Tareq S. Hajjaj
Mondoweiss / January 27, 2023
Nayef Owedat, 11, suffered severe injuries during Israel’s three-day assault on Gaza last August. He died on January 26, as hospitals in Gaza were not able to provide the critical care he needed.
In the Al-Hassania area of the Al-Nusirat refugee camp in central Gaza, the family of Nayef Owedat, 11, lined up to receive people who came to share condolences for the boy’s tragic death.
Owedat had been struggling for life for months. The event that ultimately took his life occurred last summer, on August 5, 2022 when Israel launched “Operation Breaking Dawn.” During this attack, Israel bombed Gaza for three days straight, killing 49 people. On January 26, 2023, Nayef finally succumbed to his wounds after several months of suffering.
He was wounded in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, where he went to stay with his grandmother for safety during the war. His mother had left Gaza after getting divorced from his father, and his grandmother, who took care of him, passed away just one year before the war.
His family describes his short life as a journey between painful events; even his death was more painful than his life. “The injury smashed half of his head, leaving him paralyzed. He suffered for months, but we all hoped he could recover,” Khalid Owedat, Nayef’s father, told Mondoweiss.
When Nayef first arrived at the hospital in August, doctors initially told the family that he had died from his injuries, but his heartbeat was miraculously revived, and he was moved to the ICU. However, Nayef’s brain was damaged by shrapnel, and it would be difficult to treat him in Gaza due to the medical shortage in Gaza hospitals caused by the 16 years of the Israeli siege. His family quickly attempted to secure a medical transfer to hospitals in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which are notoriously difficult for patients in Gaza to receive due to strict Israeli obstacles.
Luckily, within three days of his injury, he moved to Al-Makassed hospital in Jerusalem and received treatment for a month. However, the hospital then informed the family that there was no funding for his ongoing treatment, so he would have to move back to Gaza.
The boy was then moved from one hospital to another inside Gaza, but the critical brain surgeries he needed were beyond what the hospitals in Gaza could provide. He was eventually moved home to stay with his family, who were not prepared to provide for his needs as he was now fully paralyzed.
“He was only opening his eyes and looking around him. He always found his family surrounding him, he was beloved, and we waited for him to recover and get back to his life,” his father said.
At home, the family did not know how to feed Nayef or care for his wounds. “These were the most painful days of his life. We were unaware of how to feed him. He was completely paralyzed except for his eyes, and they were sad,” his father said.
His condition worsened when he moved home, and his family appealed to hospitals to offer him a bed and keep him under medical observation. Finally, after ten days, Al-Wafa hospital in Gaza granted him a bed and provided him with the medical care they could offer, which was not entirely what he needed.
“Nayef was the smartest son. He is wise and so brave,” his sad father recalled.
The boy left behind three siblings and 18 other brothers and sisters from his father’s two other marriages. All of these siblings gathered at the hospital to pray and ask God to heal him. But he sadly deteriorated in the hospital and became extremely weak, with only the bones remaining in his body.
“Poor boy, he was born and died suffering,” his father lamented.
After his death was announced at the hospital, the family was asked to donate Nayef’s cornea. The family hesitated initially, especially because his father said he did not want his boy to suffer anymore. But relatives encouraged Khalid to agree as it would help bring healing to someone else. In the end, Nayef’s father donated his son’s cornea as a good deed for his soul.
“This donation may help his soul to rest in peace,” his father said.
Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of Palestinian Writers Union