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A day with the Dawabsheh family Open in fullscreen

Naif Zaidani

A day with the Dawabsheh family

Hussein and Satira Dawabsheh can only pray for their daughter Riham [al-Araby]

Date of publication: 19 August, 2015

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Feature: The family has been overwhelmed with both grief and support since their infant grandchild Ali and his father Saad were burned alive by Israeli settlers.
Riham Dawabsheh lay sedated and unconscious in the Sheba Medical Centre's intensive care unit, as her five-year-old-son, Ahmed, was treated in the critical care unit of a nearby pediatric building.

Ahmed has become an only child, after his brother, Ali Dawabsheh, was killed in an arson attack on their home by Israeli settlers. The fire later claimed the life of his father, Saad.

Riham's father, wife and daughter Reem, make the seven-minute walk between the two buildings at the Tel Hashomer facility near Tel Aviv several times a day.

They are clinging to the hope that Riham will live for her surviving son Ahmed, and for them - although she is not aware of the fate of her toddler, Ali, and husband, Saad.

The family is shocked by the rumours of Riham's death or coma that circulate on social media websites, while in her room, the machines monitoring her vitals are the only signs of life.

Ahmed, however, shows more signs of life - although the boy is a long way from the happy child he was before flames engulfed his home.

Stolen childhood

Ahmed spends most of his time asleep due to the medications he receives. Once awake, he speaks and watches children's TV shows. Entrance to his room is strictly for family members only, due to the boy's condition.

"Alloush, Alloush, he would sometimes say in his sleep - calling his younger brother Ali," said Ahmed's aunt, Maryam.

"That toddler who died when a firebomb was thrown on his house will not be able to answer Ahmed."
     Ahmed woke up yelling 'they burned us... put the fire out... let me out'
- Maryam, Ahmed's aunt

Maryam rarely leaves Ahmed's bedside, and told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the boy wakes up asking about his mother and why she hasn't come to visit him yet, as he does not know about her condition.

The five-year-old does know that his father is "now in heaven".

"Ahmed cries all the time but I try to console him," said Maryam. "Last Friday, on the day that his father was martyred as a result of his wounds, Ahmed woke up yelling 'they burned us... put the fire out... let me out'.

"The hardest thing we face is when Ahmed asks about his mother. We try to change the subject and console him in the hope that she will regain consciousness to be with her only son. My biggest fear is about how she'll react when she finds out what happened to her son and husband."

'Rough days'

Riham's mother, Satira, cannot hide her grief and worry.

"We're going through really rough days. We can't do anything but pray, but my heart is burning with worry and fear for my daughter and her son. I'm really scared. I move between the two buildings everyday and pray for them. I can't bear to think of anything worse happening."

     They lived a peaceful life until that terrorist attack burned them
- Hussein Dawabsheh, grandfather 


Riham's father, Hussein, tries to hide his sadness and anguish.

"They were a loving and understanding family," said Hussein.

"Saad worked in construction while Riham worked as a math teacher. They lived a peaceful life until that terrorist attack burned them.

"I heard a loud explosion while I was on the roof of my house. I was really worried when I saw it was near my daughter's house. I frantically drove there. Everyone was trying to help and put out the fire. I'll never forget that scene."

Hussein continued: "Riham knew something had happened because she was awake for a while after arriving at the hospital until the sedative started to work. But she doesn't know the details of what happened to her family. She's been heavily sedated and unconscious ever since, and the doctors what to keep her like that due to the severity of her burns."

Like the rest of the family, Hussein is worried about his daughter's reaction when she discovers that her 18-month-old baby and husband have been killed.

According to the doctors, Riham is in a stable condition, but the family is still worried and continues to pray.

Sobbing visitors

Many people have come to visit the Dawabsheh family in hospital to offer their condolences and support them through their tragedy.

"This is not just a tragedy for the Dawabsheh family but a tragedy for all of us," said Najeh Marouf, one of the family's many visitors.

An Israeli visitor walked to Hussein Dawabsheh and told him that he recognised him after seeing him on the TV.

"May god take revenge," said the Israeli visitor. "When I saw the pictures of the burned toddler I cried. Those who did this don't deserve to live. God does not allow this. He doesn't tell us to kill and burn people."

Hussein has been overwhelmed by the support the family has been offered.

"Many people have come from various places to check on the family and console us," he said. "They are all really affected by what has happened."

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