In my last post, I told you about the photo exhibition in the middle building (which I tend to call the Social Centre, possibly because someone told me it was called that) of the Al Quds Red Crescent hospital complex. And last week you heard about the concert held in the ruins of the third building (which for the sake of argument we will call the Cultural Centre) which held the theatre and a children’s space and is so badly damaged it must be demolished. Now, also as part of the World Health Day commemorations, three artists are displaying their work in this same theatre building, art that is a response to the Israeli attacks on hospitals and medical workers.
These buildings continue to come up with surprises for me. I got to know the main hospital building, and the basement of the Social Centre which in fact includes the hospital’s emergency and obstetrics department, very well during the attacks. A little pedestrian bridge between the first and second buildings saves you going down the front steps of the first and up the front steps of the second, and we would cross this to smoke shisha in the smashed up ground floor of the Social Centre during the war (as we weren’t supposed to smoke in the hospital).
As the Israeli army line came closer and closer, and more often than not, the Red Cross failed to obtain what is colloquially called tanzeeq, or “co-ordination”, with Israel to collect the wounded civilians beyond the line of tanks, one of the Disaster team joked that soon we’d have to call Israel to beg for co-ordination (blatantly “permission” not “co-ordination”) to cross this little pedestrian bridge for our shisha smoking.
I met with a couple of young women friends today, and we talked a little about that time. Medical student D spent many of the war days answering the Red Crescent phones, trying to tell parents and children how to stop their injured family members bleeding to death, since instead of “co-ordination”, Israel also gave bullets to emergency services.
She told me about getting trapped in the nearby apartment her family had evacuated to, hiding in the apartment basement with many other families, staying awake through the worst night with her brother. “As the building rocked, we found ourselves listening to James Blunt’s Carry you home: with the lyrics …as strong as you were, tender you go… I’m watching you breathing for the last time…I told him to turn it off, that was really not what I wanted to hear right then!”
Nurse R told me a story I hadn’t heard, about her pregnant fellow hospital worker, who became so frightened when the hospital was being bombed that she decided the best thing to do was to go down to the hospital emergency/obstetrics department at basement level and not leave it. However shortly after she got there, the Israeli army’s bullets started coming through the basement window. (And some time after that, I filmed a short clip of the phosphorous fire reaching that department too.)
It was to R to whom we gave Yasmine Al Batran, in a state of terror having seen her 9 year old sister Haneen, and her father Faddel shot by snipers, as the Israeli army shelled peoples’ homes and fired upon them as they fled. It was R who listened to Faddel saying – “It is all my fault, I thought the hospital would be safer than our house, I tried to bring them here”, as he resisted treatment for his thigh wound, begging them only to save Haneen….who was dead of her abdomen and face wounds within hours.
I didn’t realise the top floor of the Social Centre had a gym in it, until last week when E and I began meeting our Tai Kwon Do teacher there for our class, now that it has been vacated by the temporary clinic run by Moroccan doctors that arrived to assist with the war injured. I arrived before E, and found myself texting her to “climb the stairs and turn left at the peacock.” On the way up the stairs I was surprised to pass a small Natural History Museum, as well as the little cinema in which we watched yesterday’s short films, and the gallery which housed the photo display, finally being greeted by a stuffed peacock on the gym level, perhaps a little lost from the museum. There seem to be all sorts of other things in that building, including the Red Crescent youth volunteers’ office.
Just before reaching the gym, I found myself under the open sky, surrounded by the burnt walls and cracked floor which are all that remains of the children’s play space, destroyed when the roof was bombed with phosphorous.
You know, what you have heard from me about these days is so little. For every story I have given you, there are a thousand others. I just spoke to C, and she mentioned a Beit Hanoun family – Abu Harbid lost both legs going out to reach his dying oldest son, as an Israeli drone fired rockets at people in street, killing and injuring many. He was a taxi driver so obviously now has no job; but does have 11 children, the oldest who is 17 has near-genius level intelligence but must give up school as he now has the best chance to earn a wage to feed them all… And there are all the things I don’t tell you. I don’t identify which of the injured young men I have told you about has no reproductive organs anymore. I don’t tell you which father cries secretly because he cannot provide for his children.