Israel detains nurse after killing his children

Overworked health workers are at risk of being taken into Israeli detention. 

Omar Ashtawy APA images

My cousin Shaima is extremely worried about her husband Mahmoud.

He was taken into detention by Israel while evacuating northern Gaza and moving south.

The detention began one day before the brief truce took effect in November.

Shaima, 30, has not recovered physically from injuries she sustained in an Israeli attack on her home in Jabaliya refugee camp. Her children Huda and Oday and numerous other members of her extended family were killed in that massacre.

Because of her condition, Shaima had to be evacuated from northern Gaza in an ambulance.

She had been receiving treatment at the Indonesian hospital in the city of Beit Lahiya. Mahmoud, her husband and the father of her children, worked as a nurse there and accompanied her in the ambulance.

Most patients and displaced people who had taken shelter at the hospital left it on foot after the Israeli military surrounded the hospital and ordered its evacuation. So did most of the hospital’s workers.

A few doctors stayed behind so that they could take care of some particularly vulnerable patients, such as those on ventilators or people who could not be transported due to a shortage of ambulances.

As they approached the area south of Wadi Gaza – a hub for Israeli forces since the ground invasion – Shaima’s heart began beating fast. She sensed something terrible was about to happen.

Israeli soldiers were standing along a line separating northern Gaza from the south. It felt like they could open fire at any moment.

Handcuffed and blindfolded

One Israeli soldier halted the ambulance carrying Shaima and Mahmoud. Speaking in Arabic, the soldier ordered people to get out of the ambulance and put their hands up.

Another soldier – also speaking Arabic – gathered the identity documents from displaced people. The IDs were taken into an office, where soldiers checked them using an electronic device.

A few minutes after Shaima and Mahmoud handed over their IDs, the same soldier instructed another one to detain Mahmoud. No explanation was given.

Mahmoud’s colleagues saw him being handcuffed and blindfolded. He was taken with tens of other Gazans to an unknown place.

His colleagues in the ambulance had no choice but to resume their journey southwards without him.

Shaima had been in the ambulance at the moment when Mahmoud was taken into detention. She did not know what had happened until his colleagues returned to the ambulance without him.

“Where is my husband?” she asked.

There was silence. Mahmoud’s colleagues did not know how to respond.

For a moment, they were frozen on the spot.

Shaima asked the same question again. She started to scream.

A friend of Mahmoud said his name and burst into tears.

Another colleague said, “Mahmoud has been detained.”

Shaima took the news in a cold, seemingly detached way. For reasons she doesn’t understand, she did not cry at first.

Perhaps that was because she has already suffered so much.

“Without you, I will die”

She did start crying, however, after a few minutes.

A close friend of her husband tried to console her. “We will get him back to you soon,” the man said.

“When will you bring him back?” Shaima asked. “I don’t have anyone else left. I have lost my parents. My brothers and my sister. My kids. I can’t bear losing him too. Please get him back to me.”

“I promise that I will do my best to get him back to you,” Mahmoud’s friend said.

I called Shaima after I heard the news about Mahmoud’s detention.

She told me Mahmoud was “the only shoulder I had to lean on after losing my children and my family.”

Eventually, Shaima arrived at a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in the city of Khan Younis. Shaima’s brother Hamza has taken shelter there.

Shaima collapsed in tears as she embraced Hamza, the only one of her brothers who survived the attack on their home.

“Where is Mahmoud?” Hamza asked. “You said that he was coming with you.”

“Mahmoud has been detained,” Shaima replied. “I don’t know where. I am afraid that I am going to lose him too.”

Hamza was speechless. All he could say was, “May God protect him wherever he is.”

Shaima has contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross and human rights groups asking if they can get details on Mahmoud’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, they have received no response from the Israeli authorities.

They have no information about what has happened to him.

Israel will not allow Shaima to make any contact with her husband. She cannot arrange for him to see a lawyer.

She is not even sure that he is alive as there have been many reports of Palestinians dying in Israeli detention. “I always pray that he is still alive,” she told me.

Mahmoud is among a huge number of Palestinians who have been taken into detention during Israel’s genocidal war.

At the Indonesian hospital, Mahmoud had tried to keep a close eye on Shaima.

He checked on her at hourly intervals.

With her pelvis fractured, she needed help to visit the bathroom. Mahmoud provided that help.

He made a point of spending his short lunch breaks with her.

“I don’t want to lose you,” he told her. “We have already lost our two kids. Without you, I will die.”

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.