Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Is Everyone a "Terrorist"? Israel Attacks Facility for the Disabled in Gaza

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Is Everyone a "Terrorist"? Israel Attacks Facility for the Disabled in Gaza

Article excerpt

As dawn approaches, just shy of 4 a.m., the handicapped and disabled patients of the Mabarat Palestine Association for the Disabled try to sleep in what remains of the association's building in Beit Lahia. On July 12 the special needs facility had sustained three direct missile hits from Israeli F16s, killing two female patients, Suha Abu Sada, 47, and Ola Washahi, 30. Three other patients were seriously injured, including Mai Hamada, 31, and Sally Sakr, 19, who suffered severe burns and injuries, along with a caregiver.

According to association director Jamila Eliwa, the dead women, who suffered from mental and physical disabilities, had lived at the facility since it opened in 1994. "Out of all [Israel's] criminal acts," she exclaims in frustration, "the last thing we could have imagined was that they would hit an association for the disabled or target an association for the mentally disabled. This is a crime, and the world is watching."

The center is home to 19 disabled patients. Fortunately, due to the summer holiday and Ramadan, 14 patients were staying with their families. Those who remained at the center were injured or killed. The center's patients include paraplegics, quadriplegics, people missing limbs or facing other physical challenges, as well as mentally disabled residents. Many need help just to get out of bed. These are long-term care patients, many born with disabilities, others injured in car accidents, at work, or in previous Israeli attacks. At the center they receive physical therapy and the equipment of independence, from wheelchairs to prosthetics.

The complications of evacuating already disabled victims made their rescue even more difficult for ambulance crews. Bodies of the dead and injured had to be dug from the rubble. Survivors were taken outside, covered with blankets and moved to stretchers for transport to other hospitals.

The Israeli military's latest tactic is to "warn" people before bombing a building. This warning can be a phone call, flyers dropped from the sky, or a "smaller" bomb exploding on the roof. People inside typically have from one to five minutes to get everyone out before the building is destroyed. Some make it. Many do not.

The Mabarat Palestine Association for the Disabled received no warning, however. Even if it had, one to five minutes is not enough time to evacuate a care facility of physically and mentally handicapped patients.

"The rockets hit us suddenly," whispers 31-year-old Mai Hamada, who has a speech impediment. "One from above and another from the side."

It is not known why Israel targeted the healthcare facility-according to director Eliwa, there is no military resistance in the area. In addition to the rehabilitation facility the airstrike severely damaged five homes and a curating museum, which preserves Palestinian heritage.

Outrage over the Israeli strike on a facility for the disabled has inflamed Palestinian society. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights harshly condemned the attack. "Such crimes are largely similar to those committed by occupation forces during Operation Cast Lead," it said in a statement.

After investigating the incident, Al Mezan classified it as a war crime. It called on the international community to act swiftly to protect civilians and hold Israel responsible for these crimes.

"The silence of the world on killing women, children and the elderly offers those criminals immunity, increasing their appetite for killing," explained an Al Mezan spokesperson. "This will lead to grave humanitarian crises."

A neighbor who helped collect from the rubble not only wheelchairs but severed arms and legs bursts into tears. …

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