Dubai: Like any other young man in besieged Gaza, 15-year-old Khalil Al Jadili tried to live as normal a life as possible in the Al Braij refugee camp. He lived with his family of eight, went to school and played with his friends — just like any other teenager.
On January 16, 2009, Al Jadili's life changed forever when an Israeli raid wrecked his home and many young lives around him.
"I was at home with my mom, five brothers and sister when we heard a bang outside. My father told me to take my mother and siblings and go to my grandmother's house because it was becoming clear the situation was not stable," Al Jadili , said, recalling the events of the fateful day.
"Just five minutes after we arrived home, we heard a very loud noise. Our house had been hit. I did not see anything except a flash of light and could smell the smoke and hear people screaming around me. Ambulances take a very long time to arrive, so my uncle and our neighbours took us in a car to a hospital in Deir Al Balah. On the way, I realised both my legs had been cut off.
"When we arrived at the hospital, my two brothers and I were taken to the operation room, but one of us did not make it. My brother Muhannad, eight, died that night, but my other brother and I survived.
However, I woke up that night after surgery to find out both my legs had been cut off at knee level. My brother Abdul Hadi, then 14, had lost an eye and had a broken jaw."
The young man, now 17, said he did not panic. He even offered the Fajr (morning) prayer from his hospital bed. Al Jadili was taken to Egypt for treatment, and was later fitted with his first prosthetics in Slovenia. However, the big breakthrough came when he was brought to Dubai through the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF) to receive new prosthetic limbs sponsored by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation.
To help Al Jadili, volunteers from the PCRF took him diving, which marked a new chapter in the young man's life.
Dip in the pool
Assisted by the volunteers, Al Jadili donned his scuba diving gear and took a dip in the training pool. When he emerged 40 minutes later, it was clear he was hooked. He even went for his first dive in the sea that same day. "I felt a sense of freedom that I've never experienced before. It was amazing to see the marine world," said Al Jadili, who has gone diving in Fujairah and Oman, among other places.
After receiving his ‘Discover Scuba Certificate', Al Jadili decided to go for a full PADI open-water scuba dive licence, which made him the first Palestinian double amputee to receive the licence.
"If you have the ambition and will to learn and overcome difficulties, then nothing is impossible," Al Jadili said.
Al Jadili took his first steps on his new prosthetic legs on Monday, and is hoping to return to Gaza for his grade 11 exams later this month. He has big dreams for the future.
"I want to study medicine to become a doctor and help people," Al Jadili said.
However, his ambition does not end here. "I'm also going to open a diving school in Gaza because not everyone can get the chance that I got here. I want the people of Gaza to learn how to dive and explore the sea, which is the least I can do for them. I used to hate the sea in Gaza because we couldn't swim on the beaches. They were destroyed by the occupation shelling and explosions."
Al Jadili has a message for young people.
"Always look forwards to the future, not to the past. You need to think right and have a strong will to conquer all difficulties. With a positive attitude, the right spirit, determination, and community support, the sky, or in my case, the deep sea is the limit."
Steve Sosebee, founder and CEO of PCRF, explained how he got involved in helping the children of Palestine.
"I was raised in a free society where we didn't need to struggle for our basic rights like freedom and justice, and in Palestine they have to struggle for these basic necessities. It's our responsibility as a humanitarian organisation to help any kid receive medical treatment that they can't find in Palestine. Al Jadili is one of many kids who needed help. We have a very active and excellent group of volunteers here in the UAE and I visit to coordinate activities. We have another group of children coming soon to the UAE," he said.