It was a long week to wait until Friday 30 March 2018 for 27-year-old Sohaib Qudeh, the hardworking farmer from Abbasan neighbourhood in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, in order to take part in the protests of the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege. It was Palestine’s Land Day, which Sohaib has been taking part in since he was 15, but this time was “very different”.
Along with thousands of protesters, Sohaib went to the fence which lies along the eastern side of the Gaza Strip. They raised placards and chanted slogans for the Palestinian right of return and breaking the 12-year-old Israeli siege imposed on the coastal enclave. Thirty-seven-year-old Naziha, Sohaib’s sister, was standing with him side-by-side.
“The demonstrators got closer to the fence and the Israeli Jewish snipers started shooting at them. My sister and I fled westward and hid behind an old, dry tree,” Sohaib told MEMO. “We remained frozen behind the tree for up to 15 minutes and, when the firing seemed to have stopped, we moved about three metres. Suddenly I fell on the ground after feeling something strong hit my leg,” he added.
Never stood again
At first glance, Sohaib thought it was a rubber bullet, but when he tried to stand up and resume his walk, his leg could not help him and he saw it covered in blood.
“At first, I did not feel the wounds because they were warm,” he said. “I became sure that I was wounded when I failed to stand up alone and the other demonstrators gathered around me. At this time, I laid down on the ground and waited for the paramedics to help.”
Naziha was shocked when she saw her brother bleeding, but had enough courage to run towards the paramedics and call for them to evacuate him to the hospital.
“When my sister saw my wounds bleeding, she ran towards the paramedics and shouted for help,” he said. “They came directly and took me to the hospital, where the doctors found that the Israeli sniper shot an explosive bullet at my leg which damaged it to the degree it was necessary to amputate.”
Sohaib knew he would never be able to stand again. Speaking to MEMO, he said: “Before entering the operation room, I fell unconscious and two days later, I woke up to find that I have only one leg.”
Back to the demonstrations
A couple of days later, Sohaib was discharged from hospital and went home. He started to depend on Naziha to carry out his daily life. He watched the demonstrations on TV, but when he found that he was able to join the demonstrations on the fourth Friday using his crutches, he did.
“I asked Naziha to help me join the demonstrations,” he said. “At first she refused, but when I insisted she accepted and accompanied me to the site of the demonstrations. We continued this for a couple of months until my wound had completely healed and I had an artificial limb.”
“I returned back to my farm and resumed planting vegetables, irrigating them and collecting them along with Naziha, who became part of my life,” he said. “We, the Palestinians, do not surrender to fate. Being disabled makes it difficult for you to practice even the simplest jobs, so think about how hard it is to farm!”
Naziha was happy helping her brother in his work, daily life and joining the Friday demonstrations; he didn’t expect that she would soon be in her brother’s shoes.
“On Monday 14 May 2018, when Naziha had just ended a phone call with her mother telling her that she and Sohaib were heading home, she screamed,” Sohaib said. “I looked around and found her covered in blood and I screamed for help.”
Naziha was rushed to hospital and had her leg amputated due to severe damage caused by an explosive bullet fired by an Israeli sniper near the place where her brother was shot.
“I called my mother and told her that I was hungry because I left the house at lunch time and stayed with Sohaib at the protest site for about five hours,” Naziha said. “I had just ended the phone call and turned my back to the side of the fence, then, I felt that something hit my leg and immediately fell on the ground.”
Back to the farm
Naziha did not surrender and, when she recovered, she insisted on continuing her life on the farm side-by-side with Sohaib. However, it became very difficult for them to continue working as farmers, but the issue for them is life.
Both Naziha and Sohaib still need better artificial legs for easier movement, but having makeshift ones did not give them an excuse to stay at home.
They insist on going to work together, joining the demonstrations together and doing everything together. “We feel we got closer to each other after losing our limbs,” Sohaib said: “We have the same life, the same job and the same fate.”
Regarding their work, both said that it is a very hard job, but they do not have any other kind of job which would be appropriate for their conditions. “This job makes you feel more connected to the land,” Naziha, said.
As of 15 May 2019, the Ministry of Health in Gaza said that Israeli forces have killed 306 demonstrators during the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege and wounded 17,335, including 136 lost their limbs.
Amputees in Gaza could have makeshift artificial limbs. In April, Qatar inaugurated a specialised hospital in Gaza to help these people.
Naziha and Sohaib send a message to the world saying: “We have done our duty and sacrificed our limb. Now, it is your turn, you have to work hard to stop the Israeli siege and fulfill our dream of returning back to our homes.”