GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Yasmin Koljah burst into tears as she talked about the death of her son Zaki, 10. “He said he was going on a trip to a resort with his friends from Fathul Mubin mosque near our house. He said the trip was supervised by reliable young people and that he had arranged everything with his father,” Koljah told Al-Monitor.
She said, “I learned on Aug. 20 that a child from al-Zaytoun neighborhood, where we live, fell off a water ride and died in the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. But it did not occur to me that it was my own son because he had told me he was going to Al-Nour resort in the central Gaza Strip, until someone called my husband and told him that Zaki, our eldest of four sons, was the one who died in the Asda City’s amusement park.”
Koljah could not continue to speak. Her husband Raed Koljah said, “As soon as I heard the news, I went to Asda City. The park’s administration had taken him to the European [Gaza] Hospital where he died. I learned from my son's friends that he was at the top of a ladder that leads to a water ride at 3:45 p.m. As he tried to slide, he fell to the ground and his head cracked open. A part of his brain fell to the ground."
Koljah said he was going to raise the issue with Asda City because their water rides lack safety measures and the ground has no rubber mats for protection, not even for the water rides. The father blamed the park’s administration for the death of his son.
According to a worker at the park who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being penalized by the park's management, immediately after the incident, a number of children left Asda City and the number of visitors significantly decreased.
On the morning of Aug. 19, one day before Zaki's death, Izz al-Din Abu Nehme, 8, had drowned in the sea of the northern Gaza Strip during a leisure trip of a Quranic class organized by the Abu Huraira mosque in al-Tuffah neighborhood in Gaza City. Izz al-Din was taken to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
The child's mother, Sana Abu Nehme, told Al-Monitor, “My son went the morning of Aug. 19 on a trip with Abu Huraira mosque. It was his birthday and he died. I had prepared rice pudding for him and told him I would bake a special cake for him on Friday.”
At first, she did not know how her son died. His older brothers refused to share the news and told their mother that he had been injured during the trip. They only broke the news about his death minutes before she saw him lying in a white coffin.
“Izz al-Din was close to my heart. He was a committed young boy who lived by the Quran, may his soul rest in peace. I am sure he is in a better place now,” his mother said, as she denied reports that claimed the family called for an investigation into the child’s death. "It’s fate," she said.
Abu Nehme called on mosques and amusement parks to take safety measures for the children, because she does not want other mothers to suffer the way she is. Since the death of Izz al-Din, she has not allowed her other young sons to go on similar trips.
For his part, Mohammed Hamid, executive director of the Asda City amusement park, told Al-Monitor that the park’s administration paid for the fees of the European Hospital to which Zaki was taken, and that the park's management contacted the police to be present at the scene after Zaki's death.
“I was not sure whether the child had gotten sick or one of his peers pushed him down the ladder, so we took the necessary legal procedures in order for visitors to find out what had happened. Negative publicity that accompanies incidents affects the number of visitors,” he said.
He added that there are only five supervisors in the water park and swimming pool that can accommodate 500 children, but he denied reports that many visitors who were at the park left immediately after the incident.
In the third week of August, the Civil Defense’s maritime rescue teams in the Gaza Strip rescued 90 citizens who were on the verge of drowning in the sea. No accurate statistics are available as to the number of victims who have drowned in Gaza's private pools and water parks.
Wael al-Lulu, security and safety director in the Civil Defense, said that his administration took over the safety and security file in the water park after the death of Zaki.
“The committee formed by the Civil Defense and tasked with determining the necessary safety measures for water parks, amusement parks and pools held its first meeting on Aug. 12, and so far we only have a scientific study on the safety requirements,” Lulu said.
The lack of water park safety measures is killing children. While their bodies have disappeared, their souls remain vibrant in the hearts of their parents. Amid the lack of clear safety requirements in resorts and water parks and given that the Civil Defense — which is usually tasked with saving people who are drowning, are threatened by fire or are buried under rubble — has been only recently involved, concerns over new victims prevail.