Hundreds of Jaffa residents and peace activists gathered on Wednesday to celebrate Maria Amman's seventh birthday. Maria became known when her house in the Gaza Strip was hit by an IDF projectile in May 2006. In that attack Maria lost her mother, two of her brothers, her aunt and her grandmother, and Maria herself was severely injured in the attack and is almost completely paralyzed.
The Arab Jaffa committee, along with Maria's caretakers, among them Dalia Beker, a peace activist from Jerusalem, managed to bring a bit of joy to the little girl. Balloons decorated the garden located in Jaffa's Ajami neighborhood and a band playing darbukas, a traditional small cup-shaped drum, accompanied Maria's entrance to the garden. As she entered, dozens of children from Jaffa, along with peace activists, surrounded her, showering her with gifts and bringing a smile to her face.
"I am very happy and I thank all those who came here for me. I want to thank you all for coming to my birthday," Maria said.
Maria's birthday party (Photo: Ofer Amram)
Maria's father, Mahadi, while holding his son Meuman, told Ynet that he was surprised by the initiative: "I wasn't expecting this. I'm more excited than Maria. I couldn't throw her or the other children a birthday in Gaza because of the situation. And here we are, celebrating her birthday, and at least in her condition she can celebrate it with her brother".
Maria's family and their continued stay in Israel is under review in Israel's High Court of Justice, as the State is looking for a way to relieve itself of any responsibility for the girl, thus paving the way for her return to Gaza. Friends of the family have said that returning Maria to Gaza would amount to a death sentence.
They explained that due to her paralysis, her movement is possible due to a special wheelchair, and Gaza's medical system can't support her special needs. Until their immigration problems are resolved the family will continue to stay at ALYN Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Center in Jerusalem.
Next week Maria is starting second grade at the bilingual school "Hand in Hand" in Jerusalem. The ministry of defense, which has provided for most of her needs, provides Maria with two aid workers; one medical and one educational. Singer Amal Murkus, who has become a family friend over the last few years, sang at the event.
Murkus told Ynet that in the last two years she has tried to "give Maria a mother's attention, not just my songs, in a humble attempt to fill a tiny bit of the void left in her life. I came today to utter Maria's voice. The voice of Palestinian children, who are victimized by the war. The State should allow Maria and her family to stay, in order for her to receive the best treatment possible; that would be the least the State can do in order to make up for what has happened to this child".
'I thank all those who came here for me' (Photo: Ofer Amram)
Murkus said that Maria has a strong character: "She trusts herself, she is very strong and loves life, and if she wasn't like that, it's hard to believe that she would have survived all that she has gone through."
Omar Siksik, chairman of The Arab Jaffa Committee that organized the party, said he is glad that Jaffa residents bestowed happiness upon the child, w"ho symbolizes the suffering endured by many Palestinian children, victimized by the fighting."
"We will do all we can so that Maria could continue receiving treatment, and those responsible for her condition should continue to provide her with a chance to survive," he said.
As Murkus started singing Maria's favorite song, the girl began to open up, and as the birthday cake was brought out, the children surrounded Maria once more. Many in the crowd shed a tear.
Knesset member Dov Khenin (Hadash), who has been accompanying Maria since she arrived in Jerusalem, said, "She is a charming child, optimistic and strong, who became an unnecessary victim of the conflict.
"Every time I see Maria I try not to cry, because every time you look at her, you see the fate of the children and the two peoples in this country. But you also see a beacon of hope with the all of the people who volunteered for Maria," he said.
Beker, the family's sponsor, said she hoped Maria will celebrate her next birthday with her family in a home provided by the State. "I addition to Maria's condition it's insane to think of her five-year-old brother who is growing up in a hospital instead of living in normal conditions with his father and sister. After all that the family has gone through lets hope that it all works out after the court decision," she said.