Arab Katyusha Victim Marks Tortuous Year in Intensive Care

For the past year Mohammed Salum, 41, has lived in Room 10 of the Intensive Care Unit of Haifa's Rambam Medical Center. With only one leg and nine fingers, serious burns and infections in his lungs and in his blood, the most seriously injured survivor of the Second Lebanon War continues fighting for his life. The only reminder of the man he used to be is the photograph on the dresser in his room.

Salum was a strong, athletic man, tall and broad-shouldered, with black curls down to his shoulders. On the afternoon of August 6, 2006 he wetted down his head and asked his mother, Fatiha, to braid his hair. "I asked him how much longer I had to braid his hair and he laughed," she relates, her hands shaking.

Mohammed's sister, Munira, suggested leaving Haifa and getting out of the range of the missiles. "I told her there was no escaping fate," Fatiha said. That evening, while Mohammed was taking his daily walk, a Katyusha fell directly on their home. After Mohammed went in to evacuate his sister and mother, four cooking gas cylinders exploded. Mohammed went up in flames.

"I saw him in flames, shouting," Fatiha related. She had a heart attack in the hospital when she saw her son, who was brought to Rambam in critical condition with severe burns covering 85 percent of his body. One leg and one finger had to be amputated. For months he was sedated and on a respirator; he regained consciousness only recently.

Mohammed's condition is still very serious. "He's finished, poor thing," his mother says in a choked voice as tears run down her cheeks. "Poor thing, he's done for, and for nothing."

"Every day I die, seeing him in his condition, not talking or moving," his mother continues. "He moves his lips and his tongue tries to tell me something and I say 'yes' as if I understood him. He knows I didn't and then he gets emotional, turns his head away and cries. He cries without a sound, he opens his mouth and the tears come. I die every day that I can't help him."

Feeling forgotten

The Salums feel they have been forgotten. "This war finished us off," Munira says. "We're running in place, for a year now our lives have revolved around Hamudi's treatments and the visits."

The unfulfilled promises of help, the foot-dragging of the Amidar public housing company, dealing with tax authorities and the need "to fight over everything" have made Munira cynical. "We were abandoned, The older brother, who rescued Mohammed, was traumatized and stopped working. Another brother takes care of "Hamudi" full-time.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said to Haaretz yesterday: "There is no justification at all for the foot-dragging, which is unusual in Haifa. The situation now is that Amidar arranged for the municipal company Shikmona to build the family's homes and this week the bid requests will go out. Construction will begin as soon as we see where we stand in terms of budget and planning. You can reassure the family that in the near future, they will have a new apartment."