March 3: Back home in Zaytoun

Saja exercises her injured arm - pic from E at

Saja exercises her injured arm

Last night E and I went to visit Amer and Shireen Al Helou, and surviving kids Saja, Foad, and Mahmoud. They are back living in their Zaytoun house, which looks like a home again inside, instead of the disaster area the Israeli soldiers occupying it left behind. Shireen showed us the cupboards full of scrubbed folded clothes, all of which had been left soiled for her to clean. It was a relief to E and me to see everyone there, in their proper place with their belongings back in place around them. Amer’s now-widowed mother is living with them, and his younger sisters too.

But all the mirrors that are carefully back on the wall are cracked, and the ceiling still has holes in, and the clean folded clothes in the smallest cupboard belong to Farah, who will never wear them again. And at the top of the stairs is a new, framed martyr poster, where the faces of baby Farah, her grandfather, and her uncle Mohammed (who died elsewhere, as one of only about 100 resistance fighters killed during the invasion, as compared to more than 1000 civilians) are printed. And her other uncle Abdullah, is in the next room, subdued under many blankets, slowly recovering from the multiple gunshot wounds he sustained in the attack on the family that killed Farah and her grandfather and wounded Saja.

Not that they have a choice, but I cannot comprehend how this family can go about their daily lives feeling at home in a home where such horrible things happened to them. Run outside and play, kids. Where you all hid in terror under the stairs as they shelled your house, and then watched the soldiers shoot your grandfather and leave him to bleed to death.



In the photo albums we look at, after the photos of Foad’s birthday when everyone was still alive and all was well, there is a photo of the shrunken family of five from only weeks ago, looking stunned and disoriented. But the kids have remembered how to smile and laugh since I saw them last. And in a land where all the children are traumatised, they are normal. While the boys climb all over their dad, Saja is practising her handwriting, extraordinarily neat for her age, to strengthen her right arm again as it heals from the bullet. It appears that all will be well and she won’t need further surgery.



Amer and Shireen showed us their wedding album (every Palestinian family’s most treasured possession) and told us about how they were married. Shireen was 16, Amer 20. It was an arranged marriage. They both figured if their parents said the other was the right one for them, then all would be well. “My mum said, you’ll love her, and I said, good, hallas!” says Amer. (hallas is literally “enough” or “stop”, but I guess I’d translate it here has “that’s sorted then.”) They were engaged within a week, and married a month or so later. In their wedding photos they are both devastatingly good looking, and you can see they are both thinking – how lucky am I!

But more to the point, they are so clearly right for each other, so clearly proud of and deeply attached to each other, so quietly glad to be round each other, I am surprised once again to hear it wasn’t a love match. I’ll have to get over this because it keeps happening. Dr Halid (who-is-a-nurse-not-a-doctor-but-I-can’t-give-up-the-habit-of-calling-him-Dr-Halid) and his wife S had an arranged marriage. They have the same dynamic. I guess if you marry young, straight from your life at home, your parents may very well know who you are and who you will do well with. And then you and your partner do your growing and changing with time, as a team.

open to the rain

open to the rain

I dropped in to visit Dr H at Al Quds Hospital the other night on the way to my ambulance shift. He mentioned his family haven’t been one of those who’ve recieved any government or UNWRA payout (small though they might be) towards their damaged house, whose uninhabitable-ness means they are still living with his father. He is not sure why no payout.

He has managed to do some repair work on the house in the free time his 3 jobs leave him. However, it is raining as we speak, and he comments wryly that the rain will be falling inside it. He follows this with the characteristic bemused yet cheerful laugh that I remember well from the Al Quds ICU in the attacks (as if he feels that all you can do with this whole insane situation is laugh at it) and a thank-you to Allah that the family are all alive and uninjured. I met his two beautiful little daughters J and S, and his lovely wife, shortly after the “ceasefire” when I visited them for lunch.

Today as I left the First Responder medic course four of us are doing with the Red Crescent Training Institute in Khan Younis, the ground rocked with an explosion, more felt than heard. Our ISM co-ordinator helpfully texted me minutes later with “Israeli warplanes bombed tunnel in As-Salam neighbourhood of Rafah, no casualties reported.” However we heard originally that there were no injuries from yesterday’s seven airstrikes in the same area, but now Al Jazeera says four people were injured. Ma’an News, which can be entirely accurate or entirely innacurate, says “Palestinian medical sources at Abu Yousif An-Najjar Hospital in Rafah said 12 Palestinians were injured in Tuesday’s shelling.”

We also heard that there were 6 injuries and 1 death down the tunnels sometime in the last days from Egyptian forces spraying teargas down them, something they do regularly. I’ve not been able to confirm this. We heard that the young man who died was 22, putting himself through college and supporting his parents with his tunnel digging wage.

Aside from the weapons smuggling through the tunnels that Israel uses to justify these attacks (I guess the US only does home-delivery for Israel, and Hamas finds it hard to get to London for the Arms Trade Fair) these tunnels bring us food and baby milk and clothes and many of the other things which Israel hasn’t let into Gaza in any amount, any other way, for years. Most of us eat because of these tunnels, those of us who can afford to buy food. The rest of us eat because of the few UNWRA aid trucks Israel lets through. But they don’t eat very much, because of all the rest of the UNWRA aid trucks Israel doesn’t let through. Thousands of trucks have been sitting at the border.

100_0937I was down on the shore again tonight for sunset. Here are the fishermen out as usual, to catch fish or bullets, as fate and Israel would have it.
Faraheen farmers were fired on again yesterday; we weren’t with them.

100_0931By the way, after all the sleepless nights of shelling, the Kabariti girls finished their first semester exams with impressively high marks: 94.4 for Sara, 98.6 for Suzanne, and 99 for Fatma!

100_0932Have a look at my DONATE page; I’ve updated it so you can donate to specific projects if you would like to. If you don’t have money to spare, perhaps you could put a link to my blog and the donate section in the signature of your email for a while. I have another two months in Gaza (I don’t want to leave but I have a midwifery degree to go to, perhaps ready for all those future Palestinian babies) and I would like to personally pass on whatever I can for you in the time I have left.


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3 Responses to March 3: Back home in Zaytoun

  1. special friend says:

    Awww, I love your feet. I just saw your feet on the ‘donate’ page. They are definitely the blogger’s feet, I can confirm (or a very good foot imposter – they may indeed exist).

    take good care of those feet now, despite what any other part of your body may be saying.

    The sea & sand are pretty cool to see too, but not as cool as your feet.

  2. LFB says:

    can anyone explain – even a little – why Egypt is not more supportive? It is a major puzzle never touched on in media reports. Reading about the tear-gas it clearly is more than just ‘neutrality’ or whatever.

    • talestotell says:

      Yeah, it was something I never realised til the last few years. Back when Hamas blew up the Gaza border with Egypt and people moved in and out freely for a few days, even Al Jazeerah news speculated that Egypt, whose citizens are largely supportive of Gazans, might leave the border open. With a day of reading that however, the US threatened to freeze the aid money it gives Egypt. So Egypt put the border back immediately.

      And we all know about the US/Israel relationship. So I guess Egypt does what the US says.

      But they are pretty nasty about it. The Rafah border is some sort of Kafka designed hell. People literally die there.

      I found these articles:

      Open Season on Gaza activists in Egypt

      “As Israel pounds Gaza, Egyptians get angry at their own government” from Jan 1

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