More than one month later, sadness and anger still grip Rania al-Anqar’s heart every time she thinks about her son Abdullah, whose leg was amputated after he was shot by an Israeli soldier.
The 13-year-old had made his way to an area east of Gaza City, near the Israeli fence and close to his home in the al-Shujayea neighbourhood, on a quiet Thursday morning in early May.
“I took my slingshot with me,” Abdullah, a skinny boy of 13, told Al Jazeera. “A few people were in the area, and everything was calm.”
“I went near the fence and starting throwing rocks,” he said, sitting in his wheelchair. “Then as I started to climb the fence, I saw an Israeli soldier hiding in the bushes.”
Abdullah’s immediate reaction was to step down from the fence and run away, but before he could do that, the soldier shot him in the left thigh with an explosive bullet at close range.
“I can’t remember anything after that moment. I only remember something hot had shattered my leg before I lost consciousness,” Abdullah said.
Eyewitnesses in the area told the Anqar family that the Israeli soldiers dragged Abdullah’s body to their side, where an ambulance was waiting. The boy was then transferred into an air ambulance.
“A number of people rushed into my home at 8:30 in the morning shouting: Israeli soldiers shot your son and took him,” Rania, Abdullah’s mother said. “No other details.”
“I couldn’t control myself,” she continued. “I ran to the fence crying the entire time.”
Once there, Palestinians who were in the area at the time Abdullah was shot told her he was taken away in a helicopter, but could not offer details on how or where in his body he had been shot.
“Some were saying Abdullah was shot in the head, others said in the chest,” the mother of seven said.
The family spent a panicked day trying to figure out whether their son, the sixth out of seven children, was dead or alive, and if alive, whether he was arrested or taken for treatment, and if for treatment, how serious his injury was.
“We informed the Red Cross committee about what happened,” Rania said. “They took his information and contacted the Israeli side.”
That afternoon, Abdullah’s father Emad received a telephone call from the Israeli coordination and liaison office.
“An Israeli officer told me in Arabic that he was with the Israeli army, and that my son Abdullah was in Soroka Hospital in Bir Sabe’ [Beersheba],” the 46-year-old father told Al Jazeera.
“They needed personal details like our ID number from me or his mother so that they could issue a permit for one of us to go see Abdullah in the hospital.”
The officer offered no information about Abdullah’s medical condition.
“We were very worried,” Rania said. “In the end, we decided that Emad would go.”
The following day was a Friday and Erez checkpoint, Israel’s only pedestrian crossing north of the Gaza Strip, was closed.
However, the Israeli army opened the checkpoint as an exceptional case in order to let Emad through.
“When I saw Abdullah in the hospital, I immediately wished I didn’t,” Emad said, holding back tears. “He was dying in the intensive care unit. There were tubes coming out of his body everywhere.”
Abdullah underwent three surgeries and a transfusion of eight units of blood to save his leg, Emad recalled. Bullet fragments and shards of bone had severely affected his femoral artery.
The doctors tried to transfer a major vein from his uninjured leg but were unsuccessful, leaving them no choice but to amputate his left leg from the upper thigh, five days after he was shot.
The young teen’s body became unresponsive and had to be resuscitated after his heart stopped.
After that, he was moved to the intensive care unit where he spent 13 days.
“I was totally devastated,” Emad said. “I spent those days crying next to Abdullah’s bed in the ICU. I refused to eat. People in the hospital would cry when they saw me weeping.”
“The staff – doctors, nurses and other people – in the Israeli hospital denounced the incident,” he added bitterly. “They were asking the same question I had on my mind: why did the Israeli soldier shoot my son, a mere child, in this way?”
After a week in the ICU, the doctors decided to wake Abdullah up from the anaesthesia that they had kept him under.
“The most heart-wrenching moment was when he woke up, recognised me, and then started to feel around for his leg,” Emad said, his voice choking with grief and tears running down his cheeks.
“I couldn’t forget his reaction when he found out that his leg had been amputated. He kept asking: where is my leg? I had no words there. He burst into tears while fumbling for his missing leg.”
“I tried to calm him down by saying that he would have an artificial limb in its place, but I was crying with him,” Emad said in anguish.
Abdullah then spoke to his mother over the phone, repeating one sentence over and over.
“He kept saying, Mum, you see? I lost my leg. My leg is gone,” Rania said.
Her sorrow quickly turned into anger.
“My son didn’t pose any threat to the Israeli soldiers,” she said. “What if the Israeli soldier shot on the ground, or in the air?”
“My son would have instantly run away. He is still a minor and unaware of his actions,” she added, proclaiming her condemnation of Israel’s criminality.
Abdullah’s parents have called on international child protection organisations to open an investigation into their son’s incident and to prosecute the soldier who shot him.
“We’ve hired a lawyer to follow up the case and we will not stay silent on our son’s right,” the father said.
Since returning to Gaza on May 21, Abdullah has undergone two surgeries at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital to remove dead tissue from his left thigh. He still needs more surgeries and serious rehabilitation before he can be fitted with an appropriate artificial limb.
Abdullah’s condition is considered by Hossam al-Talmas, a physician with the Doctors Without Borders (known by its French acronym MSF) clinic in Gaza, as the most extreme case of amputation he has seen among similar incidents since the protests in Gaza began east of the strip.
“We have amputation cases in the thigh but not like Abdullah’s case,” Talmas told Al Jazeera, saying that the teenager’s leg was cut off quite high on his upper thigh.
Abdullah has been coming to the MSF clinic three times a week since his return to Gaza, for physical therapy sessions. Last week, the organisation coordinated with a delegation of French doctors who operated on Abdullah’s thigh to remove more dead tissue at Gaza City’s Patient’s Friend Society hospital.
Dr Ayman al-Sahbani, head of the emergency departments at the Shifa Hospital, told Al Jazeera he believes that the Israeli army is using new weaponry based on the types of injuries the wounded protesters from the Great March of Return demonstrations have sustained since March 30.
“Israeli snipers use explosive bullets that shatter the bones, the tissues, and slice the veins and arteries,” al-Sahbani said, adding that 51 percent of the injuries sustained in the demonstrations were the result of these bullets.
“In numbers, they are 7,500 injured with explosive bullets out of 15,000, which is the total number of injuries since March 30,” Sahbani said.
Some wounded protesters undergo as many as seven surgeries to try to save their limbs, al-Sahbani explained, “In many cases, we resort to amputation after numerous attempts to save the leg.”
Many patients need to be urgently transferred outside Gaza, the doctor continued. While the patients’ referral papers are ready, they are still waiting for Israeli-issued medical permits, which puts their cases in even more danger.
“He [Abdullah] needs to be transferred out of Gaza to a professional prosthetics hospital as his case in rare here in Gaza,” Emad said.
Moving between his bed and the wheelchair, Abdullah remains full of energy with a smile that never leaves his face and hardly pays attention when his mother gently admonishes him to be more careful as he tries to step on one foot without using crutches.
Yet despite putting on a brave face, Rania says he is prone to mood swings.
“After his injury, he became irritable, nervous and very sensitive,” Rania whispered.
“Till now, Abdullah insists he does not want to see his friends, who came by to visit him on more than one occasion. He would ask them to leave.
“He used to play with them all day, but now that he’s on a wheelchair, he can’t,” she added.
Abdullah’s injury also prevented him from taking his final exams at school, and he refuses to go back to school again.
“I’m tired of sitting down,” Abdullah said, as he tried to stand up away from his wheelchair.
His eyes flicker when he’s asked about the moment he realised he had lost his leg.
“It was a harsh moment,” he said, his smile disappearing. “I cried a lot and was in shock. I felt like something more than just physical was gone.”
Suddenly he brightened up.
“I have to travel outside Gaza so I can get an artificial limb, then I could go back to my normal life, back to walking again,” he said.
“I want to be a musician and see the whole world.”