Mistaken Identity

An eyewitness account of the attack on a Gaza police station by Hana'a al-Mabhouh.

"We didn't have important work to do that day with the police, on December 27, 2008," recalls Hana'a Hussein al-Mabhouh. The conversation with her was conducted in early December at the Mabhouh family's home in the Jabalya refugee camp. In early December 2008, she started work with the security and defense force affiliated with the Interior Ministry, whose headquarters is located by the sea, in the building complex that once served as Arafat's presidential office. The force provides personal security for high officials in the Gaza Strip and for important visitors to the region. Hana'a is 30; her uncle, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas commander, was apparently killed by the Mossad in January 2010 in Dubai.

"I spent the Friday before the attack with my children, four boys and two girls," she says, as her 15-year-old son serves tea. "I helped them prepare for midyear exams that were slated to start the next day. On Saturday I prepared breakfast for the kids; I helped them with final preparations. Then I went to work. It was a very calm morning, the second day of winter vacation, and all the officials in the government offices were on holiday. So the streets were mostly empty. That day, 7 out of the 20 women employed by the force turned up for work. At around 11 A.M. we started to clean the desk of the remains of breakfast. I didn't hear the sound of planes or bombs. Then, suddenly, I found myself waking up after having fainted; I saw blood dripping from my head; I couldn't move, and couldn't move my legs. I saw all my friends strewn all over the place, blood dripping from them, and everything covered in dust. Somebody suddenly appeared and asked what happened, and then I lost consciousness again; the next time I woke up, I was in Shifa hospital in Gaza. Some women from work were around me, as were some women I didn't know. I think it was 5 P.M. Nobody from my family was around. They didn't come until later that night. Five days later they moved me to another hospital, in Jordan, due to serious wounds to the head, back and legs. I recuperated, thank God, and I can move, but I still suffer from pain in my back and knees.

"It wasn't until three months after the attack that my father finally told me what happened that day. My brother Mahmoud, 27, married and the father of two, also worked in the same security and defense force. When my father heard that our building was bombed, and when neither my brother nor I returned home, he, like hundreds of others, ran to Shifa hospital to clarify what happened to us. He asked about us, and when he didn't get any information and didn't find us among the wounded, he went straight to the "refrigerator" where dead patients are kept, and started looking for his relatives ... he saw many corpses, before finding that of my brother, Mahmoud, on the floor. A few months later he told me that he also saw the corpses of two of my friends from work. Both were pregnant; I had met both at work one month earlier.

"I look very much like one of those two, and since I was also pregnant, my father was sure it was my dead body. He took Mahmoud's body, and the corpse of my friend, Huda, and brought them home. While my children were wailing, they prepared the bodies for burial. As this was happening, one of my parents' neighbors identified me at the hospital, and since he didn't see any of my relatives around, he reasoned that my family did not know. He phoned them and relayed that I was alive, and under care in the hospital. Though they were in mourning for my brother, the news that I was alive eased some of the pain. They took Huda's body back to the hospital."

Hana'a gave birth to a girl a few months after the attack.


- Mustafa Ibrahim, Gaza