Emerging From Fear To Bury A Son
Yousef recalled that they listened for danger. They heard no rumblings of tanks or humming of Apache helicopters, he said. Their older brother Ayub, 26, who had been married the previous week, promised he would wait in the doorway and watch them the whole time, Yousef added. The two boys opened the door.
The first bullet hit Yousef in the stomach, and the second hit Saber in the chest, Yousef recalled. The boys dropped the bottles. Ayub reached out to help them, but Yousef was shot twice more, and Ayub was shot in the hand, according to Yousef and hospital medical records. An Israeli army spokesman later said that Israeli troops were "likely responsible" for the death.
Saber fell into the house and into his mother's arms, bleeding from his nose and mouth, his mother and Yousef recalled. The bullet had struck his heart, hospital records showed.
"He said, 'I'm dying,' " said his mother. "But I didn't believe it."
A Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance passing through the area after coordinating with the Israeli army got the call. Fathi Dirbi, a 30-year-old emergency medical technician, said Saber was in a coma when he arrived. Yousef and Ayub were conscious. "I told the brothers that we'll try to get him there in time," Dirbi recalled of the race to the hospital.
The evacuation was filled with delays, he said. A tank held up the ambulance's departure for 15 minutes while a soldier inside gave instructions from a loudspeaker for Dirbi to open the back door so that a camera affixed to the tank could examine its contents. The ambulance had to stop again at a second tank, and after five minutes Dirbi said he became impatient and walked up to the tank driver and yelled that he had to leave.
It was too late.
"When I got to the hospital, they told me to take Saber to the morgue," Dirbi said.
Back at the Abu Libdeh home, family members recalled, neighbors threw batteries through the window so they could listen to the radio. Radio Shabab, a Gaza station, announced that Saber had died. Ayub's and Yousef's names weren't mentioned, so their mother said she hoped her other boys had lived.
Wednesday night brought a constant chorus of gunfire, family members recalled, and they clung together, weeping, terrified and wide awake. They lost track of days and nights. On Thursday, said the mother, men were again ordered to leave their houses and report for search and interrogation. News spread quickly through open windows.
Finally, on Saturday, the Israelis pulled back to Tel Sultan's outskirts, allowing the Abu Libdehs and their neighbors to leave their homes to collect food and water. The next day, about 30 women, including Saber's mother, left Tel Sultan to visit the hospital, the family recalled, walking past the tanks with white flags in their hands. The mother, Hanim, 56, said she did not tell her wounded son Yousef that his brother was dead.
Yousef was interviewed at the General Hospital of Gaza, known as the European Hospital, in nearby Khan Younis, where he is being treated. He was transferred there awaiting another transfer to a hospital in Jordan for specialized surgery to remove shrapnel from his liver, said Ibrahim Hamad, the hospital's general supervisor. The Israelis have not yet approved the transfer, Hamad said.
On Monday morning, Saber lay in state at the house for just a few minutes, then was removed for the funeral. "Congratulations on your son's martyrdom," women said as they filed in to greet Hanim.
When she broke down and wept, the women tried to bolster her with assurances that Saber would be in heaven because he was a martyr. But she was not consoled.
"I feel my soul left with him when he left," said his mother. "He is the youngest of all the children and the closest to me."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Yousef Abu Libdeh was hurt in the gunfire that killed his brother.
(Robin Shulman -- The Washington Post)