Najwa,
pictured in her home in the Gaza
Strip

 

Najwa Alyan
Awad Abu Daqqa (50) is a Palestinian woman who lives in the rural outskirts of
Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. Najwa was seriously injured in an Israeli drone
strike during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in November 2012. 102
Palestinian civilians were killed during the 8-day military offensive,
codenamed ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’, which lasted from 14 to 21 November 2012. A further 625 Palestinian civilians were injured, including 93 women and 214 children.[1]

 

Najwa, a mother
of four boys and three girls, describes the incident that occurred on 18
November 2012: “Just like every other day, I woke up very early in the morning.
After my morning prayers, I began my routine of preparing bread for my
children’s breakfast. I went into the open backyard to wash the big baking
plate. It must have been around 6:30 in the morning. I could hear the sound of
a drone in the sky, but that was normal during the war. We live just one
kilometre away from the border. While I was washing the plate, there was a
sudden explosion a few metres from where I was standing. I was terrified by the
sound. The whole yard was covered in smoke, and I couldn’t see anything for a
few seconds. I went numb and couldn’t feel anything. But then I looked down and
saw that my hands and other parts of my body were completely covered in blood.
I was so shocked by the sight that I fainted. I don’t remember what happened
after that. When I woke up, I was in hospital. I couldn’t believe it when the
doctors told me that I was in East Jerusalem
and I had been in a coma for almost four months.”

 

 

The
backyard of Najwa’s house, where she was injured in the attack.

 

Najwa’s family
experienced great stress following the attack. Not only were they afraid that
she would never awaken from her coma, they also faced difficulties because
Najwa could not receive the treatment she required in the Gaza Strip. Her
husband Samir explains: “We tried to transfer my wife to al-Makassed hospital
in East Jerusalem immediately after she was injured, but the Israeli
authorities rejected our application for permission to travel through Israel. We had
to wait until after the ceasefire was announced on 21 November. Four days after
the attack, she was transferred to East Jerusalem.
It took a long time to coordinate the journey through Israel, and
there were a lot of restrictions on us. The Israeli authorities only allow one
person to accompany the patient. I could not travel with Najwa, as I had to
take care of our children here in Gaza,
so her brother went with her to the hospital. The one and a half hour journey
to East Jerusalem took them four hours because
they had to wait at the “Erez” border crossing. Her condition was so bad that
the ambulance driver told the doctor in East Jerusalem
that he didn’t think she would make it.”

 

 

Najwar’s
husband Samir next to the place where she was standing before the attack

 

As Najwa was in
a coma for four months, her family members had to rotate their visits to East Jerusalem. This was an issue in itself, as Israel places
severe restrictions on travel in and out of the Gaza Strip, even when it is
related to medical issues. The tight restrictions require that the person
accompanying and visiting the patient be at least 35 years old and go through
stringent security checks. Samir explained the impact of these measures: “Israel rejected
many of our family members to visit Najwa. I cannot understand why they think
we are a threat to them. We are not affiliated with any armed groups. We are
peaceful people.”

 

Remnants
of the missile which caused Najwar’s injuries

 

Najwa awoke
from her coma in early March of this year. Despite her poor medical condition,
she faced problems at “Erez” crossing when she returned to the Gaza Strip: “I
was in constant pain and, although they could see that had I arrived in an
ambulance, they did not give me any sort of special treatment. A female Israeli
officer frisked me with her metal detector and it went off because the doctors
had implanted metal plates in my arms to help my injuries to heal. Even though
I explained the situation to her, she made me strip to prove it. She could see
that I had just gotten out of an ambulance and I was in a wheelchair, but still
she treated me very badly.”

 

Things were no
easier for Najwa after she was allowed to pass through the crossing: “There is
a small revolving security door that you must pass through to cross the gate.
Even someone who is in good health cannot cross it easily as it is very narrow.
I had to spend a long time convincing them that I could not pass through it,
and to let me use the security door in their office to enter into Gaza. Finally, after a
lot of arguing, they let me through. I had to walk through, as they would not
let me use my wheelchair.”

 

Since returning
home, Najwa has experienced great difficulties: “Life is a catastrophe now. I
need two or three people to help me with simple things, such as eating, and
moving around.” As a result of the attack, she sustained shrapnel wounds
throughout her body, especially in her arms, legs, and abdomen. “They had to
cut some skin from my thigh and attach it to my stomach. I’m in constant pain
and cannot sit down properly. I can never get comfortable and I have difficulty
sleeping. I have to live with a colostomy bag now. Life can never return to
normal for me. I cannot move easily, and I am receiving physical therapy. If I
skip even one session of physical therapy, my pain increases and some parts of
my body swell up.”

 

The road to
recovery will be a long and arduous process for Najwa. She must travel back to
the hospital in East Jerusalem every few
months for further operations, and she also requires plastic surgery to repair
the enormous amount of damage to her skin. Samir discussed the hardship he and
his family face when trying to cover the expense of Najwar’s treatment: “The
treatment is expensive. Although the Ministry of Health in Ramallah covered the
cost of the surgery, we have had to pay for Najwar’s medication and other medical
supplies, like the colostomy bags. It is nearly impossible to find them in Gaza, so getting them is
very expensive and difficult. I have had to borrow money from my family and
friends to cover the costs.”

 

When asked what
the future holds for them, Najwa says, “I can only pray for my health to
return, and that my daughter will be allowed to come with me next week, when I
must return to the hospital in East Jerusalem.”

 

Samir believes
that his wife was directly targeted by the Israeli drone: “The missile was meant
for Najwa, though there was no reason for anyone to fire at her.”

 

International
humanitarian law prohibits the deliberate targeting of civilians, as stipulated
in Articles 48-51 of the 1977 First Protocol Additional to the 1949 Geneva
Conventions. This prohibition has been recognised as a norm of customary
international humanitarian law by the International Committee of the Red Cross
(Rules 1 to 6 of the 2005 ICRC Study). Moreover, the International Criminal
Court defines the deliberate targeting of civilians as a war crime under
Articles 8(2)(a)(i), 8(2)(a)(iii), and 8(2)(b)(i) of the 2002 Rome Statute.
Article 27 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention obliges the parties to the
conflict and the occupying power to respect civilians’ honour and treat them
humanely. Moreover, Article 12 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, guarantees the right of everyone to the enjoyment
of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and obliges
the State parties to create conditions which would assure to all medical
services and medical attention in the event of sickness.

 



[1] According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’
investigations, more than 1,250 Palestinians were injured during the Operation
Pillar of Defence, and out of them 649 Palestinian civilians sustained moderate
to severe injuries.