–By Eva Bartlett
It’s daily hard to believe it can get worse, but daily it does.
Last week, I saw what seemed to be the white phosphorus clouds doctors have written about, condemned. From a tall Gaza city building, the panoramic view showed a spreading stream of poison, on eastern Gaza.
The chemical burns deeply, to the bone, experts say. It is considered illegal warfare, not to be used in civilian areas. Yet the accounts grow of its use: heavy use in the Khosar region, east of Khan Younis, and in the northwest of Gaza, and in eastern Jabaliya, Sheik Zayid, Sheik Rajleen, Zaitoun… Everywhere. The UN headquarters housing hundreds of fleeing Palestinians which was bombed on January 15 was hit with white phosphorus.
“Five days ago, in Jabaliya, I saw an abnormal material: white dust, spread out in spinning circles which spread the dust further. From inside there was something falling down which looked like snow. It covered a large area, over many houses,” Maher el Madhouan, head of Physiotherapy department in Sheik Radwan had told me last week.
At Shifa hospital, Dr. Nafez Abu Shabaan, Head of the Burn Department, told me they’ve received some burn cases unlike anything they’ve seen. “We’re not familiar with phosphorous burns, but some patients have very deep burns, very strange burns.” He cites the case of a patient sent for a brain scan who three hours later, still alive, “came back smoking”.
In one room, Ghada, 20, lies staring blankly, half of her pretty face and soft skin mottled with burns and blisters. Her right hand is bandaged, so the extent of the burn has to be judged by her unbandaged left hand, which has burn gashes and bloated fingers. A medical report charts her burns: right side of face and head; right arm, hand, side, abdomen, leg, and foot. Apparently the incendiary chemical struck from her right. 43% of her total body surface is covered by these deep burns. She comes from Siatta, north of the northwestern area Attatra, where a tank invasion now rages, well into its first week. [UPDATE: Ghada later died of her extensive burn injuries]
At 4 pm on January 4th, Ghada and her family were inside their house when it was shelled 4 times by Israeli tanks. The shell which landed inside her home hit the area closest to Ghada. At the time, she was sitting with Farah, her 3 year old daughter, who survived the blast with equally disfiguring and painful burns. A swirl of angry red burn beards Farah’s face, dots her nose, ears and forehead, and cuts into 22% of her tiny body’s surface area.
Ali, 4, Yusef, 17, and their mother (name and age not given) also all suffered facial and bodily burns from the shelling and the chemicals.
“The whole house was filled with fire and black smoke, different than normal smoke from a fire. It was hard to breathe and swelled our throats,” a brother, uninjured, recounted.
The shells which seared the skin of 4 members of the family killed a further 5, including Ghada’s father-in-law (44), her husband’s three younger brothers (10, 11, 13), and a baby sister (1.5) who the mother was holding at the time.
Ambulances were called, and were prevented from arriving. Surviving family members loaded onto a tractor, driven by one of Ghada’s cousins. He and another cousin, both 18, were targeted by Israeli soldiers, said the mother, shot dead. The remaining family members had no option but to walk half an hour before they were able to get transportation to a hospital for treatment for their many serious injuries.