by Julie Webb-Pullman
Mahar Hamid Sheikh-Khalil is seven years old. She used to have a mother and father, three sisters and a brother, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
She used to play with her brother and sisters and their cousins, scampering about the yard or on the roof, sometimes in the street with the neighbours’ kids. She used to walk, and skip and jump. She used to run up the stairs from her grandmother’s on the ground floor to her family’s apartment on the top floor. The same stairs that on July 20 crushed her family, along with their hopes and dreams.
That day there was a heavy bombardment in Shujeiyah. Her family decided to try to escape, and flee the upper floors. As they ran down the stairs, shells scored a direct hit on their home. It collapsed around them.
They lay beneath the rubble, some dead, some injured. No ambulance came, firstly because of the heavy shelling, and then because the Israeli authorities would not permit them to pass. They lay there for six hours, until the first temporary humanitarian ceasefire took effect, and rescuers could finally reach them.
Now Mahar lies paralysed from the neck down in Shifa Hospital. Her mother and two of her sisters are dead. So is her grandmother, two aunts and an uncle. Her other sister has already been transferred to Egypt, her jaw completely crushed. Her father, brother, grandfather, and another aunt are all injured.
The only medical interventions possible for her cervical spine injury under Shifa’s extreme constraints are a neck brace and a drip.
“We can do nothing more for her here,” said Dr Hazem Khail. “She needs immediate specialist care that just is not available here. Her situation is getting worse by the minute.”
They have applied for her transfer to Germany, where specialist care just might be able to help her walk again. Maybe. If the German government lets her in. If the Israeli government lets her out. If the bombs stop long enough for her to get through the border. If she lives long enough for them all to make up their minds.
Mahar lies limp on the bed, her breathing shallow. Her surviving aunt and uncle try to meet her requests. “Please scratch my head,” she whispers, and her uncle complies. “Now my face. No, the other side, lower. Under my chin.” Again he complies. It is clear the brace is irritating her, but what can be done?
He lifts her head, and sweeps her hair up and away from her neck. It fans across the pillow. She moves her head from side to side in frustration. Whatever can be done, it is not she who can do it.
Maybe you can do something. Maybe you can help ensure she gets to Germany for the treatment that will give her another chance at life. Or another child like her.
After all, Mahar is only one – just one of the stories behind the grim statistics of the Israeli war crimes being perpetrated daily in Gaza, as its brutal offensive drags on into a fourth week.
If you are able to offer assistance of any kind, please contact Dr Mohamed Kashif, Director of International Relations, Ministry of Health, Gaza:
Phone: +972 599 742 702