|The Hamdan family lost three of their children to an Israeli bomb [GALLO/GETTY]|
For each day of Israel’s war on Gaza, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights reports on how one family is coping with the war’s aftermath.
In its fourth report from the Gaza Strip, Al Mezan talks the Hamdan family who lost three of their children
Early in the morning on December 30, 2008, five-year-old Lama, 10-year-old Ismail, and 12-year-old Haya, wandered down the road from their home to take the garbage to a nearby skip.
Their father, Talat Hamdan, explains: “Every day, the children used to wake up, have breakfast, clean up the garden and then take the garbage to the skip down the road. We don’t have a collection service here.
“That day I was woken up by the sound of an explosion. I was half asleep and I didn’t realise what was happening. It was kind of normal. We live in Beit Hanoun near the border-line with Israel and we’re used to hearing explosions.”
Talat’s eldest son, 23-year-old Abdel Kareem, ran out of the house and towards the sound of the explosions, followed by his mother, Eman.
“Abdel Kareem reached them first,” Eman says. “He found them by the skip. Lama and Haya were already dead. Ismail was severely injured but alive.
“Abdel Kareem went crazy. He was throwing sand on himself; blaming himself for what happened. Then he picked up the girls and started screaming for help. The neighbours came out with a donkey and cart and took the children to Beit Hanoun hospital. I ran after them barefoot.”
As Talat was still waking up, his oldest daughter, 21-year-old Sabrine, 21, ran in screaming that her siblings had been killed.
“I was in shock. I was going crazy. I kept walking around the house. I didn’t know what to do,” Talat says.
“I went to the hospital in Beit Hanoun; my girls were already in the morgue.”
Ismail was transferred to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City due to the severity of his injuries.
“He was bleeding in the brain,” Eman explains. “My sister went with him to Shifa. Talat and I stayed in Beit Hanoun and buried our two girls the same day.
“People from the neighbourhood came to give their condolences, but I didn’t see them. We were in shock. Ismail died the next day.”
Consumed with guilt
|23 DAYS, 23 STORIES|
Almost a year after the attack, the victims’ older siblings are consumed with guilt.
“Hanadi [their 18-year-old sister] went into shock after what happened. She didn’t speak at all during the three days of mourning after the children were killed. That morning, as soon as she heard the explosion, she turned to Abdel Kareem and said, ‘The children are dead,'” says Eman.
“It was Hanadi who told them to take out the garbage. She’d seen people taking down a wake tent outside our house and people moving around in the neighbourhood. So she thought that everything was okay. That it was safe to go out. Hanadi is so distant from us now. She’s not really with us anymore.”
Talat continues: “It’s a residential area here. There are no police stations; no fighters. We thought it would be okay here.
“Hanadi can’t cope with what happened. She can’t bear it. She keeps saying that she wishes that she were dead. She wants to be killed by Israeli shelling. She’s in high school now, but she just comes and goes each day. She’s not really there.”
“Abdul Kareem also blames himself,” Eman adds. “He was there when they went out with the garbage. He told them to be careful. Lama said to him, ‘Don’t worry. God protects me.’
“Now I just try to keep myself busy. I don’t believe in psychological help. I cook. I clean. I work in the garden.”
‘Every minute, every second’
Talat believes his wife is coping better with their loss.
“Maybe Eman is stronger than me. She’s already suffered. She lost her father and cousin during the first Intifada in 1988. They were shot by the Israelis. I’m really affected. I’m still so unhappy.
“During Eid [a major holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan], we went to the mosque for the early morning prayer and then to the cemetery to see the children. It made me depressed.
“When I got home, I found lots of people in the garden. They had come to support us. They were playing with their children. It made me so depressed. My children should have been there too with their new toys and their new clothes like all the other children.
“I don’t work anymore. I get up and then I just sit in the garden remembering how they used to play. They were amazing children. Haya was really smart. She had memorised part of the Quran and used to read her older sisters’ books. She was good at dabka [a traditional Palestinian folk dance] and used to love school.
“Ismail liked nature and planting in the garden. The children were always around me. I was used to having them around me.
“I don’t feel like it’s been a year. It feels like such a short time ago. I remember them every minute; every second,” Eman says.
Talat feels the same. “How can I forget? Every time I look out at my garden I remember. I see them there.”