The night of Wednesday, January 14, was the worst night for the people in the Tela Howa area. You’ve already heard Reem’s story, and heard from me that this was the night they began to drop rockets on the Al Quds hospital, with our worst rocket fire occuring Thursday night.
Today I met Majda Nadeem and her children. They live on the third floor of a building beside the crossroads of the main road that leads from Al Quds hospital. I was led to their story via the story of the Al Haddad family, which happened a few hours later and had a much more tragic end.
Majda, who is a poet with her own website, but also the pretty and youthful looking mum of Tala (7), Dima (12), Firas (13), Basher (14), and Mohanned (16), told me the area their building was in was targetted from about 1am that night. They hid in their middle room, away from any outside walls. Early on they thought maybe it was specifically their building being targeted with rockets and about to be destroyed, so they ran down into the street, but then decided it was the next door building and that the street was even more dangerous because the Israeli planes were shooting anything that moved.
So they spent the night awake and frightened, praying, thinking they would never see daylight. At 6am 3 phosphorous shells hit their building, setting their cousin’s ground floor flat on fire, and they realised some of the buildings near them were on fire too. The phosophorous fumes made it almost impossible to breath, and then at 7.30am an F16 plane dropped a missile on the main road beside them (I saw the enormous crater) and the exploding rubble smashed all their windows and doors. Terrified, they fled the building again.
Majda’s husband Nasser and Basher and Firas went to try to get their car, but it wouldn’t start. Majda and Mohanned tried to get the girls away across the street. They got as far as the wall beside the street, and a tank – that could clearly see they were a family group carrying small bags – opened fire on them as they cowered against the wall. Mohanned made it across the street, but Majda dropped the bags and tried to shield the girls. “Mohanned was calling something to me but the attack was so loud I couldn’t hear. I tried to run to him with the girls, but fell on the street. I was injured and bleeding but I crawled over to him.”
By this time Majda couldn’t see where her husband or other sons were, and the mobile wouldn’t work. When she finally got through for a moment, her husband told her he and Basher had been shot, were unable to move, and were lying flat on the street in the hope of surviving the combined land and air attack, in sight of the tanks that had already shot them. Getting her other three children to shelter, Majda tried to call the ambulance, the Red Cross, even a radio station, but the phone wouldn’t work. So she set out to run to Al Shifa hospital for help.
When she said this, I stopped to check I’d understood. Al Quds hospital was 5 minutes away and Al Shifa was at least a kilometre, it takes me about half an hour to walk there from Al Quds. Majda explained that she knew from the radio that Al Quds was under the same attack as they were and there was no way she could make it there alive, nor could anyone there reach them alive, which was in fact true.
In the meantime, 13 year old Firas was also going for help for his brother and father, but almost immediately he was shot in the knee by an Israeli sniper. This didn’t stop him however – he covered at least 60 yards, half of them in sight of the tanks, to reach his cousin’s house. His cousin then managed to contact a neighbour who was a doctor with a UN car, and they went into the line of fire and picked up Nasser and Basher and got them to Al Shifa. By the time Majda reached Al Shifa (I still can’t get my head around how she must have felt during that run) her husband was in surgery and her son was also being treated.Now, she has her two boys safe in her own double bed, each with a bandaged leg. Basher has steel bolts in his – he lost a large chunk of the lower leg to what have been described to me as a large bullet. He was due to enter a kung fu championship, so that’s had to be put on hold, but he was apparently bravely joking with his nurse, during a painful dressing change, that he could still kick with the other leg.
Firas is going to have an operation on Tuesday because his knee needs putting back together to what extent it can be. Mohammed and Hazem, volunteer nurses-in-training attached to Al Shifa, come in daily to care for them. Both boys have lovely smiles, and their mother says they mostly behave well to each other while sharing the bed. Their father Nasser, an engineer with no work for more than two years since the siege allows few building materials in, is still in Egypt being treated. As I understand it, his hip, kidney, and prostrate are all damaged.
Dima and Tala come in from school while I am there, being treated to the usual coffee and arabic sweets. Such small girls. “Are they terrorists?” asks their mother. “My family cares about all people. We don’t mind if they are from a different country or a different religion. We think all people are the same. That’s what we believe.”