Luay Subuh was playing with his baby son Baker when he stopped talking. Luay sat in silence for a moment, then said: “I wish I could see him — even once.”
Luay lost his sight because Israel has used Gaza as a laboratory for “innovative” weapons, as its arm industry likes to boast of its “combat-proven” products.
He was nine years old during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.
At one point during that offensive, the people of Beit Lahia felt a sense of relief. It appeared Israel had stopped bombing their town in northern Gaza. As neighbors started venturing outdoors, Luay insisted that he be allowed to play football with his cousins in the yard beside their home.
His mother, Fatma, consented.
But the lull was extremely short. Luay had only been outside for a matter of minutes when the warplanes reappeared. As bombs were dropped around them, he and his cousins screamed and cried.
They did not know where to go or what to do. Shrapnel was whizzing by and Luay started running. A few steps from the gate to his home, he was hit in the face by the fragments of a bomb.
“Everything became dark,” he said.
Luay was rushed to hospital — first to Kamal Edwan in Beit Lahia, then he was transferred to al-Shifa in Gaza City. When he woke up in al-Shifa, “I realized that I had lost my sight,” he said.
Kamal Okasha, a Gaza-based ophthalmic surgeon with the Saint John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, was called to examine Luay.
Okasha realized that huge damage had been caused “the first moment I looked at Luay’s eyes,” he said.
“The burning substance had reached his whole eye,” Okasha told The Electronic Intifada.
The burning substance in question was white phosphorus.
Luay’s mother, Fatma, also confirmed that doctors at the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said that Luay had been struck by white phosphorus. Luay was moved to the Saudi hospital after a few days in al-Shifa.
White smoke from wounds
Ayman al-Sahbani, head of the emergency department at al-Shifa, said that hospital staff had no previous experience dealing with the types of injuries they encountered during Operation Cast Lead. “Doctors saw white smoke coming from open wounds,” he said.
White phosphorus can cause deep burns — sometimes to the bone — after it comes in contact with a victim’s flesh.
Human Rights Watch has investigated how Israel fired white phosphorus indiscriminately in Gaza’s towns and cities during Cast Lead. Such tactics violate the laws of war as they fail to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.
All of the white phosphorus shells found by Human Rights Watch were made in the US during the late 1980s. Their manufacturer, Thiokol Aerospace, was running the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant at that time.
Luay has had to undergo a great deal of treatment — both physical and psychological — since losing his sight. He has also endured two other major Israeli offensives against Gaza — in November 2012 and during the summer of 2014.
The Subuh family was uprooted from its home during the 2014 offensive, having to take shelter in a school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.
“Luay was in a deep shock during the last two wars,” his mother said. “He found it difficult to walk. Fear took control of him.”
Nonetheless, Luay managed to continue his education by attending a school for the visually impaired. In December 2014, he got married.
Luay is undoubtedly resilient. “Despite my disability, I have the right to be like others,” he said.
“I also believe that I have a message of steadfastness for all oppressed people, that they can overcome their injuries, oppression and injustice and be happy human beings.”
Hamza Abu Eltarabesh is a journalist in Gaza.