The children who lost limbs in Gaza

The children who lost limbs in Gaza

Eliza Griswold writes:

Just off the acacia-lined highway to the Qatari capital of Doha is a three-story, whitewashed apartment complex built to host visitors at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Until recently, the gated compound was unoccupied. Yet in the past several months, as part of a deal Qatar struck with Israel, Hamas, and Egypt to evacuate as many as fifteen hundred wounded Gazans in urgent need of medical care, it has begun to fill. The new residents are eight hundred and fifteen medical evacuees from the ongoing war, along with five hundred and forty-two of their relatives. Most are women and children.

One afternoon in February, a rambunctious swarm of thirty or so children raced around a large plot of AstroTurf. Some rode bikes and scooters. One toted a set of “PAW Patrol” golf clubs. Small children pushed larger ones in wheelchairs at worrying speeds, caroming off the green and brown beanbag chairs that dotted the plot of artificial earth. Many were missing limbs. As the boys began to squabble with the girls over who had more space to play, workers dragged what looked like a deflated rainbow into the square. A whoop went up. The afternoon’s entertainment had arrived: a bouncy slide, along with food carts offering ice cream, hot chocolate, popcorn, cotton candy, and falafel.

Among the children was Gazal Bakr, a four-year-old wearing a miniature maroon Adidas tracksuit, its left pant leg tucked up into the elastic waistband. She hopped along furiously on her right leg. Although Gazal’s name means “sweet talk” or “flirt” in Arabic, she was unflinchingly direct. “I don’t like you!” she shouted as she passed the wheelchair belonging to her eighteen-year-old neighbor, Dina Shahaiber, who’d lost her left leg below the knee. Gazal, who’d just awoken from a nap, had little interest in ice cream. Instead, she wanted to do what she did most afternoons: play soccer by kicking the ball with her right foot and hopping after it. “Stop talking!” she declared to the well-meaning volunteers clucking around her. “You’re making my head hurt!”

Gazal was wounded on November 10th, when, as her family fled Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, shrapnel pierced her left calf. To stop the bleeding, a doctor, who had no access to antiseptic or anesthesia, heated the blade of a kitchen knife and cauterized the wound. Within days, the gash ran with pus and began to smell. By mid-December, when Gazal’s family arrived at Nasser Medical Center—then Gaza’s largest functioning health-care facility—gangrene had set in, necessitating amputation at the hip. On December 17th, a projectile hit the children’s ward of Nasser. Gazal and her mother watched it enter their room, decapitating Gazal’s twelve-year-old roommate and causing the ceiling to collapse. (Multiple news reports have described the event as an Israeli attack. The I.D.F. claimed the incident could have been caused by a Hamas mortar or the remnant of an Israeli flare.) Gazal and her mother managed to crawl out of the rubble. The next day, their names were added to the list of evacuees who could cross the border into Egypt and then fly to Qatar for medical treatment. Gazal’s mother was nine months pregnant; she gave birth to a baby girl while awaiting the airlift to Doha.

UNICEF estimates that a thousand children in Gaza have become amputees since the conflict began in October. [Continue reading…]

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