▶ Haitham Abu Sabla is one of thou­sands in the en­clave maimed by the Is­raeli army

The National - News - - NEWS WORLD - NAGHAM MOHANNA Khan You­nis, Gaza Strip

The grue­some pho­tos show a man des­per­ately grasp­ing at his throat for air as smoke pours from his cheek. The young Pales­tinian falls to the floor, blood­ied, as the gas con­tin­ues to spew out of the hole in his face.

A tear-gas can­is­ter fired by an Is­raeli soldier had di­rectly hit Haitham Abu Sabla, 23, in the head, pen­e­trat­ing the front of the left side of his skull.

The in­ci­dent at a Gaza bor­der protest on June 8 left the young man on life sup­port after the can­is­ter was sur­gi­cally re­moved. Wit­nesses say he was stand­ing hun­dreds of me­tres from the bor­der fence, watch­ing stone-throw­ers at a rally east of the south­ern city of Khan You­nis.

Mr Abu Sabla, who has since been taken off crit­i­cal care, spoke to The Na­tional for his first in­ter­view.

He is on the first floor of Nasser Hospi­tal in Khan You­nis with a ban­dage cov­er­ing the lower left side of his face where the can­is­ter hit him.

Here, sur­rounded seven of his fam­ily and friends, Mr Abu Sabla mum­bled what he re­called of the mo­ment that changed his life.

“It was like death, I didn’t think I would sur­vive,” he said, while point­ing to his throat with his right hand, as though try­ing again to stop the gas from en­ter­ing his body.

“I saw the Is­raeli sniper look­ing at me, then he fired to­wards me. I was just stand­ing, I didn’t do any­thing else,” he said.

His case is just one of hun­dreds of maimed Pales­tini­ans who have been shot and wounded by gun­fire or by tear­gas can­is­ters in weekly rounds of ral­lies on the Gazan bor­der to protest against con­di­tions in the en­clave and a “right of re­turn” to an­ces­tral homes now in Is­rael. At least 120 Pales­tini­ans have been killed and more than 3,800 wounded by Is­raeli fire since March 30.

Ahmed Qu­dah, a jour­nal­ist and wit­ness to the in­ci­dent, re­mem­bers the hor­ror of Mr Abu Sabla’s howls.

“We were stand­ing about 100 me­tres from the fence and the Is­raeli snipers started to fire gas bombs to­wards pro­test­ers ran­domly,” he said. “Pro­test­ers started to run, then sud­denly I heard Haitham scream­ing and mov­ing in crazy ways.

“I came back to him and saw how the smoke was go­ing out from his ears, mouth and nose, it was a hor­ri­ble scene. I can’t for­get it.”

Mr Abu Sabla’s mother is at his bed­side. She wears black and her eyes have devel­oped dark rims from days of weari­ness after her son’s close call with death.

“I didn’t know that he was go­ing to the bor­der area, I would not al­low him [but] even I can’t stop him, but I am a mother and feel wor­ried about my son,” she said as she wiped the sweat from his fore­head.

Mr Abu Sabla is just one of Gaza’s youth who have grown up liv­ing un­der an 11-year siege that has made life un­bear­able in a ter­ri­tory that the UN says is “un­liv­able”.

He lives with 15 other fam­ily mem­bers in a small home and has no job. The Fri­day protests were his out­let and he never missed one, his fam­ily said. But that Is­raeli can­is­ter may now leave him un­able to eat as he once did, with his face dis­fig­ured. The gas that en­tered his body will have a long-term ef­fect.

“We have not seen a case like Haitham’s be­fore,” said Dr Hos­sam Al Ma­jaida, the head of oral and max­illo­fa­cial surgery at Nasser Hospi­tal. “The gas can­is­ter stayed for 45 min­utes in his face un­til we had a plan to op­er­ate. It means that the gas con­tin­ued to en­ter his body for a long time and that will af­fect him in the long term.”

Mr Abu Sabla’s only hope now is that he can leave Gaza to re­ceive the treat­ment he re­quires.

“He has a frac­ture in his up­per jaw and a break­down in his left mouth mus­cle, while he lost most of his teeth,” the doc­tor said. “He needs to get out of Gaza to con­tinue treat­ment or he will have a per­ma­nent de­for­mity in his face.”


Haitham Abu Sabla, 23, has tear gas flow­ing from his mouth and nose after be­ing hit in the face with a can­is­ter fired by Is­rael on June 8 on the Gaza bor­der

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