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Yosef Al-Hissi, 23, from Jabalia Refugee Camp in the north of the Gaza Strip, was a footballer before he was hit by a missile from an Israeli F16 fighter jet and lost his leg during last year’s offensive on Gaza. Despite his appalling injuries, he did not lose hope of continuing his friendship with a ball, but it is now as a basketball player that he is starring in the camp’s Al-Basma Club.
In the midst of Israel’s 2014 offensive, Al-Hissi was a happy young man as he went to bed with F16s and drones roaring overhead. He woke, not to find his brother Ali and sister Hala sleeping in the next beds, but to doctors trying to stop the bleeding cuts and bruises all over his body.
“Until then,” he insists, “I did not know what had happened.” He asked the doctors what was going on. “Why am I here? Where are Ali and Hala?”
On day 13 of the offensive, the Israelis targeted a building near the playground next to Yosef’s house, which is at the edge of the refugee camp. There was no major damage to the playground. “I was happy in the hope that the war would end in a day or two and I could go back to playing football with my friends,” he says. In the hospital, though, the doctors told Yosef that he had lost his leg and he might be there for a long time. “I was stunned at that moment. Both my hands were bandaged to the degree that I was unable to stretch down to feel whether my leg was there or not.”
On that fateful night, an Israeli F16 targeted the house adjacent to Yosef’s. “My mother said that the Israeli intelligence services phoned our neighbours, but they could hardly flee their home,” Yosef tells me. “Just three minutes after the call, the attack, which destroyed our neighbours’ house and caused much damage to our house, took place.”
Mother’s words decreased my pain
His mother and other relatives and some friends were in the hospital room with him. His mother bent close and told him not to worry. “God willing, you will recover very soon and you will be back home, as well as in the playground and will play with your friends.” However, although he knew that it would be difficult to go back to the playground he still told his mother, “I hope so!”
Back home a couple of months later and Yosef’s mother, Halima, is holding the remaining part of her son’s leg and looking at his face. “I recognise that he is disabled now, but since the very beginning, I have been beside him and I will remain beside him forever. I have been encouraging him, looking forward to any chance to reintegrate him into his own community just as before he was wounded.”
The Palestinian ministry if health said that there are 70,000 disabled people in the Gaza Strip, making up 4.5 per cent of the population. According to a recent ministry report, 13 per cent of the people wounded in last summer’s offensive are disabled due to “new and strange” Israeli munitions that seem to target and sever limbs.
“The rehabilitation of these people will take a long time,” the report says. “Artificial limbs cost between $1,000 to $4,000 each.” The ministry has had to halt financial support for those needing artificial limbs because of the continuous Israeli siege and lack of resources, in addition to the ban on the equipment needed for this purpose.
‘Al-Basma Club is my hope’
Yosef decided not to accept being marginalised within society and started to work on getting back to full activity. He knew that he would not be able to go back to the football pitch but he could not end his love of a ball.
“One day, my mobile phone rang,” Yosef says. “It was my cousin Ahmed who told me about Al-Basma Club. He said that I can play basketball with a special team for people like me.”
Yosef did not think twice about joining Al-Basma. “My mother encouraged me, believing that it was my chance to get back to the playground where my dreams had been forged before I was wounded.”
Shadi Mas’oud, the head of the club in Jabalia said that Yosef is a positive addition to the basketball team. “He is energetic and active and has an elevated corporeal spirit,” Mas’oud explained. “He started training in March, made very fast progress and has become one of the prominent members of the team.”
Gaza’s Deputy Social and Welfare Minister, Yosef Ibrahim, said that his ministry runs special programmes for those who have lost limbs. “The number of such people in Gaza is very high compared to most countries in the world,” he said, “so we are running special government-funded programmes to integrate them in society.”
Watching a match between two basketball teams in the main Gaza stadium, Ibrahim refused to call Yosef and his colleagues disabled. “They are not disabled,” he said, “they are people with special needs and they are not involved in activities specified for the disabled.” These are groups of people with common interests who meet together and practice several kinds of activities that they enjoy, he added.
As he finishes playing in an official match between Al-Basma and a team from Al-Salam, Yosef says that he does not “surrender” to his disability. “We are playing basketball here,” he stresses, “and I hope to swim in the future.”
Palestinian human rights organisations have called on the international community to put an end to the repeated Israeli aggression on Gaza. The enclave has more than enough limbless people.
Speaking on behalf of these groups, which have issued several statements in this regard, Al-Mizan Centre for Human Rights has called for the world to put pressure on the Israeli occupation and the Egyptian authorities in order to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip and let disabled travel abroad for treatment and rehabilitation. Lifting the siege will also give people like Yosef and his teammates the chance to take part in international tournaments and display their skills on a wider stage. They are hoping beyond hope that the occupation authorities will take heed and lift the siege. That F16 and others like it did a lot of damage, but it did not end the hopes of the youth of Gaza.
Images by Middle East Monitor
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