More than one month later, sadness and anger still grips Rania al-Anqar’s heart every time she thinks about her son Abdullah, who had his leg amputated after he was shot by an Israeli soldier.
The 13-year-old had made his way to the area east of Gaza City, near the Israeli fence on a quiet Thursday morning in early May, which is close to his home in the al-Shujayea neighbourhood.
“I took my slingshot with me,” Abdullah, a skinny boy of 13, told Al Jazeera. “A few people were in the area, and everything was calm.”
“I went near the fence and starting throwing rocks,” he said, sitting in his wheelchair. “Then as I started to climb the fence, I saw an Israeli soldier hiding in the bushes.”
Abdullah’s immediate reaction was to step down from the fence and run away, but before he could do that, the soldier shot him in the left thigh with an explosive bullet from close distance.
“I can’t remember anything after that moment. I only remember something hot had shattered my leg before I lost consciousness,” Abdullah said.
Eyewitnesses in the area told the Anqar family that the Israeli soldiers dragged Abdullah’s body to their side, where an ambulance waiting. The boy was then transferred in an air ambulance.
“A number of people rushed into my home at 8:30 in the morning shouting: Israeli soldiers shot your son and took him,” Rania, Abdullah’s mother said. “No other details.”
“I couldn’t control myself,” she continued. “I ran to the fence crying the entire time.”
Once there, Palestinians who were in the area at the time Abdullah was shot told her he was taken away in a helicopter, but could not offer details on how or where he was shot at in his body.
“Some were saying Abdullah was shot in the head, others said in the chest,” the mother of seven said.
The family spent a difficult day trying to figure out whether their son, the sixth out of seven children, was dead or alive, and if alive, whether he was arrested or taken for treatment, and if for treatment, how serious his injury was.
“We informed the Red Cross committee about what happened,” Rania said. “They took his information and contacted the Israeli side.”
That afternoon, Abdullah’s father Emad received a telephone call from the Israeli coordination and liaison office.
“An Israeli officer told me in Arabic that he was with the Israeli army, and that my son Abdullah was in Soroka Hospital in Bir Sabe’ (Beersheba),” the 46-year-old father told Al Jazeera.
“They needed personal details like our ID number from me or his mother so that they could issue a permit for one of us to go see Abdullah in the hospital.”
The officer offered no information about Abdullah’s medical situation.
“We were very worried,” Rania said. “In the end we decided that Emad would go.”
Surgeries, amputation, shock
The following day was a Friday, where Erez checkpoint, Israel’s only pedestrian crossing north of the Gaza Strip, was closed.
However, the Israeli army opened the checkpoint as an exceptional case in order to let Emad through.
“When I saw Abdullah in the hospital, I immediately wished I didn’t,” Emad said, holding back tears. “He was dying in the intensive care unit. There were tubes coming out of his body everywhere.”
Abdullah underwent three surgeries and eight units of blood to save his leg, Emad recalled. Bullet fragments and shards of bone has severely affected his femoral artery.
The doctors tried to transfer a major vein from his good leg but were unsuccessful, leaving them no choice but to amputate his left leg from the upper thigh, five days after he was shot.
The young teen’s body then became unresponsive, and had to be given electric shots after his heart had failed.
Once resuscitated, he was moved to the intensive care unit where he spent 13 days.
“I was totally devastated,” Emad said. “I spent those days crying next to Abdullah’s bed in the ICU. I refused to eat. People in the hospital would cry when they saw me weeping.”
“The staff – doctors, nurses and other people – in the Israeli hospital denounced the incident,” he added bitterly. “They were asking the same question I had on my mind: why did the Israeli soldier shoot my son, a mere child, in this way?”
After a week in the ICU, the doctors decided to wake Abdullah up from the anesthesia.
“The most heart-wrenching moment was when he woke up, recognised me, and then started to feel around for his leg,” Emad said, his voice choking with grief and tears running down his cheeks.
“I couldn’t forget his reaction when he found out that his leg had been amputated. He kept asking: where is my leg? I had no words there. He burst into tears while fumbling for his missing leg.”
“I tried to calm him down by saying that he will have an artificial limb in its place, but I was crying with him,” Emad said in anguish.
Abdullah then spoke to his mother over the phone, repeating one sentence over and over.
“He kept saying, Mum, you see? I lost my leg. My leg is gone,” Rania said.
Her sorrow quickly turned into anger.
“My son didn’t pose any threat to the Israeli soldiers,” she said. “What if the Israeli soldier shot on the ground, or in the air?”
“My son would have instantly run away. He is still a minor and unaware of his actions,” she added, saying that she condemns Israel’s criminality.
Abdullah’s parents have called on international child protection organizations to open an investigation into their son’s incident and to prosecute the soldier who shot him from a close distance.
“We’ve hired a lawyer to follow-up the case and we will not stay silent on our son’s right,” the father said.
Explosive bullets responsible for over half of injuries
Last week, Abdullah underwent two surgeries to remove dead tissue from his left thigh in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital. He still needs more surgeries, in addition to serious rehabilitation before he can be fitted with an appropriate artificial limb.
Yet his condition is considered by Hossam al-Talmas, a doctor with the Doctors Beyond Borders (know by its French acronym MSF) clinic in Gaza as the highest amputation case among the latest similar incidents since the protests in Gaza began east of the strip.
“We have amputation cases in the thigh but not like Abdullah’s case,” Talmas told Al Jazeera, saying that the teenager’s leg was cut off high in his upper thigh.
Abdullah has been attending the MSF clinic three times a week since May 21 for physical therapy sessions. Last week, the organisation coordinated with a French delegation of doctors who carried out an operation on Abdullah’s upper thigh, where they removed dead tissue at Gaza City’s Patient’s Friend Society hospital.
Dr Ayman al-Sahbani, the head of the emergency departments at the Shifa Hospital, told Al Jazeera he believes that the Israeli army is using new weaponry based on the types of injuries the wounded protesters from demonstrations since March 30 have sustained.
“Israeli snipers use explosive bullets that shatter the bones, the tissues, and slice the veins and arteries,” Sahbani said.
“In many cases we resort to amputation after numerous attempts to save the leg,” adding that many of the wounded protesters underwent as many as seven surgeries to save their legs.
Sahbani said that 51 percent of the injuries sustained in the borders near the Israeli fence are a result of explosive bullets.
“In numbers, they are 7,500 injured with explosive bullets out of 15,000, which is the total number of injuries since March 30,” Sahbani said.
Many of those patients need to be urgently transferred outside Gaza, the doctor continued. While the patients’ referral papers are ready, they are still waiting for Israeli-issued medical permits, which puts their cases in even more danger.
“He needs to be transferred out of Gaza to a professional prosthetics hospital as his case in rare here in Gaza,” Emad, Abdullah’s father said.
Yet in the month of Ramadan, where Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced the Rafah border crossing will be open, only three cases of amputees were transferred via Egypt, Sahbani said.
‘Back to walking, back to normal life”
Moving actively between his bed and the wheelchair, Abdullah remains full of energy with a smile that never leaves his face, and hardly pays attention when his mother gently admonishes him to be more careful as he tries to step on one foot without using crutches.
Yet despite putting on a brave face, Rania said that he is prone to mood swings.
“After his injury, he became irritable, nervous and very sensitive,” Rania whispered.
“Till now, Abdullah insists he does not want to see his friends, who came by to visit him on more than one occasion. He would ask them to leave.
“He used to play with them all day, but now that he’s on a wheelchair, he can’t,” she added.
Abdullah’s injury also prevented him from taking his school year’s final exams, and he refuses to go back to school again.
|Abdullah al-Anqar remains full of energy but is prone to mood swings and refuses to go back to school, his mother says [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]|
“I’m tired of sitting down,” Abdullah said, as he tried to stand up away from his wheelchair.
His eyes flicker when he was asked about the moment he realised he had lost his leg.
“It was a harsh moment,” he said, his smile disappearing. “I cried a lot and was in shock. I felt like something more than just physical was gone.”
Suddenly he brightened up.
“I have to travel outside Gaza to I can have an artificial limb, then I could go back to my normal life, back to walking again,” he said.
“I want to be a musician and see the whole world.”