Posted by: Lister | January 30, 2008

Maher al Aseli

Maher was paralysed in a traffic accident. He needs a machine to help him breathe.

A fight for Life in a Power Struggle, by Donald Macintyre:

It’s 8pm on Monday evening and the Aseli family is in full emergency mode. The power has just gone down in their apartment – for the second time that day – blacking out the lights and the electric heater.

Abed al Aseli, father of the household, rises to light a lamp powered by cooking gas while one of his sons moves in a swift, practised way towards the bed of Maher, 12, in what is literally a life-or-death mission. Maher, paralysed from the neck down for the past six and a half years, normally relies on an electric respirator to breathe. When there is no power, the only alternative, however long the outage lasts, is to maintain his breathing manually with an Ambo hand pump.

Which is why, since last week’s cut in fuel supplies to Gaza’s power station, Mr al Aseli has recruited his five teenage nephews and nieces to help him, his wife, Alia, and their four other sons and two daughters, aged between eight and 21, working in rotation throughout the night, if necessary, with the nerve-racking, exhausting, task of keeping Maher alive.

[…] The reason Maher’s case is under discussion now is that it was jointly cited last Sunday in the Israeli Supreme Court – complete with an affidavit from Mr al Aseli – by two Israeli human-rights organisations: Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights.

[…] With the loving and vigilant family he has, Maher is not going to die. His uncle Mahmoud, a doctor, says that even with only 75 per cent of his respiratory muscles totally dysfunctional, Maher could probably manage – in extremis and with difficulty – to breathe alone for about an hour.

And there is some help from a generator belonging to a nearby health centre, though that only normally operates between 8am and 8pm (apart from interruptions when it breaks down or runs out of diesel) between Sunday and Thursday, shutting down at weekends.

[…] Last night, the local health centre generator shut down at 7pm and the family was back to hand-pumping in an increasingly chilly and darkened apartment an hour earlier than usual.

When you put it to Mr al Aseli that this is the price Gaza’s residents are paying for daily barrages of Qassams, which target Israeli civilians and are certainly a violation of international humanitarian law, he becomes animated for the first and last time. “Are all the people in Gaza firing Qassams? Perhaps there are 100 or 200 people firing Qassams. And there are one and a half million people in Gaza. We are not all launching Qassams. Is Maher launching Qassams?”

This goes, of course, to the heart of the argument between Israel and the humanitarian agencies over the cuts in fuel – both to the power station and for use in generators – Israel has imposed since declaring Gaza a “hostile entity” in the autumn. Almost every detail is disputed between the sides. But it is agreed that, after the total ban on fuel and other humanitarian supplies which ended with the closure of Gaza’s power station at the beginning of last week, Israel has committed itself to resupplying the power station with about 2.2 million litres of industrial diesel a a week.

Gisha says the power station needs more like 3.5m litres to work to capacity of 80 mega watts as opposed to the current 55. And that Gaza therefore has a 20 per cent power deficit, leaving large parts of Gaza city without power for hours at night. With Israel supplying around 120 mw of Gaza’s power, Gisha’s hope is that rotating cuts will now be limited to 4-8 hours.

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