How Gaza's disabled suffer the most during Israeli assaults

How Gaza's disabled suffer the most during Israeli assaults
5 min read
11 August, 2021
Israel's violent and repeated attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip have caused thousands of deaths, untold destruction and long-lasting trauma. However, for those with disabilities, the difficulties faced are even more severe.

Muadh Berberawi, from Beit Hanoun in Gaza, lost his wheelchair during the last Israeli assault on the besieged enclave. He and his family moved into his uncle’s house in Jabalia, where he was forced to sit without moving on a mattress on the floor for over 20 days. Being stuck in the same sitting position for so long led to him suffering from more severe pain than usual. However, what upset him far more was the loss of his wheelchair.

When Muadh’s family hurried to flee their home during the last bombardment, his brother Baha carried him on his shoulders, leaving the wheelchair behind. Muadh also had to leave many of his clothes and medicines behind. Injured as a child during an Israeli attack in 2002, Muadh was left disabled.

Gaza bombing: Disabled left further isolated in the aftermath

Muadh is used to going out in his wheelchair and wandering around his neighbourhood, watching the world go by and chatting to other young people. This helps him forget his daily worries for a while, like how to access treatment, and the intense pain he can suffer at night.

Now, however, Muadh cannot leave the house unless his brother helps him; sitting him down on a normal chair – which he can only sit on without moving – and taking him outside.

"Disabled people in Gaza experience multiple blockades: we struggle to access healthcare and are excluded from society; there is a lack of medicines and also of opportunities when it comes to work and others"

Muadh says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister publication: “Disabled people in Gaza experience multiple blockades: we struggle to access healthcare and are excluded from society; there is a lack of medicines and also of opportunities when it comes to work and others.

"As for losing the wheelchair, it means I feel like I am just a body with no way of moving from place to place. However, when I compare my experience to the tragedies of those who lost children or parents, my loss is small, and I am looking forward to the relief of receiving a new wheelchair.”

Muadh is not the only disabled young person who has suffered harm both physically and psychologically as a result of Israeli aggression. Many of those with disabilities need to keep moving as part of their physiotherapy, however, after the latest Israeli assault, they have had no choice but to remain confined in their homes, unable to alleviate the shock and trauma. This was undoubtedly more severe among those who lost their wheelchairs as a result of their homes or streets being bombed.

Nobody asks about anyone else

While the Israeli bombing was intensifying, many disabled people were wondering how they would flee with their families to seek safety – how they would be able to move and travel to seek shelter at a time when no part of Gaza was safe. 

If they were able to evacuate with their families then they would be wondering if where they were headed would be suitable for them, in terms of their disabilities.

How Gaza's disabled suffer the most during Israeli assaults
People with disabilities in Gaza face multiple barriers especially during Israel's assaults [Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

One of them was Muhammed Najjar (37) who lives in the Shati refugee camp in West Gaza. Muhammed was a child when he fell off a roof in the camp, and as a result, he suffers from partial paralysis in his right hand and foot and has mobility problems. He uses crutches in his daily life to leave the house and sit in the main street next to the camp's marketplace.

During the Israeli assault of 2014, he started suffering stiffness in the muscles of his left foot for which he needed intensive physiotherapy. He also suffered psychological trauma for which he underwent psychotherapy.

After the recent bombardment, he needed further psychological treatment and physiotherapy, after his family lost their home in a bombing on 15 May. Several neighbouring houses were also destroyed, killing many members of the Abu Hatab and al-Hadidi families. Muhammed lost one of his crutches.

"The harm suffered by people with disabilities is manifold because there are no emergency committees, for example, to consider their needs during the attacks. In any case, no one asks about anyone else during the bombing, and this leaves disabled people more vulnerable than any other group"

He says: “The harm suffered by people with disabilities is manifold because there are no emergency committees, for example, to consider their needs during the attacks. In any case, no one asks about anyone else during the bombing, and this leaves disabled people more vulnerable than any other group in Gaza… after the bombing has stopped they will be thinking about how to get rid of the fear which has accumulated inside them before they can even start thinking about how to replace what they have lost.”

Disorientation and loss of perception

The nature of Samy al-Jamal’s (20) disability is different: he is blind. His father helps him travel to the college where he studies, and to go to other places and visit family. During the latest bombardment, there were more than 30 people crowded into his family home, after a house next to his uncle’s apartment was destroyed in the Rimal neighbourhood in central Gaza. The situation massively heightened Samy’s anxiety.

On May 18, his neighbours received a phone call telling them to evacuate the house as it was going to be bombed by the Israeli army. Samy didn't know what was happening, as his father got him out quickly without saying anything to him about where they were going and if they were in danger or not. He waited with his family outside in the street for three hours until it became clear that the call had been a hoax.

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Samy says: “I can sense everything that happens around me; the hustle and bustle of our street, passing cars and what is happening in the house. But during that attack, I lost my inner vision and all sense of perception – I could only hear loud noises and screaming and I thought a bomb would hit near to us at any minute, but my family were reassuring me that it was happening far away.

"Those who can’t see don’t know where they are going unless someone is holding their hand, or if they have a stick to lean on. I kept thinking about people who are in the same position as me.”

Sami sent voice messages to his visually impaired friends on Facebook and learnt from them that they faced the same situation when dealing with the difficulties of evacuating their homes or their homes being damaged.     

All of them faced a devastating reality - that they had no way of understanding how to deal with the threats and dangers they faced. 

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.