Tonight the ICU holds a boy of 14, a man and woman both 23, and a 30 year old doctor. The doctor was working in a mobile clinic in Surani, Shayjaiee, when one of the initial Saturday 27th air strikes targeted a nearby police station. She won’t recover. Sometimes where I hear stories like this, I think of quite random things, like all those years she studied medicine, all the exams she must have worked so hard for, all that time and effort.
Strangely, in the midst of these people slowly coming to an end, is one more patient, but he is recovering. I don’t like to ask if they thought he wouldn’t and that’s why he’s here. I originally saw him in Al Shifa, when he was unconscious and on one of the precious ventilators. On my first visit here a few days ago he still had a nasal tube inserted, now he is free of it and he can tell me about himself, in the educated English so many Palestinians have.
He is Mehat, aged 44, a teacher at an UNWRA prepatory school in Zaytoun. In the initial December 27 strikes, he heard the strike on the police station nearby while he was out walking to get some fuel. But it was the F16 rocket attack on the Saraya building – the central office for police and security – that got him. He has had abdominal surgery, surgery for multiple fracture of his left thigh and foot, treatment for chest trauma, and he has shrapnel in his right leg. Two metres of his intestines have been removed; currently he is dependent on a colostomy bag, and it is too early to tell if this is permanent or not.
I am sure that a man with such a kind smile is not alone in the world, yet I have seen no visitors. He tells me his children are 9, 12, 15, and 16, plus a little afterthought aged 1 year 3 months. His parents live with the family also, neither are well. He has told his wife no-one should visit him because moving about is too dangerous.
I ask Khalid what happens when people are dependent on machinery and are not going to recover. He says the practice here is that life must be respected and must end of its own accord, even in these days of shortages. “But”, he says, “these patients don’t stay long.” He tells me the 14 year old boy probably has no more than 24 hours left. And when I go in to see Mehat again in the morning, the 23 year old woman’s bed is empty.
I found out from E that F, of our family from Jabalia, has a phone that can receive English texts, so I sent to ask her how they all were now they have moved to stay with family outside of Jabalia. She answered “Hi, we are so glad to hear that u r ok. we r fine and we believe that we’ll return back to our home, so nothing can stop our life to be continued. We love u and wish to see u soon.”
There is a collective strength to these people that dumbfounds me. Medical folks are quite a comic crew; one of them last night was carefully explaining to me that he didn’t have to worry about dying of lung disease, because he was careful not to buy the brand of cigarettes that had the man dying of lung disease on the front.
Later on one of the ambulance crew had thrown us all out of the operations centre and was washing the floor. It was chilly outside, so we were all lurking at the door wanting to come back in, but he was shouting the Arabic equivalent of “Keep your filthy shoes off my nice clean floor!” Finally he installed the widest paramedic to function as a guard; who took up his position outside the door with folded arms, doing an excellent imitation of a nightclub bouncer. I suggested that when the Israelis got here (the tanks are shelling from 2 km away now) we give him the task of keeping them out of the operations room. He assured us he was up to the job.
These people have lost friends and family in the last days, and face the risk of death each day. But Palestinians have a sort of collective unspoken agreement – everyone has to keep going for everyone else. I don’t know what it does to their mental health; but then again I don’t know what choice they have. The other day, our friend H asked E how she was doing; this was after the death of Arafa, the second of her friends to die in these strikes. She allowed him to see how upset she of course was. Later, he came to speak to us, tell us that we too needed to join in this unspoken agreement, almost the more because we came from outside. We should not give our friends here a chance to wonder if, from an outsiders’s viewpoint, the pain they must bear is in fact unbearable. He taught us a new word to say – “ospr” – or “ospri” for a woman – it means – “be patient. be strong.”
Rafah people been told to leave before they are bombed. OJ writes for us:
7th January 2009
(Link to photos expires after 14 days)
Shortly before midnight last night missiles began raining down on Rafah in one of the heaviest Israeli air strikes since the current atrocities began. Continuous sorties pounded the southern Gaza city for over 12 hours. Many homes were destroyed or severely damaged, especially in the neighbourhoods along the border with Egypt.
Residents reported mass leaflet drops in these neighbourhoods by Israeli ‘plane this afternoon. The papers ordered them to leave their homes in the areas stretching from the borderline all the way back to Sea Street, the main street running through the heart of Rafah, parallel to the border. This area is hundreds of metres deep and the site of thousands of homes. Most of these areas are refugee camps, where residents are being made refugees yet again, some for the third or fourth time following the mass home demolitions of 2003 and 2004 by Israeli military D-9 bulldozers.
A three hour respite was announced in the local media and residents saw this as the last possible opportunity to salvage some of their belongings despite F-16 fighter jets remaining in the skies over Rafah during this time. There were scenes of people picking through the rubble, children carrying bundles, donkey carts piled with bedding and trucks loaded with furniture.
Where will these families go? They are afraid to seek sanctuary in local UNRWA schools following yesterday’s massacres in Jabaliya. They are being temporarily absorbed by the rest of Rafah’s population – friends, neighbours, relatives. We have a friend in Yibna, directly on the border, who refuses to leave his home. We spoke to one woman in Al Barazil who has a family of 12 and simply doesn’t know where to go and another woman in Block J who is literally in the street tonight. Her father is in his nineties.
The family home where ISM volunteers are staying is on the other side of the city centre and has become a refuge for three other families tonight. The house is filled with excited chatter and lots of children. Palestinians have a long-learned talent of making-do, but there is no escaping the deep sense of uncertainty.