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A visit with Dalia Khalifa, ‘the one who does not cry easily,’ four years after she was wounded

Israel/Palestine
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Four years ago Dalia Khalifa became the face of the Israeli attack on Gaza when Mohammed Asad took a photograph of the 9-year-old’s heavily-wounded face and the image was shared around the world. I went to her home last week to see how she is doing.

“There are three wounds still, that did not disappear despite the four years passed,” Dalia said. She was wounded by shrapnel from an Israeli artillery shell on August 1, 2014 during the seven-week war on Gaza.

Dalia, 13, greeted me downstairs with a red headband on her semi-wet hair and wearing the Eid al-Fitr (Islamic festival) suit, which ended in mid-June. And she insisted on using her mother’s lipstick, found on her mother’s dressing table.

Dalia Khalifa prepares for visitors, with her mother’s lipstick. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

“This way I would be more beautiful and forget the pain of hundreds of nightmares that my face would not be as soft as it was before the war,” she said.

Dalia was not aware that her face became one of the famous portraits in that war. She was surprised that her image was printed on the cover of Gaza Unsilenced, an anthology co-edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad. “Did they really write about me in these pages, uncle?” she asked.

Dalia became a symbol of that war because in the course of fifty-one dark days, nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed, about a quarter of them children, many of whom were deliberately targeted. One hundred and forty-two families lost three or more members. About 11,000 Gaza Palestinians were injured, maimed, or permanently disfigured.

Remains of the 2014 shelling in Dalia Khalifa’s house. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

During my visit to her family’s multi-story house in the Zaytoun district, east of Gaza city, everything seemed quiet– except for the roars of electric generators and the buzzing of Israeli drones, which rarely leave the coastal enclave’s sky.

I wondered if Dalia still imagines the war’s details during her everyday life.

Dalia Khalifa in her room. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

“Even the sounds of these buzzers [drones] makes me grope my cheeks or even take them between my hands,” Dalia said. Just as a tank shell missed its supposed target when it hit her house that day four years ago, she said, “The rocket from this buzzer can do so– who knows?”

Aisha, 39, Dalia’s mother, recalled when her daughter was in Shifa Hospital.

“The blood covered every inch of Dalia’s body. She was unable to open her eyes, and in those difficult moments her younger sister Remas [then 8] clung to Dalia and screamed ‘I love you’. Dalia was unaware of her surroundings, until she gradually began to recover.”

Dalia is a very quiet girl who says she wants to grow up “to be a bride and then later to be a makeup artist” in her own salon. “At least after these three wounds disappear,” she said.

Photo taken of Dalia Khalifa a year after her injuries, by Mohammed Asad.

Aisha seeks to save money to pay for laser surgery to remove the remaining scars.

“I am not sure if her father and I are able to cover the cost of the surgery,” she said. Rebuilding the house drained a lot of money. “And we are seeking to wed our two sons.”

Yet Dali’s mother is encouraged about prospects for her daughter’s “100 percent recovery.” She sent Dalia to a beauty salon hours before her uncle’s wedding on June 30.

“I had to do so, so that she can feel not less beautiful than the other girls at that party. Today I hope she can overcome bed-wetting that has plagued her since she was injured,” Aisha said. “Dalia is interested in all their home’s decor details, even though it has little furniture. She hates the chaos and always volunteers to help me. She is my kingdom.. she is my queen.”

Before I left the Khalifas’ house, Dalia asked me if this interview would be published in Hebrew. I replied: “No, it will be in English.”

But why do you ask that question?

“I thought the Israeli soldiers might read it and feel shame for these facial wounds,” Dalia said. “But I do not think they are good in reading English, they are only good at shooting.”

Subject and photographer are reunited four years after her picture went round the world. Dalia Khalifa and Mohammed Asad. Photo by Ahmad Kabariti

As for the famous photograph, Mohammed Asad, a photojournalist, happened to be in Shifa hospital documenting civilian casualties of Israel’s military offensive when Dalia was brought in.

Image of Sharbat Gula on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, when the Afghan was a 12-year-old refugee.

“When I saw her, the image of the Afghan girl Sharbat Gula came to my mind,” Asad said, in a reference to the famous photo by Steve McCurry published in the National Geographic.

Asad took a photo of Dalia on 9 August 2014, noting that despite the shrapnel wounds to her face, she did not cry. Asad says that he had to think deeply for a whole month to put a caption of Dalia’s portrait, believing that such a good picture should also have a strong title.

The name he gave to the photo was “Assiyat al-Damea,” which translates to “the one who does not cry easily”. The English name given to the photo was “unbreakable”.

Mohammed Asad awarded.

The photo became the Grand Jury Winner in a photography competition organised by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Middle East and North Africa (OCHA).

Asad, who lost his home after it was flattened in the same war, was awarded a GoPro camera. He fixed it over his helmet to document further abuses against Palestinian civilians. “There are thousands of tragic stories made by Israeli soldiers and must be brought to the public.”

Mohammed Asad, in Gaza.

“I think the strategy of the Israeli army depends on teaching hard lessons to every Palestinian who thinks of resisting them, by intentionally causing amputations and leaving frightened, disabled people,” Asad told Mondoweiss.

About Ahmad Kabariti

Ahmad Kabariti is a freelance journalist based in Gaza.

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8 Responses

  1. Citizen
    Citizen
    August 7, 2018, 6:29 pm

    “I think the strategy of the Israeli army depends on teaching hard lessons to every Palestinian who thinks of resisting them, by intentionally causing amputations and leaving frightened, disabled people,” Asad told Mondoweiss.

    Bingo!

  2. gamal
    gamal
    August 7, 2018, 8:18 pm

    in the devotional works ash-shifa (al shifa healing) often quote 17:74

    “had We not strengthened you, you might have inclined to them”

    That girl has that divine strength, wow.

  3. Marnie
    Marnie
    August 8, 2018, 12:41 am

    “I thought the Israeli soldiers might read it and feel shame for these facial wounds,” Dalia said. “But I do not think they are good in reading English, they are only good at shooting.”

    She sure knows what she’s talking about. Now that Arabic has been removed from the official languages of ‘israel’ the only official language left is smack.

    I hope I live to see Dalia’s dreams realized.

  4. CigarGod
    CigarGod
    August 8, 2018, 9:13 am

    “Fifty-one dark days…”
    And Saint Obama didn’t lift a finger…

  5. Misterioso
    Misterioso
    August 8, 2018, 11:22 am

    A note to all of you Zionist creeps out there:

    When I look at the photo of Dalia Khalifa and read what happened to her at the hands of cowardly armed to the teeth Jewish Zionist occupiers, I am more determined to fight here and on other forums on behalf of her and her people. Zionism is doomed. As an accelerating purveyor of pure evil, it has no legitimacy whatsoever and ever increasing numbers of peoples around the world, including Jews, are realizing it.

    “‘This way I would be more beautiful and forget the pain of hundreds of nightmares that my face would not be as soft as it was before the war,’ she said.”

    Dalia, believe me, you are still truly beautiful beyond words.

  6. Ossinev
    Ossinev
    August 8, 2018, 2:29 pm

    Dalia`s smile despite the nightmare darkness of Zioland and its barbarism is a true “Light unto the Nations”

  7. annie
    annie
    August 8, 2018, 2:40 pm

    Dalia is a very beautiful girl, with or without her scars. she is probably just too young to realize that. the trauma for a young girl over something like this cannot be overstated.

    thank you to Ahmad Kabariti, an excellent article.

  8. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    August 8, 2018, 5:12 pm

    For many Jewish Israelis Gazans are Amalek , the sworn enemy of Bronze Age Jews.

    Wiki

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amalek

    Of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) followed by Orthodox Jews, three refer to the Amalek: to remember what the Amalekites did to the Israelites, not to forget what the Amalekites did to Israelites, and to destroy the Amalekites utterly. The rabbis derived these from Deuteronomy 25:17–18, Exodus 17:14 and 1 Samuel 15:3. Rashi explains the third commandment:

    From man unto woman, from infant unto suckling, from ox unto sheep, so that the name of Amalek not be mentioned even with reference to an animal by saying “This animal belonged to Amalek”.
    As enumerated by Maimonides, the three mitzvot state:

    598 Deut. 25:17 – Remember what Amalek did to the Israelites
    599 Deut. 25:19 – Wipe out the descendants of Amalek
    600 Deut. 25:19 – Not to forget Amalek’s atrocities and ambush on our journey from Egypt in the désert
    Some commentators have discussed the ethics of the commandment to exterminate all the Amalekites, including the command to kill all the women, children, and the notion of collective punishment.[21] »

    Israël failed for a number of reasons, several of which are related to Orthodox Judaism and its place in the world. Orthodox Judaism has an antagonistic relationship with the outside world and a tenuous link to reality. In other parts of the world persecuted minorities do not make very good democrats either. Israel started out as a secular experiment but in recent decades it has been taken over by the Orthodox and ultra Orthodox. The Israeli Army officer corps is increasingly Orthodox as are many settlers. Orthodoxy should not be let near sovereignty.
    Israel’s treatment of Gaza will probably break it
    A lot of the Jewish hope involved in a return to Zion assumed that ceteris was equal to paribus. That the project could fly. But an Orthodox Israel could only fuck up the project.

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