When we began our first level medic course here in Khan Younis Red Crescent after the Israeli attacks, we found a lot of black humour in the training slides, developed in America, which their authors were probably unaware of. The smiling medic pairs, wheeling Aryan children – sitting up and looking unaccountably cheerful – into shiny ambulances, seemed like some sort of sick joke.
One of the slides illustrating “be aware of danger at the scene” showed two police cautiously approaching a bloke who looked perhaps mildly irritated (the same way I feel when approached by the police actually). A second “danger at the scene” picture showed a woman paramedic entering a pub to find a man lying on the floor, and the other patrons watching with vague interest from their bar stools. We volunteered captions:
“You don’t want to do it like that, love”, I offered.
“He’s bin there a week now…” drawled EJ.
No detached limbs in these pictures, no “second strike” rockets falling on these medics and their patients, no snipers aiming at them. They seemed more in danger of boredom than anything else.
By contrast, we latched on immediately to Khan Younis’s single copy of “Save Limbs, Save Lives”, by Dr Mads Gilbert – who spent January working tirelessly here in Gaza – and colleagues. This was developed to teach and support village medics in countries where leftover mines explode daily. (Incidentally, I have read that globally, mines are being laid down faster than mine clearance organisations are removing them. Once again, giving money to charities is useless if we don’t address the problem politically.)
Actually on one of the first pages of the book they point out how meaningless pictures of pink smiling blood-free patients are to most people in most countries, and proceed to use illustrations of visibly poor, Asian, injured folks and medics, with accurately torn and missing limbs. Considering how grim its topic, this is a warm and inspiring book, taking emergency care out of the hands of distant experts and putting it into the hands of the injured person’s comrades and neighbours, emphasising respect and psychological support for all, and alerting people to be aware of possible hidden agendas of aid arrangements coming from outside.
We have very much enjoyed our course and our teachers, who have found time for us in amongst their long hours and low pay (if any, many medics are volunteers) and Red Crescent job cuts (it hardly seems the time, does it.) Two out of three of our teachers have been in Israeli prison, but then what Palestinian man hasn’t. One told us of coming back via Egypt, having gone outside with his wife to get medical treatment for his small son who has cerebral palsy, and being arrested as he entered Gaza, back when the border was more directly controlled by Israel and not ostensibly by Egypt.
He then spent 3 years in prison, a lot of it sharing a small room with ten people; their sentences 25 years, 99 years. While he was in there, his father died, and his fourth child was born.
“What were you in prison for?” I asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” he said. “I think it was because we picked up a dead fighter in the ambulance, and I locked his gun temporarily in my office because the only other option was to leave it lying where we found him, which would have been irresponsible. Somehow they turned that into the accusation that I was selling weapons.”
Another teacher, when he was a teenager, was doing very well in high school and planned to study medicine in Turkey, but then was picked up for throwing stones at soldiers (in David-and-Goliath tradition, except for stones thrown by lads other than David usually being completely ineffective, since soldiers wear body armour). He was imprisoned as punishment, and banned from leaving Gaza. So he never did become a doctor.
I went to visit the Jordanian Field Hospital yesterday, in my quest to find some help for two children C met during the war, who need kidney transplants. Everything was set up for them to travel to France, back in January, but Egypt wouldn’t let them out. Kidney transplants can’t be done in Gaza, and infuriatingly, neither can tissue typing, from what I’ve found out so far. That’s how you find out who your donors can be. Even if we get permission for the kids and their donors to go out for surgery, how do they know who to take with them to be the donors, without knowing who is medically compatible? Anyway, further communication with the Jordanian folks might allow us to make some progress.
And we did track down some rented crutches for L in Faraheen. Here are some photos from lentil picking there on April 7, which involved a medium amount of being shot at only; which is always nice.