On Tuesday morning, Hamdi Aman's phone did not stop ringing. Everyone who knew this devoted man and his 10-year-old daughter Marya was calling to congratulate him, but he did not know why. The well-wishers told him it had been announced on the news that Interior Minister Eli Yishai had decided to grant him Israeli residency.
When Marya was 5 years old, in 2006, an Israel Air Force strike on Gaza left her paralyzed from the neck down. She also lost her mother, grandmother and brother in the strike, which was targeting Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza City.
Since then, she has been at a Jerusalem hospital while her family fought Israel's attempts to transfer her to a West Bank facility, which they say cannot treat her condition.
It is impossible not to fall in love with Marya. Her charm will not let you focus on her small motionless body. Confined to a wheelchair and breathing with the help of a respirator, yet conveying so much hope and innocence, it would seem no one could remain indifferent to her distress. But that was not the case.
Over the five years since her injury, she has had to endure no small measure of cruelty from the authorities, even as many Israelis surrounded the little family with love.
Tragedy struck on May 20, 2006. The Aman family were out in the new car an uncle had just bought. Three children, Mohand, Marya and Moamen, were sitting in the back on their mother's and grandmother's laps, singing. They heard the combat helicopter approach as a van passed them on the left.
Then, the sky fell in. The IAF marked a successful hit on an Islamic Jihad operative, Mohammed Dahduh, who was in the van. The Aman family's car was hit by the shock wave, which killed Marya's mother, her 6-year-old brother, her grandmother and her aunt. Hamdi Aman, her father, and a younger brother were slightly wounded. Marya was taken in critical condition to an Israeli hospital.
When Gideon Levy first published the story in Haaretz, he noted that the state had told her father he could not stay in Israel any longer. After the report was published, their visas were extended, as was payment for Marya's treatment at Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, where she began her rehabilitation.
But six months later, financing ended once again, and the ritual began that was to repeat itself time and time again over the next five years.
Channel 2 television's investigative journalism program "Uvda" ("Fact" ) did a show on Marya, and once again, her stay and the funding for her treatment were extended.
From then until this week, everyone who cared for Marya and Hamdi had to beg for personal favors to allow Marya and her father to remain in the country.
No one would agree to grant the family residency in Israel. No one cared that Hamdi slept on a mattress next to Marya's bed despite all he had been through.
Meanwhile, the letters from the Defense Ministry kept coming, informing Hamdi that it had been decided to return Marya to Gaza or Ramallah. They knew that would be a death sentence for her, as both places lack the medical facilities to treat her.
After endless applications to the defense establishment, they were given funding to rent an apartment. But since they did not have legal status, they could not take advantage of it.
Dr. Eliezer Be'eri and his staff at Alyn also fought the defense establishment. Meanwhile, they taught Marya how to use her motorized wheelchair and how to live almost independently despite all the limitations of her life.
And indeed, against all odds, Marya is going to school, the Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem. She is in fourth grade and is an excellent student, particularly in math and reading.
Some will see Yishai's move as an attempt to erase the stain of the Carmel fire. Others will say one little girl cannot wipe out the terror he has caused foreign workers.
But Yishai told Haaretz he was guided by humanitarian motives and that taking responsibility meant going all the way. From the moment he was made aware of Marya's case, it took only a few minutes for him to approve residency rights, his staff said.
For now, it is temporary residency, including a blue identity card and almost all the rights of a citizen. Marya will begin to receive her treatment through a health maintenance organization and will be able to receive nursing care at the home to which she can now move with her father and brother. In a few years, they will receive citizenship.
Marya, as always, smiles. Hamdi says he wants to convey his thanks and blessing to all the people of Israel.
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