wrote this in september, after i first saw moh and ibrahim. just now, i received a picture of moh where he actually looks like a boy again, very sweet, indescribable to see. for how the ongoing support developed, check the fb page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-Ibrahim-Mohammad-Palestinian-children-from-Gaza/157492681006348)
Mohammed is 15 year old. He is Ibrahim’s cousin. Mohammad is very tall for his age. He has big hands, large feet, and beautiful dark eyes. Today, his head is shaven. In a few years, he will grow into a handsome young man.
When we first met him, Mohammad’s face was rigid and tense. He didn’t speak. His eyes only appeared to take notice of us. His eyes moved and stared at us in a way that made me wonder whether he was still terrified and in shock or whether he’s able to speak.
His father Atef moved to the end of the bed to show us Mohammad’s bandaged legs. Before he even touched the blanket, Mohammad’s body turned more rigid, and he started screaming. It was a terrible sound, a sound I have never heard before, a sound that made me doubt whether I was strong enough to witness this.
Like a chilling alarm-bell, the sound ebbs off, only to start again whenever Mohammad suspects anyone might be about to touch him, when he hears an airplane, during his sleep when he has nightmares.
Again and again he screams without any external triggers, from unbearable attacks of pain. Mohammad cries that he wants to die, he cries that he wants to go back to school, that he wants to see his friends, that he wants to go home, he cries when he talks to his mother on the phone.
Again and again, he begs his father to make sure he is given pain killer injections before his bandages are changed, but his doctor has ordered to cut back on injections, Mohammad could get addicted to them.
Where it is not covered in bandages – along his arms, on his fingers, toes and his face – Mohammad’s skin is layered in various colors. The oldest layer is dark brown, the next layer appears very pale and soft, and the last layer is the angry, bright pink of his flesh. On his nails, there are the rests of Henna, from a wedding he went to recently. On his long fingers and toes, there are several rough, black spots. It is hard to grasp that these are patches of scorched flesh.
When we talked to him, when we told him that people are asking about Ibrahim and him, Mohammad briefly calmed down. With visible effort, he tries to tell us things, he wants to tell us what happened and how it happened, and he wants to tell it on his own.
About an hour before the Iftar on August 19, Mohammad got bored. He goes out to play with his 12 year old cousin Ibrahim on the street in front of his family home and the Wafa hospital in Sija’iya, in Gaza. The boys are hungry and try to distract themselves until it is time to eat. Mohammad’s uncle tells him to bring his baby brother Khamis (1 year and a half old) inside. Mohammad does so and goes back out to play with Ibrahim. He doesn’t remember hearing something out of the ordinary, he only remembers playing, and then his memory gets blurred. He keeps shutting his eyes and his speech cuts off, he has difficulties concentrating. He remembers his cousin Ibrahim lying on top of him, and he remembers a burning feeling like fire inside his chest. And above all, he remembers pain, he is still feeling pain, sometimes all he can say is pain.
Atef is Mohammed’s father. Atef didn’t see the single missile from the unmanned drone that hit his son and his nephew. That single targeted both children specifically. That single missile from the unmanned drone was not mistakenly fired amidst a barrage of attacks but was the sole attack in the entire area at that time. Atef remembers being called and seeing both boys covered in blood. Since that day, his life has turned upside down.
He was told the boys were lucky that the missile exploded on soft ground; had it been on asphalt, they would have been killed, like the seven others that were killed in air strikes that day. Instead, they are two of five people that survived and were left injured.
After 10 days at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza, Atef and his brother Adnan accompanied their sons to the Israeli Kaplan hospital in Rehovot. Both men received permission to move inside the hospital compound only. Their ID’s have been taken away from them. They were granted a little room in the hospital building, where they can sleep and take a shower. But the brothers spend most of their time with their sons. When they first arrived at Kaplan hospital, Mohammad underwent an eight-hour surgery, Ibrahim a five-hour surgery.
Atef translates for Mohammad and functions as his son’s nurse. Every few hours, he helps four nurses amid pained screams of his son to change his position and spare him bedsores.
Atef explained to us about his son’s condition. ( All medical information are according to the information given by Adnan and ‘Atef, we were unable to speak to the medics ). His son sustained burns of various degrees on his face, along his left arm and hand, and on both lower legs. The missile blew off the flesh of his right hand, abdomen and both thighs. The medical team at Kaplan hospital replaced these parts with flesh taken from the back of Mohammad’s thighs. The thighbone on one of his legs is fractured four times and was pushed out of the leg. The medics reset it. It is now fixed with a splinter and screws.
Both legs are twisted with his swollen feet pointing sharply to the right. At Al Shifa hospital in Gaza, the medical staff had performed a horizontal incision along the lower end of his abdomen to check for shrapnel and other injuries. At Kaplan hospital, the procedure was repeated with two vertical incisions along his lower abdomen. Mohammad doesn’t know this yet, but one testicle had to be removed.
Until a few days ago, Mohammad was mostly sedated, but now, he remains awake until he gets more painkillers. Atef spends most of his time in the small room with his son, feeding him cold water whenever Mohammad asks for it, adjusting pillows, blankets, and a fan, calling for the nurse, and mostly watching helplessly as his son screams in pain. At night, he barely sleeps. Mohammad has nightmares of missiles attacking him again, he thinks he is burning up from the inside, and the pain becomes intolerable. This morning, Atef finally shaved off Mohammad’s thick hair to prevent him from tearing out more chunks in bouts of pain. Gradually, Mohammad makes attempts to eat, so Atef feeds him soft white bread dunked in cold milk.
Atef would like to install a TV above Mohammad’s bed to distract him from his pain and fears, but he cannot afford the 700NIS the hospital asks. Sometimes, he calls in random visitors of other patients just so Mohammad can see other people beside his father, uncle and the medical team. And indeed, when we got up to leave the room in order to visit Ibrahim, Mohammad got anxious, and he begged his father to tell us to stay, to not leave him alone. He calmed down only when we left our bags with him to guarantee him that we will return.
Like his brother Adnan, Atef looks worn out, exhausted. On top of the daily turmoil at the hospital that has become his life, he worries about his 11 children and his wife back in Gaza. He knows that, like Ibrahim’s siblings, the younger ones have nightmares, too. They have seen their brothers covered in blood.
Days ago, Atef ran out of credit on his mobile phone, and he hasn’t been able to talk to his family – or anyone else – since. When we gave him a telephone card, he immediately called his wife and passed the phone to Mohammad.
When we asked Atef and Adnan what they need, they replied “money”. Like the majority of the adults in Gaza, Adnan and ‘Atef are unemployed and have been living off the meager Gazan equivalent of social security (wakala). The medical care of their sons is fortunately covered by some agreement between the PA and Israeli authorities, both men can sleep at the hospital and eat the food prepared for the patients, but after 11 days, they cannot bring themselves to touch it any more. They cannot afford to refill their mobiles phones to call their wifes and children back in Gaza, they cannnot afford the sandwiches or drinks at the Hospital cafeteria, and even if they could pay the considerably higher prices of Israeli supermarkets, they are not allowed to leave the hospital to shop. When we met them, they have run out of essentials, such as soap (which they use in lieu of shampoo/shower gel). They worry how they can possibly sustain their extremely difficult lives and conditions at the Israeli hospital for the next few months.