Amina Hassouna still in life-threatening condition after surgery

‘We have no shelter,’ says Bedouin dad of girl, 7, badly hurt by shrapnel in Iran attack

In Negev Desert, unrecognized Bedouin villages suffer dire lack of protection against rocket attacks, from the Gaza Strip and elsewhere

Signs of shrapnel damage seen at the home of Mohamed Hassouna in the Negev desert, showing where his 7-year-old daughter Amina was seriously injured during the unprecedented Iranian missile attack on Israel, April 15, 2024. (Benoit Ducrocq/AFPTV/AFP)

In his spartan home in the Negev desert, Mohamed Hassouna pointed to the spot where his 7-year-old daughter Amina was seriously wounded by a fragment of a missile during Iran’s attack on Israel very early Sunday morning.

The girl was injured when shrapnel from an intercepted ballistic missile fell directly on her family’s home in an unrecognized Bedouin village in the southern Negev region. She underwent surgery for a head wound and is still in life-threatening condition as of Sunday, according to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.

Iran launched more than 300 drones, rockets and missiles at Israel overnight-Saturday-Sunday in its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory.

The barrage came in response to a strike in Damascus on April 1, blamed on Israel, that killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members including two generals.

Eight other people with minor injuries were brought into Soroka, some of whom, like Amina Hassouna, had been hit by shrapnel. The hospital did not provide further details but confirmed that some of the eight were hurt in the same incident in which the girl was severely injured.

The 49-year-old Hassouna lives with his daughter and 13 other children in Al-Fura, an unrecognized Bedouin village south of Beersheba.

Mohamad Hassouna points to a hole in the roof of a building caused by a projectile that injured his 7-year-old daughter Amina at their Bedouin village, not recognized by Israeli authorities, in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Like most other unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev, Al-Fura lacks rocket shelters, leaving residents unprotected in the face of Hamas rockets and in this case, shrapnel from Iranian ballistic missiles.

“We have no shelter,” he lamented, criticizing Israeli authorities for leaving him and his family at the mercy of rockets and missiles.

On top of their lack of shelters, unrecognized Bedouin villages are not protected by the Iron Dome system, which only intercepts rockets directed at urban areas registered on maps but is not activated when the launch is aimed at “open areas.”

Hassouna was preparing to go back to the hospital to visit his daughter and pray for her recovery. He showed AFP the impact of the missile part that perforated the tin roof of his home.

He was reluctant to speak to representatives of the media who, he said, “come to film us but do not help us build shelters.”

A boy rides a donkey near one of the batteries of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system at a village not recognized by Israeli authorities in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Israeli authorities regularly demolish illegal homes and other structures in the villages. Sitting on a plastic chair outside his makeshift home, Hassouna held up a demolition order he had received two weeks previously.

In the aftermath of Hamas’s October 7 attack, a handful of nonprofits and local organizations came together to build rocket shelters in unrecognized Bedouin villages.

IsraAID and Ajeec, an Arab-Jewish shared society organization in the Negev, have built over 100 rocket shelters for unrecognized Bedouin villages in the past half-year.

Ajeec caveats that the shelters it has managed to erect since October 7 are just a “drop in the ocean,” and estimates that around 10,000 are needed to guarantee protection for all Bedouin residents in the Negev.

“We also intend to place shelters in the unrecognized village of Al-Fura, where the 7-year-old girl was hit by missile fragments during the missile attack from Iran on April 13,” Ajeec CEO Ilan Amit told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Bedouin volunteers paint a concrete rocket shelter installed the day before in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Khiran, southern Israel, on December 7, 2023 (Gianluca Pacchiani / Times of Israel)

Residents of unrecognized villages also live without access to the national water and electricity grids, and state authorities do not pave access roads, do not provide garbage disposal and do not build schools and clinics inside these settlements.

Hassouna, who said he works in a solar panel factory, does not have electricity at his home.

Before Israel’s creation in 1948, the Negev desert was home to approximately 92,000 Bedouins. But only 11,000 remained within Israel’s borders after the 1948 War of Independence, according to Adalah, an advocacy group for Israel’s Arab minority.

Authorities have sought to relocate its Bedouin citizens to seven recognized towns in an attempt to urbanize them. But many Bedouins insist on their right to remain where they are, and around 120,000 – out of an overall Bedouin population in the Negev of 300,000 – live in dozens of unrecognized villages scattered across the desert region.

A report last month by the Knesset’s research center denounced what it called a “lack of protection” for those living in unrecognized villages, adding that seven Bedouin residents were killed by missiles fired from the Gaza Strip during Hamas’s October 7 attack.

“The state does nothing for us,” said another man in Al-Fura, who asked not to be named.

Outside the Soroka Hospital, where Amina lies critically injured, the president of the regional Bedouin council did not hide his anger.

“We demand all of our rights,” Jabbar Abu-Kaf told AFP. “We must have protection for our villages — we must act together with the government to make sure there are no further victims.”

“It’s always the Bedouins who suffer, whether the shooting comes from the east or the west,” he said. “We are the victims, and nobody takes us into account.”

Gianluca Pacchiani and Renee Ghert-Zand contributed to this report.

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