The Amen family’s joyful trip in a new car came to a devastating end last month when an Israeli missile aimed at a Palestinian militant hit their Mitsubishi by mistake.
Three generations — a grandmother, mother and son — were killed, and a 4-year-old daughter and uncle were paralyzed.
Dozens of Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes aimed at militants in six years of fighting. But the Amens were the first civilian casualties since Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, a political dove, took office in May.
Almost unheard-of gesture
Peretz hasn’t halted Israel's policy of hunting down militants. But he ordered an investigation into the Amens’ killing and on Wednesday agreed to pay their medical bills, gestures almost unheard of under his predecessor.
The family’s ordeal began the day after Nahad Mahani bought a car.
He was eager to show it off, and eight people squeezed into his Mitsubishi on May 20. Mahani’s nephew Hamdi Amen, 28, sat in the back seat with his wife, Naima, 27, and his mother. Four-year-old Maria danced to the radio between the two front seats. Her brothers, 2 and 6, were along for the ride, with another of Amen’s uncles.
Suddenly, a boom shook the car. At first, Hamdi Amen thought it was a flat tire. Then he saw the blood.
“I got out of the car. There was no one in the streets. It was me, the car, and my family,” Amen said, recalling his desperate screams for help.
Another car blew up down the street, and Amen realized it was an Israeli missile strike. The second explosion killed Mohammed Dadouh, the top military commander of the militant group Islamic Jihad.
Gathering his courage, Amen ran to get his family out of the car.
Only Amen, his toddler son and his other uncle were not seriously wounded.
The girl can speak a little but never will be able to breathe independently, said Anat Dolev, spokeswoman at Tel Aviv’s Tel Hashomer Hospital.
With the exception of another uncle, the family has been barred from visiting the Israeli hospitals where the relatives are being treated.
Hamdi Amen can give only long-distance comfort, with the uncle holding a phone to her ear.
“She hears me, and my uncle swears she recognizes me,” Amen said. “But I have never heard her voice. Every minute is like a year.”
Now that the Defense Ministry has agreed to pay the costs, Maria will be moved to a rehabilitation center in Jerusalem, Dolev said.
The Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement that a committee decided to pay the medical expenses as “special humanitarian treatment.”
Mahani, paralyzed by a spinal injury, is on a respirator and sedated, his life still in danger, said Zvi Lidar, a doctor at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.
‘The least they can do’
Amen, who in traditional Palestinian fashion is responsible for the well-being of his 18-member extended family, talked to an Associated Press reporter in the house he began building shortly before the airstrike.
Looking at unfinished concrete walls covered with pictures of his dead family members, Amen said that he took a $9,900 loan shortly before the killings to build a new house for his wife and three children.
Since then, Amen, a member of the Palestinian security forces, has taken out several more loans because the Hamas-led government, facing debilitating international sanctions, has been unable to pay his salary for almost four months.
Like most of the 165,000 government employees in the Palestinian territories, Amen can barely feed his family, let alone pay the $5,600 Israeli hospital bill he received in recent days. The Defense Ministry’s decision to pay the costs came as a relief.
“This is the least they can do,” he said.