to go through the Erez Crossing and we’re now at the hospital in Nablus.

Fatmeh al-‘Awedat, 67, had not yet been informed of her daughter Laila’s death when B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i saw her at the hospital in Nablus on 24 July 2014, eleven days after the incident. In view of her mental and physical condition following the incident, the doctors recommended not giving her the bad news. Fatmeh al-‘Awedat told of her concern for her daughter:

Fatmeh al-‘Awedat, mother ‘Abla a-Nabahin and Laila al-‘Awedat in the hospital in Nablus. Photo: Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 24 July 2014
Fatmeh al-‘Awedat, mother ‘Abla a-Nabahin and Laila al-‘Awedat in the hospital in Nablus. Photo: Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 24 July 2014

I’m very uneasy about my daughter Laila. I haven’t seen her since the day of the incident and I don’t know what happened to her. She didn't come to visit me in hospital [in Gaza]. When I ask my other children about her, they say she is at home looking after the children. When I ask my children to let me speak to her on the phone, they tell me that she’s at a place where land lines are down and the power is out, so cell phones can’t be charged. I keep quiet and say nothing, but I feel in my heart that something happened to her and they don’t want to tell me. I wish I could go to our relatives who have been hosting the rest of the family ever since the bombing. I so much want to make sure that Laila is all right. I want to hug her. I want to know why she didn’t come to visit me at the hospital. Doesn’t she miss me? Doesn’t she want to see me?

I think maybe she didn’t come because her young sons are afraid of the sounds of the bombings. They cling to her and won’t let go until it’s quiet again. Maybe she couldn’t leave the kids and was afraid to bring them to the hospital. I’m worried that something will happen to them. I pray that my children and grandchildren and the people in Gaza will be all right and will get of this war in one piece.

We have no one left. My father passed away a few years ago. I lost a husband and now a sister. My mother is badly injured. I feel as though I could lose someone else from my family at any moment. Things in Gaza are very dangerous and difficult. The number of fatalities goes up by the minute. My sister’s husband left her and their kids and married another woman. He’s been entirely out of touch. He doesn’t even ask about the children. I don’t know how they’ll grow up without a mother or a father.

Laila suffered greatly in her marriage. She tried to keep it going for the sake of the two children, but at a certain point she couldn’t take it any longer and chose to get a divorce. She always said that the only thing she wants in this world is her two little ones and that she wants to raise them to be decent people and give them an education. She hoped that they would be compensation for all her years of misery. She didn’t know that a missile would cut her life short and keep her from seeing her sons grow up.

I know she was very worried that they’d be hurt in the bombings. She used to say: “Let me die, but don’t let them get even a scratch.” The missile that killed her burned her pretty face. Her pretty eyes. Her body. The last thing she said to me was that she wants to put on her traditional robe before leaving the house. She was about to leave and came back in to put on the robe. That was the last time I saw her.

The family is scattered. I’m with my mother in the West Bank, in Nablus. My brother Ahmad and his wife Suha are staying with her family in Deir al-Balah. My son Yasser is staying with relatives in al-Maghazi along with my brother Muhammad, my sister Nisreen and her children. I’m worried about them and don’t know if I’ll ever get to see them again, because all the people in Gaza are targets. We are all potential shahids [martyrs]. We just don’t die all at once. Maybe so there’ll be someone left behind to bury the dead.

The world is watching what’s happening to us and is doing nothing to prevent it. It’s as if they’re deaf and blind. Maybe if we were animals they would feel sorry for us and show some mercy, but they don’t think about us at all. We’ve lost all hope of getting help from the outside world. All we have left is to pray to Allah that death will be easy and painless. That's all.

‘Abla Hassan a-Nabahin, 41, is a widow and has one child. She lives in al-Maghazi R.C. in the central Gaza Strip. She described the bombing and her sister’s death to Salma a-Deb’i, B’Tselem field researcher in Nablus, at the hospital in Nablus on 24 July 2014.

Concerning testimonies about the "Protective Edge" campaign:

With the current military campaign ongoing, B’Tselem is taking testimony from Gaza residents, mainly by telephone. B’Tselem verifies, to the best of its ability, the reliability and precision of the information reported; nevertheless, in these circumstances, reports may be incomplete or contain errors. Given the urgency of informing the public about events in Gaza, B’Tselem has decided to publish the information now available. When the military campaign ends, B’Tselem will supplement these reports as needed.