Memories have a way of overpowering. And Arafa Abd el Dayem’s death should do so.
Three years on and his murder is no less painful, his loss no less present.
Arafa, when shredded to death by an Israeli-soldier-fired dart bomb (a dart bomb is a shell filled with between 5000-8000 dart-shaped metal nails, designed to bore into their targets and split apart upon impact, ensuring maximum damage), was a long-term medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, as well as a high-school teacher and father.
We had just spent a night searching for the martyred body of a teenage night-watchman at the American High School, bombed by Israeli warplanes… returning in the morning for the charred corpse of the young Bedouin boy. I’d left Arafa and his colleagues, all genial, joking through the madness, compassionate… to return to Gaza City to write up some notes, share the reality with those outside Gaza.
And he was killed. In a flash: on duty, retrieving injured and martyred; loading the casualties into his flashing ambulance when the Israeli-fired flechette bomb bored through his ambulance and his body, shredding him.
‘Shredding him’ doesn’t suffice to describe the mutilation of his body, a body of a medic, visibly-clothed, weathered in Israeli-warfare. He had lived through numerous Israeli assaults, giving of himself as Palestinian rescuers do, knowing his ambulance or self could be wrongfully-targeted (human rights law theoretically protects medics and rescuers from the assault of their occupiers…which begs the question: what’s the point of such law if it doesn’t actually ensure protection of such rescuers and medics?).
His wife and children knew he was target for assassination, yet of course hoped that wouldn’t happen. He was a medic, after all. Why kill him? Really, why?
But kill him, shred him, the Israeli soldiers did. Maybe I feel his death was worse because I knew him. But Ahmed’s colleague, Dr. Issa, was decapitated while carrying a martyr down from a building already attacked by the Israeli army.
“The Israelis had fired numerous missiles on Hamouda tower, a 5 story building in Jabaliya district. When we got there, we were told there was a martyr on 5th floor. I was the first to enter, everyone else was afraid. I found the body and Dr Issa Salah came up to help.
We were carrying the corpse down the stairs when the Israelis fired on us. The bomb blast decapitated Dr. Issa. His head hit me in the back of my head . I thought I’d been hit by shrapnel or something. Now I’ve got shrapnel in my head, but its bone shrapnel, from Dr. Issa. And shrapnel in leg from the bomb blast.
In a society where nearly everyone suffers from the continuous Israeli attacks, invasions, and wars, venting is not easy, and going to a psychologist is not the norm.
“After the war, I became extremely, extremely nervous. I was agitated and got angry easily. Sometimes if someone was making noise or annoying me I’d want to hit them,” he says, still smiling his open smile.
“I was never rested. When I’d wake, I’d still feel like I hadn’t slept.
Until today, I still have nightmares from the war.
Having spoken with Abu Basel many times during and after the Israeli massacre of Gaza, I thought I’d heard most of his horror stories.
He is a calm man, when not driving the ambulance, and relates all his stories in the same laid-back tone, whether joyful or atrocious.
Upon request, he begins to recall some of the many dangers he was exposed to during the last Israeli attacks, not to mention the nearly 2 decades before that.
He recalls being with medics and 4 ambulances, 2 metres from the Al Kurdi house in the Jabaliya region when an F-16 bombed it.
“How in the world are you alive?” I ask.
“It’s in God’s hands,” he replies.