BBC News
July 23, 2009 - 12:00am

Four-year-old Samar Abed Rabbu lost her two sisters during Israel's offensive in Gaza last December and January. The BBC's Christian Fraser has been following the plight of Samar and her family - now divided across two continents, as Samar receives treatment in Belgium with her mother.

Throughout these months of gruelling therapy Belgian doctors say Samar Abed Rabbu has demonstrated remarkable courage.

She is desperate to walk again - she even simulates it on the bed with her fingers - but there is nothing the Belgian doctors can do to repair Samar's broken back.

"She has had two operations so far," said physiotherapist Pierre Van Lierde. "One in Gaza and one here in Brussels. But the bullets are lodged too deeply. It's too dangerous to remove them and at least one of them is embedded in her spinal cord."

I first met Samar in January in a hospital in Egypt. She had been evacuated from Gaza for emergency surgery, just one of scores of children who were injured as the Israelis searched out their Hamas targets.


But there was something particularly shocking about this story.

The family alleged that Israeli soldiers had opened fire at close range - as they lined up outside the house and while Samar's grandmother waved a white flag.

When the war ended we travelled to Jabaliya, northern Gaza, to find Samar's father. He told us that Samar's two sisters - Soad, 7, and Amel, 2 - had been killed in the assault. We brought him news that his only surviving daughter was now paralysed.

Today, after months of treatment - paid for by the Belgian government - Samar is at least upright and learning to balance.

She must wear a plastic brace to correct the position of her spine.

Every day she undergoes intensive physiotherapy to move her legs and to build the strength in her upper body. On the day we visited her custom-built wheelchair had just been delivered.

Home in ruins

But these are all things that will all need to be replaced as she grows - and the question is how this family will cope when Samar is eventually sent back to Gaza.

“ I am desperate to see her again. But I don't want her to come back here - not to this ”
Khaled, Samar's father Jabaliya, Gaza

The neighbourhood of Jabaliya looks exactly as it did when I was last there just over six months ago.

With the Israeli blockade still in place there is no concrete or steel to rebuild it. At the moment there is precious little to come back to.

In Gaza there is still no sign of the aid that was promised by the outside world.

In Jabaliya people are so desperate to salvage some respectability that they spend their days scavenging for broken bricks and metal, which they drag away on donkey-drawn carts.

In place of his home, Samar's father Khaled has been given a prefabricated hut - which feels like a sauna in Gaza's summer heat. It is without any running water or electricity.

"I miss my daughter terribly," he said. "I am desperate to see her again. But I don't want her to come back here - not to this. What can I offer her? She is much better where she is."

Khaled spends what little money he has on phone calls to Brussels.

Samar sings to him down the line.

So imagine the emotion as he had the chance to see her face in the pictures we had brought from Brussels.

The entire family gathered around as we showed Khaled the film - including Samar's young brother.

"It's been tough for all of us," said Khaled. "The family has been split for almost seven months - and we are still coping with the trauma and the grief. This little boy needs his mum."

Israeli denial

The Israeli Defence Force has told the BBC that their inquiry into the family's allegations had found no evidence of such an incident. They stressed they have never targeted innocent civilians.

But the morals and behaviour of the army have been called into question by a number of serving soldiers who took part in the Gaza offensive - although the military has dismissed their testimonies as based on hearsay.

Back in Belgium, Samar's mother Kawtar says she wants to stay in Europe, even though the family has been split.

"I want Samar to get better," she says. "I am just hoping that she won't stay like this.

"The doctors say she is very smart and she performs well. I don't want to take her to Gaza because I don't want her to lose her mind like she lost her legs."

In the orderly surroundings of a Belgian hospital Samar has all the attention she needs. But it is tough enough dealing with a disability like this, never mind coping with it, amid the chaos and destruction of Gaza.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017