- April 1, 2009
Gaza’s phosphorus legacy
Three months have passed since the war on Gaza and for many people life is regaining some form of normality.
For others however, the fallout from the conflict continues to affect their daily lives.
Sabah Abu Halima has weekly physiotherapy sessions and regular visits to the Shiba hospital for treatment on her injuries from white phosphorus sustained during the war.
“I was burnt from head to toe, my face, my legs, my back were burnt,” she says.
“I am still in pain, I have not recovered yet, I massage my arm where they operated it on it but it”s still stiff.
“I can”t even pick up a cup of tea now, my life will never be the same.”
Sabah and her family live in a rural community in the north of Gaza on the border with Israel. Hers was a simple existence that revolved around her family.
“We had a happy home I lived in this house with my husband and children and we lived in security. I was the happiest person in the world,” she says.
“We were 16 people. Sixteen people living in this house happily together it was heaven.”
But all of that changed when on January 4 when the Israeli army entered the village of Siyafa under the cover of a white phosphorus smokescreen.
“At first I saw the white phosphorus shells, they fired them here nearby over the farmland, my daughter in law called me over and said look at what the Israelis are doing, we thought they were celebrating we were on the balcony and saw it land in the fields,” she recalls.
“Fifteen minutes later they dropped it on us it fell through the roof. They were like ropes like the tentacles of an octopus that spread everywhere killing and burning anything they came in contact with.”
The shell took the lives of five members of Sabah’s family. Her husband and four of her children including her youngest daughter, Shahed, who was only 15 months old.
Her other two sons Youssef and Ali narrowly escaped.
“I was in a lot of pain we were all crying,” Youssef says. “We tried to save my father and Abed but we couldn’t as they were on fire.
“My brother Ali was sitting alone in Ahmed’s room when the phosphorus fell on us, his head was burnt here and behind his ear here.”
The war has changed the life of Sabah’s son 18-year-old Omar. He has dropped out of school and now works with his older brother on their small plot of land.
“We used to depend on my father and now we rely on my brother to do the work, so yes I can go to school but psychologically I am tired I am worn out,” he says.
“I can”t open my books because of what I saw, my father died in front of me and I had to drag his body out my brothers and sister died and I had to drag them out of the flames.
“Before I used to come home and talk to my brothers and joke with them, I used to joke with my sister and father, now I have no one to speak to, there is only my mother, we try to calm her down to calm her down, to laugh with us but she won’t.”
The loss of her only daughter who died in her arms has been the hardest the bear for Sabah.
“We use to love each other, we all looked after Shahed we used to always buy her biscuits and Chips I really loved her,” she says.
Omar says he “lost his mind” when his sister died.
“I lost it,” he says. “She was the only one we played and laughed with, I hate to see children now, I can’t stand to see them, she is my only sister and she died… you lose your mind.”
“Everything has changed,” Sabah says. “I feel lost I don”t know where to go my house is destroyed my husband has died my children have died all the happiness is gone, I am miserable.”