Life and Death at Gaza's Al Shifa Hospital: A Tale of Two Mothers and Their Sons

Article excerpt

ONLY A FEW DAYS earlier, his family believed 16-year-old Ahmed Abu Salamah to be dead. They had erected a mourning tent and buried what they thought were what was left of his body. Two weeks after the funeral, however, Ahmed's friends contacted his mother to tell her that her son was still alive and in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Neither she nor her husband could believe it, but they rushed there anyway-to discover that their son was indeed alive.

"My son, my son Ahmed!" Karima Salamah cried, still in disbelief, upon arriving at the ICU room where her son lay critically injured, bandaged, unmoving. "I shook his bed, and when he awoke and opened his eyes I told him, 'This is your mother, I'm here with you.'"

Tears flowed down Ahmed's cheeks as he lay immobile, his condition still dangerously tenuous. The missile that had struck him left Ahmed with severe brain damage and missing pieces of flesh.

Just after Ahmed had walked out his front door on Saturday, March 1, his mother said, he was hit by an Israeli F-16 missile. It was a day in which more than 55 Palestinians were killed, many of them civilians and children. Ahmed's parents ran from one hospital to the next, unable to find any news of their son. Finally, after three days of worrying and wondering, they were called by a local hospital and told that the body of a boy believed to be Ahmed was in the hospital morgue. It was not easy to identify him, Karima recalled, as the boy's body had been torn into unrecognizable pieces of flesh. The only option was to assume that it was her son's corpse.

The mutilated and unidentifiable corpse which the Abu Salamah family had mistakenly buried was actually that of Mohammed Hejazi, a 17-year-old who lived in the same neighborhood. Meanwhile, Mohammed's mother, Aminah Hejazi, and family came and sat outside Ahmed's ICU room everyday for two weeks, believing that the injured boy inside was their Mohammed.

With his face covered in bandages and his body being of similar size, it was easy for the Hejazi family to hope this was Mohammed. "At first I doubted whether this was really my son," Aminah revealed, "but I felt the need to be close to him anyway." After her initial doubts, Aminah Hejazi became convinced that Mohammed truly was the boy inside the ICU room. Her hopes remained alive until the injured boy's actual mother came to the hospital and identified him as her son Ahmed.

Mohammed's mother sobbed as she recounted this moment and the painful realization that her child had been killed. Her husband could not accept the news, however, and clung to the hope that their son was alive.

Both families confirmed that the shelling which injured and killed their boys occurred in the same place, near one of the schools in northern Gaza's Jabaliya Refugee Camp. In Israel's assault on Gaza that Saturday, many of the more than 55 Palestinians killed were rendered into charred pieces, making identifying the bodies confusing at best. Ahmed and Mohammed's bodies were among the most difficult to identify.

"Israel is using missiles and materials which rip apart and burn beyond recognition the humans they target," said Dr. …