The Forgotten Disabled Palestinian Victims of Israeli Crimes

Hamdi Amman’s family was massacred in a 2006 Israeli attack. His wife, son, mother, and brother were killed; his daughter Maria survived, but her entire body from the neck down is paralyzed. Hamdi says he would sacrifice his own body for her to be able to move again.

Maria was a mere child when she was permanently paralyzed. Today, she is 13. In a 2014 feature in Haaretz, in the wake of another Israeli massacre in Gaza, Gideon Levy refers to the young girl as “a wunderkind” and says “her father, Hamdi, is the most amazing and devoted father I have ever met. For eight years he has been dedicating all his time and energy, 24/7, to unflagging care of his daughter.”

Shrapnel from an Israeli missile lodged itself in Maria’s brain. This shrapnel can never be removed, or she would die. Instead, she is doomed to a life of suffering. The shrapnel from US-funded weapons is worse, much worse, than a scar; it still causes problems for Maria, and means her father has to be very careful when he moves her.

Maria moves her wheelchair with her mouth, and can operate a specially designed computer with her tongue. Levy writes her “father has decided to devote his life to his daughter. Every few hours, he has to deal with one of Maria’s endless physical problems. … For years he has been sleeping at the foot of her bed, waking up every few hours to care for her.” He must help her every time she needs to use the bathroom.

Al Jazeera featured the Ammans in a heart-wrenching video segment.

Every American has a moral obligation to see what families like the Ammans must endure. Every American has a moral obligation to see the Hell on Earth Israel creates for the Palestinians—with the help of over $100 billion of our tax dollars and indefatigable diplomatic and political support.

 

The Forgotten Paralyzed Palestinians

Palestinian solidarity, human rights, and anti-apartheid activists outside of Israel-Palestine tend to focus on those who have been murdered by Israel—the one Palestinian child every three days for the past 13 years, or the 2,200 massacred in the summer of 2014—yet tend to forget the pain and suffering of those who have been irreparably injured in Israel’s long-history of state terrorism.

Journalist Dan Cohen visited the Deir al Balah Rehabilitation Center in Gaza in the wake of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge.” He tells harrowing stories of paralyzed children in over-flowing UNRWA schools-turned-shelters. The rehabilitation center estimates that 3,000 of the roughly 11,000 Palestinians Israel injured in Israel’s summer 2014 assault have permanent physical disabilities, mostly paraplegia, amputations, and permanent hearing loss.

In “Protective Edge,” the Israeli military bombed hospitals and medical facilities for the disabled like these. The close US ally claimed it gave the medical facilities a brief warning before bombing them, but asking a hospital full of paralyzed people to quickly evacuate its patients—and then boasting of your warning, citing it as evidence of your supposed magnanimity—can only be construed as a cynical and disingenuous at best.

Seven-year-old Gazan Maha was paralyzed from the neck down by an August 2014 Israeli airstrike CREDIT: UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

Seven-year-old Gazan Maha was paralyzed from the neck down by an August 2014 Israeli airstrike
CREDIT: UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

It is estimated that seven percent of the Palestinian population is paralyzed. (To put this in perspective, only approximately two percent of the US population lives with some form of paralysis.) Thousands do not have access to any kind of rehabilitation services. These roughly 250,000 disabled Palestinians perpetually suffer from the consequences of past Israeli military attacks.

 

The Forgotten Psychological Damage

Physical disabilities are not the only kind Palestinians endure. In the midst of Israel’s summer 2014 attack, UNICEF estimated that some 400,000 Palestinian children needed “immediate psycho-social first aid.” Pernille Ironside, chief of the UN children’s agency field office in Gaza, spoke to Reuters of the horrors that so many Palestinian children have experienced.

If you’re over the age of seven, you’ve already lived through two previous wars, [and the latest escalation was far worse than those in 2008-9 and 2012].

It is an extraordinary thing to live through, and especially to survive and witness the use of incredibly damaging weapons that tend to slice people with terrible amputations and maimings, shredding people apart in front of children’s eyes and in front of their parents as well.

University of California clinical professor of psychiatry and global health sciences Dr. Jesse Ghannam too addressed the problems of widespread acute psychological damage.

[P]robably close to 99 percent of children in Gaza are being exposed to a level of violence where they have seen family members be killed, murdered, burned alive. There’s nothing like the levels of traumatic exposure that any child in the world has ever been exposed to on a chronic and daily basis.

We can rebuild a broken bone, but when it comes to rebuilding someone’s psychological integrity, this is something that the people in the West and the Israelis don’t understand. They’re creating psychological damage for these kids that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

The psychological damage makes it difficult to function.

A scientific study conducted in 2008—before Israel’s bloody Operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Cloud, and Protective Edge—found that 41% of Palestinian children suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)—in Gaza, this number rose to over half. 97% of had been exposed to the sound of explosions or bombs and 84% had witnessed shelling by tanks, artillery, or military planes. The report urgently concludes that “there are 305,195 children in the Gaza Strip in need of urgent psychological, social, and medical services in the areas of prevention, counselling, rehabilitation, and therapeutic treatment.”

Mental disabilities may not be visible, but, for those who suffer from them, they are just as real as torturous as physical ones. Countless Palestinian children will suffer for the rest of their lives from the permanent psychological damage Israeli attacks and occupation have rendered.

 

There Is No “Peace” under Occupation

These attacks persist even in times of “peace” (“peace” under illegal military occupation is an oxymoronic notion). Palestinians are often disabled by illegal Israeli torture. Many disabled Palestinian prisoners “fight for their lives” in dungeon-like conditions. Israeli occupation forces sometimes even blindfold and detain disabled Palestinian preteens.

As is always the case in Israel’s relentless occupation and colonization of the Palestinians, children are particularly hard hit. In mid-November 2014, 11-year-old Saleh Mahmoud was walking to a grocery store to buy some vegetables when an Israeli soldier shot him between his nose and eyes with a metal-coated rubber bullet. He is now blind for life.

There is a plethora of stories just like these—and one hardly needs to wait long before another such headline arises. Award-winning Palestinian photojournalist Osama Silwadi was disabled in 2006, and now works to draw attention to the plight of these hundreds of thousands of permanently disabled Palestinians.

A mother and her daughter in Gaza on their way to a demonstration on the 2012 UN International Day of People with Disability. CREDIT: AFP / Getty Images / Mohammed Abed

A mother and her daughter in Gaza on their way to a demonstration on the 2012 UN International Day of People with Disability.
CREDIT: AFP / Getty Images / Mohammed Abed

Just as the occupation, and its concomitant institutionalized violence, ceaselessly persists after the ends of Israeli military assaults, so too does the suffering of those who have had their very own limbs, sensory abilities, or entire bodies taken from them.

There has been a lot of media coverage of Maria Amman’s tragic story, and rightfully at that. Yet there are countless families in Gaza, and the West Bank, whose families have been similarly torn apart, whose lives have also been destroyed by Israeli oppression. Myriad paralyzed wunderkids just like Maria bravely continue to create meaningless lives for themselves in spite of the irreparable damage Israel has done to them, physically embodying the maxim “Existence is resistance.”

When Israel takes an innocent Palestinian’s life—or when any oppressor does the same, whether it be US police shooting innocent black teens, the Mexican government killing scores of student activists, or the Syrian military dropping barrel bombs on civilian areas—that crime can never be undone. Death is permanent. Yet disability is itself another form of permanent punishment. Those who survive past Israeli crimes often can never escape their consequences.

In the words of a friend, Palestinians are not just condemned to death, but also to death in life.