Paralyzed for Life

Even when nobody is discussing the legality of the assassination policy, let alone its morality, one must ask why the lobbying efforts of a physicians' group, an opposition MK and the media were needed to drag the minimum human effort out of a state that claims to be morally upstanding.

The tangle of tubes and the artificial respirator attached directly to her windpipe cannot hide her beauty. A little 3-year-old girl lying in the pediatric intensive care unit at Sheba Medical Center, Maria Aman's sad, brown almond eyes are wide open, her lips murmur in a whisper: "Food, I want to eat," but all her limbs are paralyzed, forever. Not far from there, in an intensive care unit at Ichilov Hospital, lies her uncle Nahed, age 33 and father of two, who is in even worse condition: He is not only on a respirator and completely paralyzed, he is being kept asleep.

No, these are not the victims of this weekend's operation, but their predecessors - victims of an airborne assassination in Gaza three weeks ago yesterday, an operation that shocked almost nobody here in Israel. The events of this past weekend should not come as a surprise to anyone: The deterioration has been going on for weeks, and the question that should be asked is not what Israel is doing to counter the Qassams, but what it is not doing. An army that fires missiles at busy streets and tank shells at a beach cannot claim there was no intent to harm innocent civilians.

The girl's mother Naima, 27, her brother Mohand, 7, and her grandmother Hanan, 46, were killed in that "targeted" assassination. It was a relatively happy family, eight people traveling to visit relatives that Saturday afternoon in a car bought only two hours earlier. Only the father Hamdi, 28 - who grew up in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, his little son Moaman, 2, and cousin Imad emerged relatively unscathed, wounded only by shrapnel. The missile was aimed at Islamic Jihad activist Mohammed Dahduh, and it killed him, after his two brothers were eliminated in the past. The missile also hit the Aman family, whose vehicle was next to the Dodge Magnum in which the wanted man was riding.

Dahduh, by the way, was heading to Shifa Hospital to visit his wife, who had just given birth. There was no bomb, certainly not a ticking one, but Israel has long since made the assassinations a wholesale weapon, legitimate and justified, and once again there is no public debate about the method.

At the bedside of Maria day and night is only Nabil, her great-uncle. He's hungry and tired, his eyes bloodshot with weariness. At the bedside of Nahed is only his brother Maher, who lives in Jaffa. The rest of the family remains imprisoned in its home in Gaza's Tel al-Hawa neighborhood, calling dozens of times a day to find out how the relatives are doing. The girl's father wasn't allowed to visit at first. Now the family doesn't want him to see his daughter, so he can preserve his strength to take care of himself after what he refers to as a terrorist attack, as his toddler son wanders shell-shocked across the sand floor of the family home, calling in vain for his mother.

The Israeli media has almost completely ignored this horrifying disaster caused by the air force. The media, as usual, nearly didn't report on it, and Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi said with horrifying indifference that the air force "still has to examine the report that a family was injured." Two weeks later the IDF Spokesman's Office told Haaretz, "In the summation of the inquiry, the chief of staff has emphasized the efforts our forces make to avoid harming innocents," and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz's conscience is as quiet as usual, as quiet as it was after the assassination of Salah Shehade, an operation that took 16 innocent lives. The chief of staff also noted that the operation was conducted "with high levels of professionalism, with discriminating accuracy, hitting the wanted man and choosing a route not heavily trafficked."

The road at which the rocket was launched, Industry Street in Gaza, is a crowded road. Nobody apologized, and worse, nobody considered offering aid to this unhappy, innocent family.

After two weeks of hospitalization, last week plans were made to send Maria and Nahed home. There is no rehabilitation facility in Gaza, and their fates were sealed. They would die there in inhumane conditions. Now that the draconian compensation law has been promulgated, the family doesn't have any chance of suing the state. Last week the father Hamdi, a young and delicate man who commands respect, lost his temper when he heard that Maria was being sent back to Gaza. His voice was strangled by his cries.

Only the vigorous and dedicated intervention of Physicians for Human Rights prevented, at the last minute, the return of the two to Gaza. A letter from the organization to the defense minister that demanded the girl and her uncle be treated in Israel went unanswered for more than a week, until MK Dov Khenin from Hadash bumped into Amir Peretz in a Knesset corridor and asked him about the case. Peretz, who knew nothing about it, promised to find out. Only after the matter was reported on Israel Radio last Wednesday by military correspondent Carmella Menashe did the Defense Minister's Bureau finally issue a statement saying that a committee would be convened to approve medical treatment for the two in Israel.

Today Maria is supposed to be transferred to the Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, and apparently her uncle will also be sent there. The defense minister has promised that the treatment will be covered.

Even if that happens, it is impossible to ignore the disgraceful behavior of the Israel Defense Forces, its commanders and the Defense Ministry in this shocking affair. Even when nobody is discussing the legality of the assassination policy, let alone its morality, one must ask why the lobbying efforts of a physicians' group, an opposition MK and the media were needed to drag the minimum human effort out of a state that claims to be morally upstanding. Little Maria will remain paralyzed for life, as will the state and the army that did this to her and did not even think of apologizing or offering full medical help and appropriate compensation.