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January 15, 2002
Escaping Tank Shells and Dying from a Candle

By Ramzi Baroud


Escaping Tank Shells and Dying from a Candle

By Ramzy Baroud

When the Palestinian Diaspora began some 50 years ago, Mohamed Hnadiq was yet to be born. He arrived to a world of refugees, hunger and despair several years later, to become familiar with a destiny, so cruel and inhumane.

It was in Khan Yunis, a southern Palestinian town in the Gaza Strip, most remembered for its defiance and for the number of its sons and daughters killed in each stage of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

Khan Yunis is a town of honor and generosity, yet unyielding to its conquerors. Its no wonder Israel has treated Khan Yunis with little mercy throughout the years. In the current Palestinian uprising, Khan Yunis was mistreated the most: hundreds of its residents were killed or wounded, dozens of its houses bombed and bulldozed, and many of its defiant fighters arrested and tortured.

Under these realities, Mohamed Hnadiq lived, grew, survived, married and had kids. Mohamed, who confronted life with a status of an impoverished Palestinian from Gaza was little deterred by his physical handicap, and he kept on fighting even when his entire offspring inherited his the same status: refugees and handicapped.

Yet, like most Palestinians who are refugees in their own land, the misery inflicted by the Israeli occupation intensified. The Gaza Strip is often described as an open-air prison, where Palestinians are constantly besieged on a small piece of land, surrounded by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Khan Yunis was then a cell in this unkind place where Mohamed and his kids lived.

The Hnadiq family's house was located near an Israeli army checkpoint called Tufah, located in the western part of town. When Israeli troops attacked, and clashes intensified, the house was often a target for the hovering Apache helicopters and flying bullets.

According to Ahmed Hnadiq, Mohamed's cousin, the house was targeted repeatedly and several shells fell inside its yard. In one occasion, Fadi, 6, could not move his wheelchair fast enough as shrapnel exploded all around him, and was wounded.

It was then, time to leave, for the "temporary shelter" of the refugee was no longer safe, and so the Hnadiq family abandoned the house and moved elsewhere.

A Palestinian family in small village, Bani Shaileh, located eastern Khan Yunis offered Mohamed to use a piece of their land. The Red Cross agreed to supply the family with a tent. Mohamed and his family, (several of its members in need of wheelchairs) relocated to a tent. In one corner they stacked their cloths and schoolbooks, it is all they cared to salvage from their bombarded home.

With no electricity, no running water, no sanitation and with little hope Mohamed and his kids lived in the tent, in an isolated spot, far away from soldiers and tank shells.

On Saturday, January 5 as the family slept, eight of them close to one another, a candle, their only source of light, fell and burned their tent down.

A neighbor told the police the next day that he woke up to the screaming voices of the children, burning in the mist of a giant blaze that engulfed the entire tent.

Turkiah 5, Fadi, 6, Sufian 7, Hussein 9 died instantly. Nafiz, 5 died in a hosptail a few hours later. The parents, Mohamed 40, and his wife, Zainab, 35, and one of their sons, Mahmud, 16 are not expected to survive after suffering deep wounds and burns, covering 70-90 percent of their bodies.

Khan Yunis woke up that day to hear of the tragedy: gloom and silence overshadowed this ever gallant city. Thousands of people took to the street, accompanying the bodies to the burial ground, weeping and praying for them, and for those who remained alive.

Maybe the battle for survival for Mohamed and his children has ended, but millions of Palestinians refugees remain vulnerable, unprotected and apparently a "legitimate target" for Israel and its army.

The tragic fate of Palestinian refugees doesn't seem to have a limit, nor does the cruelty of their enemy. And until justice arrives, maybe the symbol of a glowing candle, which Palestinians often use to depict their persistence and determination, should be replaced by a wheelchair, Fadi's wheelchair, the only item that the tent fire spared.

It was in that wheelchair that Fadi was wounded at by an Israel shell, and it was that wheelchair that he left behind, to end the legacy of a handicapped Palestinian refugee child, who visited this cruel life for barely 6 years, and departed too soon.