In Ezbet Beit Hanoun, family and friends of those martyred on 4 and 5 January during the Israeli massacre of Gaza gathered to honour their martyrs, one year later.
“The pain is still fresh, I still can’t get over my sons’ murders,” said Sabbah Abd el Dayem, mother of two sons, both in their twenties, both gruesomely murdered by Israeli soldiers.
“Every time I think of them, every time I sit by their grave, I feel like I’m going to crumble. I was so happy with them,” she said.
When I met the family just after the massacre, they shared their sorrow:
Jamal Abd al-Dayem, father of the young men, explained the events. “After my cousin Arafa was martyred on 4 January, we immediately opened mourning houses, with separate areas for men and women. The next day, at 9:30am the Israelis struck the mourning area where the men were. It was clearly a mourning house, on the road, open and visible. Immediately after the first strike, the Israelis hit the women’s mourning area.” Two strikes within 1.5 minutes, he reported.
“When Arafa was martyred, my sons cried so much their eyes were red and swollen with grief. The next day they were martyred,” the father said, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Just like that, I lost two sons. One of them was newly married, his wife eight months pregnant.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Said Abd al-Dayem died after one day in the hospital, succumbing to the fatal injuries of darts in his head. His brother, Nafez Abd al-Dayem, 23, was also struck in head by the darts and died immediately.
The surviving son, 25-year-old Nahez Abd al-Dayem, was hit by two darts in his abdomen, one in his chest, and another in his leg.
“I went to the mourning house to pay respects to my cousin, Arafa. When we arrived at the men’s mourning house, there was a sudden explosion and I felt pain in my chest. Very quickly after, there was a second strike. This second attack was more serious as people had rushed to the area to help the wounded. I looked up from the second shelling and saw that my cousins Arafat and Islam had been hit. They were lying on the ground, wounded.”
Sixteen-year-old Islam Abd al-Dayem was struck in the neck and died slowly, in great agony, after three days in the hospital. Fifteen-year-old Arafat Abd al-Dayem died instantly.
When Nahez Abd al-Dayem regained consciousness in hospital, he learned of his two dead brothers and two dead cousins. The dart that lodged in his leg was surgically removed, but three darts remain in his chest and abdomen and will stay there, although Abd al-Dayem says they bother him. “When I move at night, I feel a lot of pain,” he said. But an operation to search for them is too dangerous and could cause greater injury.
The dart shelling on the Abd al-Dayem and Abu Jerrad houses killed six and injured at least 25, including a 20-year-old nephew paralyzed from the neck down after darts severed his spinal cord. Darts which spread as far as 200 meters from the scene are still embedded in walls of houses.
*Arafa Abd el Dayem, the morning of his murder. The American high school in northwestern Gaza had been bombed by F-16s the night before, but in the dark it was impossible to retrieve the corpse of the teen night watchman. Arafa bravely led the way through the darkness and again in the morning. Arafa was that kind of man: unthinkingly brave, generous, and put others’ lives before his own.
Just after 10 am on 4 January, 35-year-old paramedic Arafa Abd al-Dayem went with other medics to the Attatra region, Beit Lahia, northwestern Gaza to answer a call for help. Israeli soldiers targeted the ambulance, killing Arafa and seriously injuring the other medics and civilians with him.
Within two hours of being shredded by multiple razor-sharp darts, Arafa Abd al-Dayem died as a result of slashes to his lungs, limbs and internal organs.
Khalid Abu Saada, the driver of the ambulance, testified to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights: “I was told that there were injured people near the western roundabout in Beit Lahiya town. When we arrived, we saw a person who had been critically injured. The two paramedics climbed out of the ambulance to evacuate him into the ambulance. I drove approximately 10 meters ahead in order to evacuate another injured person. Then, an [Israeli] tank fired a shell at us. The shell directly hit the ambulance and 10 civilians, including the two paramedics, were injured.”
“Arafa had received a direct hit on his chest, which was torn open, and had many small puncture wounds on his right and left arms. He had massive internal bleeding in his abdomen from the injury to his liver, and had blood in his lung. After we had closed his wounds and were transferring him to [the intensive care unit], he arrested. He had irreversible shock,” Dr. Bakkar Abu Safia, head of the emergency department at al-Shifa hospital.
Wafa Abu Jerrad, 21 years old and pregnant, was with her husband Muhammad, their two children, and relatives on the morning of her murder. At around 9:30am, they were eating breakfast in a sunny patch outside the front door of their home in what Muhammad described as a “calm” period. “Nothing was happening, not then, not half an hour earlier. It was calm. We were sitting outside because it felt safe.”
“We heard explosions, coming from up the street near the Abd al-Dayem house. We knew of Arafa’s death the day before,” Muhammad Abu Jerrad explained, saying the family moved to the side of the house to see what was happening.
“We saw bodies on the ground everywhere outside the Abd al-Dayem mourning tents. Wafa panicked and told us to go back inside, so we ran to the front of the house. We were all very worried.”
Abu Jerrad’s father Khalil and some of the family had made it inside the house, and Abu Jerrad himself was stepping in the doorway, two-year-old son Khalil in his arms, Wafa to his left, when they were struck by the darts of a new shelling.
The dart bomb exploded in the air, Wafa dropped to ground, struck by flechettes into the head, chest and back. She was killed instantly.