“The other children keep talking about Dima and the memories of
both incidents. ‘We wish to die like Dima’ is what the children sometimes say
to me because of all the stress and our poor living conditions.”

 Saeed and Nisreen al-Rahel with their
children Dina, Sunia, Ansam, Anas and Ali.

 

On 8 January 2009, at approximately
11:00, four missiles were fired at the house of Juma’a al-Rahel (45) in Beit
Lahiya, injuring 3 members of the extended al-Rahel family: Basma (3), Dima
(5), and Faten (41). Many of the extended family were inside the house at the
time of the attack, as six of the al-Rahel brothers and their wives and
children live nearby. Immediately after the attack, the families fled the area
and sought refuge in Beit Lahiya’s UNRWA school. On 17 January 2009 the school
was targeted with white phosphorus bombs, leaving Dima’s sister, Ansam al-Rahel
(13), severely injured. After six weeks of fighting for her life 5-year old Dima
eventually died of her wounds in an Egyptian hospital on 1 March 2009.

 

Saeed al-Rahel (35), the father of
Dima and Ansam, remembers the day of the first attack vividly. “I was at home
when an explosion took place and all the windows were broken. I got out of the
house. I heard people screaming in the house of my brother Juma’a, nextdoor. My
daughter Dima was there and I heard people screaming that she was wounded.
Several more missiles struck Juma’a’s house and we fled from the area. Dima was
taken to hospital. On 13 January she was transferred to Egypt. I went with
her.”

 

Saeed’s wife, Nisreen al-Rahel (33),
and their other children, Sunia (17), Dina (15), Ansam (13), Ahmad (11), Mohammed
(6), and Ali (4), stayed in the UNRWA school in Beit Lahiya after the attack.
Nisreen recalls: “we stayed in the school building from 8 to 17 January. It was
winter and very cold. We didn’t have any mattresses. We had to use blankets as
mattresses and it was very difficult, especially for the children. We didn’t
have enough food. We also had to ask other people to give us water. There was
no clean water.”

 

On 17 January 2009 the Israeli army
bombed the school building with white phosphorus shells. “Experiencing the
attack on the school was more difficult for me than the attack on the house. At
the moment that the bombing of the school started I was in a classroom with my
children. The bombing started around 5:00am and it was dark. I heard Ansam cry
‘I am wounded in my head’. The firing of bombs was very intensive.” Ansam was
severely injured in the head, she lost her hair in the place of the injury and
the scars get infected from time to time as parts of her skull are missing. “She
is still suffering because of her injuries. At school she loses consciousness
when she is active,” say Nisreen.

 

Saeed remembers the moment he found
out about the bombing of the school: “Before I went to Egypt I stayed in that
same classroom with my family. I saw the attack on the television when I was in
Egypt and I recognized the classroom. There was blood on the floor. When I called
to my family, no one wanted to tell me how my daughter Ansam was doing.”

 

When Nisreen and her remaining
children moved back to their house after the offensive they found it badly
damaged and their livelihood destroyed. “Shortly before the war I bought
cattle. We had 2 oxen, 17 goats and dozens of rabbits. I kept them next to our
house. I took out loans to buy them,” explains Saeed. “When our family returned
to our house after the war they found all the animals killed by shrapnel. Only
one goat was still alive but he also died after a few days. Now I am stuck with
many loans. I can barely provide for the treatment of my daughter Ansam. I was
even arrested by the police because I cannot pay back my loans to people. With
a complete lack of money I am also not able to 
repair the severe damage that
was done to the windows and walls of our house.” Cardboard and blankets serve
to protect the family from the nightly and winter cold.

 

The events of January 2009 have had
a profound impact on the psychological wellbeing of the Saeed, Nisreen, and
their children. “It has been very difficult for me because I lost one of my
daughters and another one was badly injured. I remember Dima when I see girls
going to school,” says Nisreen. “The other children keep talking about Dima and
the memories of both incidents. ‘We wish to die like Dima’ is what the children
sometimes say to me because of all the stress and our poor living conditions.”

 

Saeed noticed changes in his
children too. “Ansam holds a lot of anxiety and stress since the war. One time I
called her and she started screaming and threw a plate at me, screaming to
leave her alone. I am her father and she is afraid of me.” Nisreen adds: “Ahmad’s
scores were badly affected after the war. He used to be an excellent student.
Now he even has problems in reading. He also suffers from bedwetting.”

 

Fear seems to have become a part of
daily life for the family. ”The children, like me, are always afraid when they
hear drones or firing. When we hear it, we all sit in a single room,” says
Nisreen. The fear of another attack is never far from Saeed’s thoughts either:
“I am afraid that another war will come. When people talk about it I feel
afraid. When I hear drones in the area, I leave the house. I get afraid that they
will target us again.”

 

PCHR submitted a criminal
complaint to the Israeli authorities on behalf of the al-Rahel family on 9
September 2009. To-date, no response has been received.

 

———————————-

The Narratives:



7 January 2009 – The Mattar Family

 6 January 2009: Al-Dayah family

5 January 2009: Amal al-Samouni

– 4
January 2009: The Abdel Dayem Family

3
January 2009: Motee’ and Isma’il as-Selawy

– 2
January 2009: Eyad al-Astal

– 1
January 2009: The Nasla Family

 31
December 2008: The Abu Areeda family

– 30
December 2008: The Hamdan Family

29
December 2008: Balousha Family

 28
December 2008: The Abu Taima family

– 27
December 2008: The Al Ashi Family.