A Palestinian Girl's Plight Shows Two Faces of Israel

Saturday, December 15, 2007

JERUSALEM -- Far from the Gaza Strip, in a bright room with a view of Jerusalem visible above the green cedar spires outside her window, Maria Aman lives with her father and brother.

It is a comfortable place, if crowded. Stuffed animals donated by Israelis and Palestinians line the walls, and a laptop given to her by Bank Hapoalim, Israel's largest bank, sits on Maria's small desk in a corner.

The 6-year-old girl with curly dark hair and a wide smile navigates the Internet with her chin, moving a small joystick to and fro across the screen. She operates her wheelchair in the same way.

In 2006, as a taxi carrying her family in downtown Gaza City passed a car carrying a leader of the armed Islamic Jihad organization, two Israeli missiles fired from a helicopter far above slammed into both vehicles. Her spine was virtually severed. Her mother, older brother, grandmother and uncle were killed.

"My mother died on the spot," said Hamdi Aman, 30, Maria's wan father, as he prepared chicken for lunch over a corner sink. "And what is left for me? Here I am with Maria and Moamen," his 4-year-old son, who is struggling to tie his tennis shoes.

The Amans' story illustrates the often excruciating options facing Israel as it wages war in Gaza and at times assumes the obligations caused by its errors. Gaza, crumbling and volatile, has scant ability or resources to sustain the life of a young girl such as Maria.

After the airstrike, the Israeli government rushed Maria to be treated inside Israel, where she has lived ever since, far from the sparse stone house in southern Gaza City where the other members of her family dream of her.

She will not walk again. She is petitioning to stay inside Israel to ensure that if her wheelchair-borne ventilator ever fails, she will get medical attention rapidly. She would have just 50 seconds before oxygen stopped passing through the plastic tube into her neck.

Israel's Supreme Court is expected to rule on Maria's petition next month. In the meantime, the Israeli government is paying for her medical care and education for her and her brother.

"She is the only one who makes our suffering less," said Farouk Aman, Maria's grandfather, sitting in his bare living room in Gaza. "She is alive. Please, Israel, keep her alive."

-- Scott Wilson

© 2007 The Washington Post Company