Amira Hass / 86 Hours After Gaza Home Shelled, Family Still Lacks Medical Aid

Days after an IDF shell struck the home of the A'aiedy family, ambulances fail to reach the wounded.

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A Gaza family has been waiting 86 hours to be evacuated from their home that was hit by an Israel Defense Forces shell on Saturday night.

As of Wednesday morning, all attempts to evacuate the A'aiedy family to hospital for treatment have been for naught.

An IDF shell struck the family home situated in an agricultural expanse east of Gaza City. A section of the house was destroyed in the attack.

Two women, both of them 80 years of age, and three of their grandchildren were wounded. Thus far they have treated their injuries with water and salt, though their wounds have become infected, according to a relative, Hussein Al A'aiedy.

On Sunday, Red Cross ambulances could not approach the area of the home. Efforts by the non-governmental organization Physicians for Human Rights were also fruitless. The family is holed up in a room in the front section of the house.

Late Sunday, a Palestinian ambulance arrived at a cluster of homes nearby in order to evacuate other wounded to hospital. A'aiedy said the driver of the ambulance wanted to extricate his family from the home but the army would not permit him to do so.

The army coordinator told Physicians for Human Rights that the exchange of gunfire is precluding medical services from evacuating the wounded family members. Al A'aidey confirmed this, adding that tank shells are being lobbed in the direction of his home.

He told Physicians for Human Rights that he would like to transport the children to a more exposed area so that they would be sheltered from IDF fire. His only means of communication with the outside world is through a mobile phone whose battery he recharges with the aid of a generator he took from a motorcycle.

Three hours after the Israel Defense Forces began their ground operation in the Gaza Strip, at about 10:30 P.M. Saturday night, a shell or missile hit the house owned by Hussein al A'aiedy and his brothers. Twenty-one people live in the isolated house, located in an agricultural area east of Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood. Five of them were wounded in the strike: Two women in their eighties (his mother and aunt), his 14-year-old son, his 13-year-old niece and his 10-year-old nephew.

Twenty hours later, the wounded were still bleeding in a shed in the courtyard of the house. There was no electricity, no heat, no water. Their relatives were with them, but every time they tried to leave the courtyard to fetch water, the army shot at them.

Al A'aiedy tried to summon help on his cell phone, but Gaza's cell phone network is collapsing. Shells have hit transponders, there is no electricity and no diesel fuel to run the generators. Every time the telephone works, it is a minor miracle.

At about noon Sunday, Al A'aiedy finally managed to reach S., who called me. There was nothing else that S., who lives nearby, could do.

I had known Al A'aiedy for eight years, and I called Physicians for Human Rights. They called the IDF's liaison office to ask it to arrange to have the wounded evacuated. That was shortly after noon - and as of press time, the liaison office had still not called PHR back.

Meanwhile, someone else had managed to reach the Red Crescent Society. It called the Red Cross and asked it to coordinate the evacuation of the wounded with the IDF. That was at 10:30 A.M. - and as of press time Sunday night, the Red Cross had still not been able to do so.

While I was on the phone with PHR, at about noon, H. called. He just wanted to report: Two children, Ahmed Sabih and Mohammed al-Mashharawi, aged 10 and 11, had gone up on the roof of their Gaza City house to heat water over a fire. There is no electricity or gas, so fire is all that remains.

Tanks are spitting shells, helicopters are raining fire, warplanes are causing earthquakes. But it is still hard for people to grasp that heating water has become no less dangerous than joining Hamas' military wing.

An IDF missile hit the two boys, killing Ahmed and seriously wounding Mohammed. Later Sunday, an Internet news site reported that both had died. But H.'s cell phone was not answering, so I could not verify that report.

And there was no point in trying H.'s land line: A bomb destroyed his neighborhood's entire phone system on Saturday. The target was a print shop (yet another of the IDF's "military" targets). Its owner, a retired UNRWA employee, had invested his entire pension in the shop.

In B.'s neighborhood, the bombs hit the water mains, so she has had no water since yesterday morning. "I'm already used to coping without electricity," she said. "There's no television, but I hear what happens from friends who call. One friend called from Lebanon, another from Haifa. And Ramallah. But without water, how will we manage?"

A. offered his own take on the situation: "I keep the children away from the windows because the F-16s are in the air; I forbid them to play below because it's dangerous. They're bombing us from the sea and from the east, they're bombing us from the air. When the telephone works, people tell us about relatives or friends who were killed. My wife cries all the time. At night she hugs the children and cries. It's cold and the windows are open; there's fire and smoke in open areas; at home there's no water, no electricity, no heating gas. And you [the Israelis] say there's no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Tell me, are you normal?"