By Motasem A Dalloul
In this feature, the writer traces the dangerous effects of the Israeli White Phosphorous Bombs on the health of the Palestinian children.
On day 13 of the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, ten members of a Palestinian family in the eastern part of the Gaza city were hiding in their home, thinking it would have protected them from the heavy Israeli bombardment, when they heard a sound of a huge bomb followed by a massive thick smoke wave that caused itches in their noses and tears in the eyes.
“We stopped seeing each other and felt that if we were to die due to the heavy white smoke,” Maymouna dalloul, mother of eight children told Middle East Monitor. “We did not know what exactly happened at that time,” she continued, “all what I remember is that all of my children started screaming loudly and I thought that was the end of our life.”
That was part of the Israeli massive offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2008/9, which Israel called Operation Cast Lead and the Palestinians called Al-Furqan Battle. It lasted 22 days –between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009.
Israel said that it targeted terrorists in the Gaza Strip, but Raji al-Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Human Rights Centre, described it in a report marking the fifth anniversary of the offensive, saying: “At the end of the offensive over 1,400 Palestinians were dead; 82 percent of them –the overwhelming majority– were innocent civilians.”
Among those civilians, was Maymouna, her eight children and her husband. Ahmed, Maymouna’s sixth child, who was four years old, recounts his experience: “We were at home when the Israeli occupation struck our house with phosphorous (After the war, people in Gaza knew that the strange missiles with heavy thick smoke was White Phosphorous Bombs). An ambulance came to our house and evacuated us to the hospital, but we did not suffer any problem when we left the area around our house.”
Hundreds of people had the same experience as Maymouna’s family, including myself. When the smoke of the White Phosphorus Bombs disappeared, people felt no remaining effects for it. However, after a couple of years, children with a certain kind of eye disease started to complain. Ophthalmologist Ali abu-Shalan, a doctor at Al-Nasser Hospital, the main for eye diseases in Gaza, referred the reason of the new disease to the Israeli White Phosphorous Bombs.
“Like many other people in Gaza, Maymouna’s daughter, Latifa, suffered from a blurry vision and had a lens transplantation surgery in 2011 and she almost recovered full sight,” Abu-Shalan said. “A couple of months later, Maymouna’s son suffered the same disease and he had a transplantation surgery. Then, two of her sons came with the same disease and both had the same surgeries,” he said.
The occurrence of the same diseases with “exactly” the same symptoms pushed the doctor to ask for the history of the family. “When they told me that they had an experience with the White Phosphorous Bombs, I conducted my studies and linked the cases to the bombs and found almost certain relationship between the bombs and this disease,” he stated, noting that aging is the main cause of this disease.
Children’s threat on Israel’s security
Latifa, Abdullah, Mahmoud’s surgeries succeeded, but Ahmed’s surgery failed. “Therefore, his case has been deteriorating and he is almost losing his sight within years,” Dr Shalan said, noting he needs “urgent” surgery either in Jerusalem or Egypt.
As travelling to the West Bank and Jerusalem is easier than travelling to Egypt, Mamouna said that the ministry of health in Gaza referred her son, who is 14 years old now, to Al-Maqasid Hospital in Jerusalem. “Me and my son applied for travel permits, but the Israeli occupation authorities rejected both of us for security reasons,” Maymouna said, wondering what kind of security threats does she and her little son pose on Israel to be prevented from an “urgent sight treatment.”
Through time, Ahmed’s vision is fading and, doctors said, he might reach a point where there is not treatment for his case “if he did not have the needed surgery.” The ministry of health in Gaza referred them to a specialist Egyptian hospital and they are currently waiting for the Rafah Crossing to open. The last time the Rafah Crossing opened 50 days ago for three days, when around 1,500 Palestinians passed, out of 30,000 in an urgent need to travel, according to the interior ministry in Gaza.
Maymouna’s family is one among thousands of Palestinian families, who had nightmarish experiences with the Israeli bombings, which took the Gaza Strip thousands of years back. After the Operation Cast Lead, Israeli launched two other massive operations, where thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed, tens of thousands were wounded and tens of thousands of houses and civil facilities were destroyed across the coastal enclave, which has been under a strict Israeli ground, naval and areal siege for more than 10 years.
Describing the scene of the White Phosphorous Bombs hitting Gaza, Al-Sourani said in the report of his centre, which was issued in 2014, says: “Who can forget the sight of white phosphorous raining down over the Gaza city, and the suffering and death it caused to our families? Who can forget the indiscriminate artillery bombardment, the drone attacks that killed only civilians and children or the bulldozers and explosive charges that left the homes in the Gaza Strip in ruins?”