When time isn’t on your side, it doesn’t matter who is. Abu Ahmed, a man in his 80s, lies semi-conscious on his bed in Gaza’s Shifa hospital.
His heart and other organs are failing; his chances of getting out of hospital alive are slim. By his side are a few doctors discussing possible ways to get around strict criteria needed to get him transferred out of Gaza or, at least, admit him to intensive care.
This is not typical doctor behaviour, especially when resources are scarce, but they have good reason: The man’s son, who has been in the Israeli prisons for 14 years, is to be released in 29 days. Will time be kind enough to be on his side?
Palestinians marked 17 April as Prisoner’s Day, dedicated to those who are or were imprisoned by the Israeli occupation – the Palestinian prisons ministry says that 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested since 1967, many of whom have been jailed for a significant time.
Keeping track of the exact number of Palestinian prisoners is not a task for the weak. Standing now at around 6,500, the figures are ever changing, and regular night raids and arrests are the norm in Palestine.
On Tuesday the Israeli forces grabbed six Palestinians from their houses in the West Bank. Eight were taken the day before, and 17 the night before that. Who is to know how many will be taken today?
Israeli prisons affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. No political deal has been able to stop Israel’s imprisonment policy, not even Oslo, and so far no swap deal has either.
Palestinian prisoners from modern-day Israel represent an especially tormented sector, and one case illustrates this perfectly.
Lina al-Jarbouni, 39, will this week have spent 14 years in prison. She was accused of assisting the Palestinian resistance during the early days of the Second Intifada, a charge for which the sentence is usually less than three years – she got 17.
The release of all women prisoners was part of the swap deal for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. Lina was prepared for her release when, just before zero hour, her jailers said she was excluded due to her Israeli citizenship.
Other Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were released as part of the deal.
Her Israeli citizenship, the cited reason for her staying in prison, also grants her the right of early release on terms of good behaviour. She has been denied that right.
And like most Palestinian prisoners, she has been subjected to interrogation, abuse and medical negligence. Unlike other prisoners, she cannot complain to the IRC or benefit from the Palestinian prisoner societies.
Lina comes from Arraba, a town in occupied Galilee. Arraba, like Lina, has had its share of torment. The town was under Israeli military rule from its occupation in 1948 to 1966.
In 1976, Arraba participated in the marches of 30 March, now commemorated every year as Land Day, and one of the town’s residents was killed in the clashes that ensued.
In 2000, two youths were killed in the clashes with the Israeli police at the beginning of the Second Intifada.
Neither protest could stop the Israeli land expropriation plan, and the 2000 protests were quelled by the police, successfully pushing forward the Israeli policies of division and isolation.
Palestinians, however, refuse to yield to these policies. This week, Palestinian activists launched an online campaign in solidarity with Lina.
Thousands of messages were written in Arabic and English on Twitter to introduce Lina’s story, bringing it back from the oblivion inflicted by the struggles of daily life under occupation.
Thousands of Palestinians live in Israeli prisons, forgotten, awaiting their release. The world may regard them as numbers, but they aren’t.
Behind each and every one of them is a story, a family, a dream expecting to be fulfilled and a homeland waiting to be freed.
I don’t know whether time will be on Abu Ahmed’s side, but I know for sure that it will be on Palestine’s. Abu Ahmed’s frail heart may give out before his son is released, but nations never die – they always outlive their occupiers.
This article was first publish on April 23rd on al-Araby al-Jadeed, here
With Egypt’s Rafah border crossing almost permanently closed, Erez has become the only portal into Gaza for the few vistors that Israel allows in.
A few days ago I was there, to greet an English doctor who was visiting Gaza.
When entering the Palestinian side, he had to get his papers stamped twice – once by the representatives of the Palestinian Authority, and again by the Gaza police.
But, when I held his passport I noticed something peculiar: the Israelis had pasted a sheet of paper on the passport with the exit stamp.
This small piece of paper was a way of denying the Palestinian territory an iota of recognition from Israel.
To them the man was leaving “Israel” and entering a vague entity. They call it the Palestinian “territories”, but if they call it the Palestinian “reservations” then it wouldn’t make much difference.
Every year in May, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba and the creation of the state of Israel. Palestinian leaders indulge in discussions, even spats, on the path they imagine will achieve a Palestinian state.
For 67 years, Palestinian leaders have failed to identify a national agenda, or how their goals could be achieved.
At first, we dreamed of liberating all of Palestine. Then we aimed for a portion of Palestine to establish a state and move to liberate what else of the land remained. Finally, we settled just for the lands occupied from 1967.
It is worth noting that the people never followed their leadership on this downward spiral.
Even after four generations living as refugees, we still long for the day to return to Palestine, no matter where the original towns are now.
Sixty-seven years later, we have arrived at a point where we have the shell of a ghost state, and all the liabilities of a real one.
We now have governments, ministers, a sophisticated security apparatus. We collect taxes and we spend them. We quarrel over power and we fail to share it. But we lack the most essential requirement of a state: sovereignty.
Palestinians seem to have adopted an order of priorities which no successful revolution has followed.
As a result, we have ended up with a lot we fear losing, but with no real gains to show.
The path of armed resistance is refused by some Palestinian leaders due to a fear of what Israeli retaliation might do to “Palestinian institutions”.
Even when popular resistance is praised by the PA, in reality it is discouraged, and sometimes suppressed. The same logic justifies the PA’s past reluctance to join the International Criminal Court.
We now have a power station in Gaza, but we don’t have power. We spend half a billion dollars annually on health referrals from Gaza and the West Bank, but our health services are collapsing.
These are still praised by the old guard as accomplishments extracted from the occupation. But without sovereignty what are these “accomplishments” other than to provide the occupation relief from responsibility.
Palestinians rejoiced when the Palestine Liberation Organisation declared an independent state in 1988 on the lands of 1967. Then six years later at Oslo it conceded to much less than that.
When negotiations proved to be at a dead-end, we pitched for statehood at the UN Sescurity Council and, when that failed, at the UN a year later.
After a series of confused, seemingly desperate moves, a Palestinian state is still illusive.
Even resistance groups such as Hamas have found themselves entangled in this unholy equation.
Hamas won general elections and promised to reform the PA’s faulty body. But it found itself trapped having to provide salaries or work for Palestinians under occupation and resisting the combined Israeli and international extortion to turn their back on armed resistance.
Willingly or not, Hamas appear to have fallen into the same trap.
After 67 years of exile, is all we Palestinians deserve is a ghost state, and more importantly, is it all we could achieve?
It seems that some long, deep, and hard self-criticism is what is really needed.
This article was first published on 18 May, 2015 on al-Araby al-Jadid, here
It is as if we were made to suffer. The Palestinians in Gaza face wars and relentless sieges; those in West Bank are left alone to endure the theft of their land, settler violence and daily raids; Palestinians in today’s Israel live under apartheid policies, accustomed to being a minority in lands which belonged to their ancestors for centuries. Additionally, there are six million refugees, four generations, who live in the diaspora, atoning for a sin they did not commit.
But what pains us the most is that a share of our suffering is inflicted on us by those we call brothers. As we now stand helpless, watching our brothers in Yarmouk refugeee camp in Damascus suffer, there is nothing we can do to help. Nothing that is, except remind them that this, too, will pass.
To our refugee brothers in Yarmouk: You have been living a few kilometers away from your original villages, probably able to see your original homes but never able to reach them. But we
too, are living the same ordeal: 80 percent of Gaza’s population is made of refugees. Like you, we have lived through this for 67 years, believing that one day it will pass.
Like you have now, we have experienced barrel bombs and indiscriminate artillery fire. It is true that they were thrown at us by those who are directly responsible for our plight. But at the hands of your brothers or the hands of your enemies, death tastes the same. Fear not; this, too, will pass.
Our misery might differ in time or scale, but the pain is the same. We hear that you are dying from hunger, with food being held at the camp gates, forbidden from entering by those who claim to be fighting for your cause. We have been through this too. When Israel left us to starve we made underground routes so we could get food, but then our brothers shut down those routes, also in the name of our cause.
We were too hungry to listen to their justifications and probably you are too, but with time we got used to living hungry, and so will you. And if you die from lack of medication, we have been there too. People here are dying as they wait to receive treatment, pleading for a chance to get to hospital. We too have gates, and since the start of this year they have been opened for only five days. But have no worries; this, too, will pass.
And do not care too much if the regime calls you traitors or the Islamic State group (IS) calls you infidels. We have been called the same, and we have been called terrorists, and we have been called ungrateful. But care not for they too will pass – or find other topics to fixate upon.
When British graffiti artist Banksy arrived in Gaza last month he borrowed the image of the Greek myth of Niobe to illustrate Israel’s cruelty, which he painted on the bent door of a demolished house. The myth claims that Niobe, Queen of Thebes, had 14 children and mocked Leto, who only had two, Apollo and Artemis. Enraged at this provocation, Leto sent his children to kill all of Niobe’s offspring. If Banksy were to visit Yarmouk, which theme will he borrow? I hope he doesn’t paint Cain.
To our refugee brothers in Yarmouk, Israel is responsible for what we have all been through. We lived in dignity in our homes until we were pushed into the diaspora. Even on the darkest days never think otherwise.
When Israel pushed us into the diaspora our brothers received us with open arms. If that warm embrace is gone forever or if this is a temporary setback we do not know, but it matters not as this too will pass. One day we will have our free, sovereign country, and all of this will belong to history books; when that day comes we will tell them with a smile that we forgive them, but what will become of those history books? History does not favour everyone, and even with time its words will not pass.
This article was first publish on April 7th on al-Araby al-Jadeed, here
For nearly eight long years, Gaza has endured an unprecedented period of strangulation so tight and relentless that the word “siege” is now automatically linked to the enclave in many people’s minds.
Over this period, a number of misconceptions have developed. Here are three of the most common ones I encounter when I talk about conditions in Gaza:
(1) Palestinians in Gaza are in need of basic things including food and blankets
This was certainly true during the 51 days of Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer, and its immediate aftermath, but this has not been the situation for most people in Gaza, at least not in the last four years.
As the siege was starting to exact its toll on the population, say early in 2008 until mid-2009, obtaining food for the family was a real, daily agony.
Back then, Israel created revolving crises: for a few days, sometimes weeks, there would be a shortage of wheat, and as media coverage of that crisis soared, Israel would allow wheat in only to stall deliveries of gas or fuel. As a result, at any given time there was at least one key element necessary to make bread missing.
Baby formula was often scarce, and the only types allowed in were the most expensive. It was the same story with everything from medicines to cement, livestock and fertilizer to furniture. At one point nearly all commerce ground to a halt because Israel did not allow coins and smaller domination banknotes into Gaza, where the currency in circulation is the Israeli shekel.
People still recount the days when they used cooking oil instead of gasoline in their cars, even for government vehicles and ambulances.
Mothers had to struggle with the two types of diapers Israel allowed in: one of very poor quality and the other too expensive.
Meanwhile a factory that produced diapers in Gaza shut down because Israel would not allow in raw materials (see the Goldstone report on the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, page 199). Hundreds of businesses producing goods locally shut down.
In 2007, as it was preparing to impose the siege, Israel’s ministry of defense calculated that Gaza needed a minumum of 106 truckloads of humanitarian supplies, mostly food, per day.
This was part of a deliberate policy to reduce the standard of living in Gaza as collective punishment and pressure after Hamas was elected in 2006 and then assumed complete control of the interior of the territory in 2007.
From July 2007 to July 2010, the number of truckloads actually entering Gaza was consistently just two-thirds of the 106 minimum, according to the Israeli group Gisha, which monitors the siege of Gaza.
At this stage, the siege was comprehensive and brutal, but it was also stupid: it attracted too much unwanted international coverage.
It was only in 2012, after a long court battle to obtain government documents, that Gisha revealed the cruel mathematical formulas Israel used to calculate the calories that each Palestinian in Gaza would be allowed to receive on average each day – just enough to put the population “on a diet” but not to cause famine. Despite this, there was chronic malnutrition among some of the most vulnerable populations.
In 2010, two events changed the course of the siege: the May 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the expansion of the tunnel network in Rafah on the Egyptian border.
Israel’s brutal assault on the flotilla and its killing of nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara proved to be a turning point, sparking unprecedented protests, both politically and in streets around the world.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian tunnel diggers had improved, both in expertise and scope, and lots of items which were effectively banned by Israel resurfaced in Gazan shops. For the first time in over a year and a half, wheat, milk, chocolate and soda were not so hard to obtain.
(2) Palestinians in Gaza would be much better off investing in infrastructure rather than resistance
Following these two developments, the Israeli siege took a smarter form. Israel eased restrictions on trivial items – soda and snack foods – but the strangulation on the economy and the public only tightened, making any real development impossible.
If people were going to get food through the tunnels anyway, why should Israel miss out on the profits of selling to them directly? After all, the vast majority of consumer goods coming into Gaza were made by Israeli firms.
However, any materials which could revive the local economy were still tightly controlled or banned, especially construction and raw materials. And Israel all but banned exports from Gaza.
This was followed by successive Israeli military assaults, in November 2012 and then again last summer.
To complicate matters, Egypt destroyed the tunnel network following the military overthrow of elected president Muhammad Morsi in July 2013, putting Israel once more in exclusive control of what people in Gaza could have.
As a result, a major sector of the community sees food which it cannot buy, while a minority has money which it cannot use.
Now, some six months after the summer assault, less than two percent of the materials Gaza needs for reconstruction have been allowed in.
Meanwhile, Gaza suffers unprecedented unemployment, its people receive no more than six hours of electricty each day, tens of thousands go without salaries and the infrastructure is already collapsing.
(3) Before the siege started in 2007 things were just fine
Gaza was a prison long before Palestinians began improvising rockets in the early 2000s. Israel started fencing Gaza in 1994 shortly after the Oslo accords and gradually restricting its population, who depended on jobs in Israel, from traveling there.
The 50-kilometer fence runs along the entire land boundary between the Gaza Strip and present-day Israel and is made up of wire fencing, sensors and buffer zones. The barrier was extended in 2005, the year Israel withdraw its settlers from the interior of Gaza, to cover the border between Gaza and Egypt.
At the beginning, there were eight gates and crossings established to control movement through this barrier. Now there are only three, one crossing for people each between Gaza and Egypt and Gaza and Israel, and one for goods. All face frequent closures or tight restrictions.
A 2006 report by Anne Barnard, then of The Boston Globe, one year after the Israeli withdrawal, describes the situation thus:
Instead of new prosperity from burgeoning trade with Israel and the world, Gazans face a tighter Israeli security cordon that has sharply restricted exports. Tons of fruit and vegetables have rotted before reaching markets, small factories have ground to a halt, and in recent months, Israel has barred Gazans from fishing off their coast or entering Israel to work.”
The same quote could rightly be used today, and it would be just as true, though the situation is now even more catastrophic.
What Gaza really needs
What Gaza really needs is to be welcomed back into the world. It needs not to be seen anymore through Israeli eyes as a security threat. It needs to be seen for the endless possibilities of human innovation locked inside.
It needs to be able to connect with the West Bank, with Jerusalem. It needs freedom of travel. Its 1.8 million residents need not to be required to have special permits to enter many countries merely because of their residency in Gaza.
It needs accountability and it needs justice, for without justice peace is only a mirage.
When the inevitable decides to manifest there is no delaying, no asking why; the only options are acceptance and submission.
People tend to exhibit different attitudes when dealing with death. Some cry, while others get busy trying to avoid the situation all together; they never really do, they just seek comfort in trying. But then there is rationalization, that’s when the science talk kicks in: “Why is he breathing like that? That is what you call gasping, right? Is it the tumor or the heart failure?” Mam believe me, the more you defer facing the idea of death the more it will hurt when it finally descends.
Parting is inevitable, but still we met; let’s make the ride worthwhile.
Four days ago. He could barely move, but he came to the hospital, and he stayed by her bed in silence. When it was time to go, he kissed her on the forehead and whispered goodbye. “In God’s hands I leave you,” he said. Tears did not flow, although I wish they did, even when he saw her in her casket; is it because he doesn’t think this parting would be long lasting?
I’ve seen a fair share of last farewells in my life, but the hardest, most heart-rending were not those between friends, siblings, or parents and sons, they were those between lovers and their spouses. I believe this stems from our knowledge deep down that, unlike all the other relationships, this is the one person who, despite all the flaws, stayed in our lives by mutual choice.
Is there anything which one, as an individual, can achieve but no one else could? What would it matter if Einstein didn’t like physics? Someone else would have discovered relativity anyway, probably at a time not so far from that of Einstein’s, possibly earlier. It’s not uncommon that scientists at different continents made similar and simultaneous discoveries, Google “multiple independent discovery” and see. On the individual level, life is a zero-sum game, rendered as such merely by being, from its very beginning, destined to end.
Our transit between wombs and graves, this seemingly endless meeting and parting (aka life), only one thing can help it make sense, which is the belief in afterlife. It is this, not the belief in butterfly effect, which would give meaning to a random act of kindness, or to a selfless sacrifice. As one thinks of life and death as different stages of a continuum, perspectives change, and lots of things shrink to their real sizes.
I think that, even on our dying beds, we never really accept our mortality 100 percent. If we did, we would be too busy to show up at funerals.
New beginnings, they don’t give much of a meaning. To me, albeit with scattered breaks of delight and moments of awe, life is one uninterrupted continuum of worried striving, endeavors trying to come together to make some sense; the wise will discover this early, early enough to not care too much or too little. As such, I have never been fond of recollections, personal reflection or stringent resolutions. December is just December, and a new year is just that.
However, I am going to give it a try this year. I’ll try to look back and say something. I plead with you to excuse what will probably appear to you as a hectic flow of semi-ideas; it is still an attempt, give it credit would ya?
I’ll begin with the most worrying.
My hair loss accelerated this year. I blame my paternal genes for that, but I also blame Gaza’s poor, salty water, the Einstein in me who wouldn’t stop thinking, and the Shampoo commercials for selling myths.
Hang on, it gets serious, I promise.
I discovered some great music. I can positively say that my music collection is the best you can find in the whole middle east. By the way I recommend you check my Justin Bieber folder. (Kidding!)
In 2014, I made my first money as an adult. It was not planned, and it was not much, but it was a first, and firsts are always worthy of appreciation.
And day by day, I made some friendships solid, friendships I am positive will last beyond borders or grey hairs, inshAllah; and for that, for them, I am grateful.
In 2014, I experienced extreme fear once, when an artillery shell whizzed over my head. It caught me off guard, when I was recovering from a stolen bout of sleep. As it exploded far away, I felt momentary relief. Seconds later, another one followed.
In 2014, I cried not a single time. It’s a burden I carried with me from 2013, and which I will carry on to my next year. Rage, frustration or longing; all are forms of energy. Laws of energy conservation state that it can be neither created nor destroyed. I have no problem with the first part. Going through my third and longest war in just six years, I was lucky enough not to get hurt; However, I suffered, everyone did. No, everyone DOES. It still goes on. And with every passing day, more energy is ramped up inside of me, inside of us. I wonder if it’s not destroyed, where does it go?
In 2014, I dodged few bullets. Few others hit me; some were even aimed at my chest, but hey! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – I guess!
I have company now more than ever, but I’ve never felt lonelier. Let’s just leave this orphaned idea here.
All the way through 2014 I stood tall; well, almost. But see, the thing is I don’t have much like for standing. If next year brings me someone who is clever, smart and cute enough to sweep me off my feet, she’ll be most welcome.
As I look back to 2014, I see a year in which we, collectively, stood against the ruthless, immoral Zionist war machine without a blink. I see my graduation, top of my class and with excellence. I see my close friends getting engaged and then married. I see myself happy for my friends who got engaged and married. I see my mother who is proud of me. She doesn’t say it much, but I know it. I see my father who sees in me more than I could ever see in myself.
As I look back to 2014, I see many blessings and hardships, but I now realize that with every hardship came an equal amount of ease, isn’t that the greatest blessing of all? Alhamdulillah.
This summer, as Gaza was pummelled by tens of thousands of Israeli shells and bombs for two long months, you could sense an unlikely feeling amid the extreme fear and uncertainty: hope.
For 51 devastating days, Gaza occupied the headlines. People were talking about it and so were politicians. The story was widely getting out that 1.8 million people, who have been under a strict blockade for nearly eight years, were now suffering a third war. Albeit at a high cost, Gaza’s voice was finally being heard. An opening, even an end to the suffocation, it was assumed, was coming.
Today, those hopes have vanished and anxiety and uncertainty dominates. After a ceasefire was reached in
late August, world attention shifted. It was not until October12 that Gaza returned to the front pages with news that $5.4 billion had been pledged at a reconstruction conference in Cairo.
This led to an artificial feeling of satisfaction being promoted through the media… as if the donations were enough to make up for the failure of the international community to stop the war.
Soon after, details began to leak. Included in the sum were annual donations already made to the Palestinian Authority’s budget. Subtract those and only half the donated funds would go towards reconstruction. Original estimates of the damages inflicted by the Israeli campaign were between $6 billion and $8 billion. Palestinian officials had asked for up to $4 billion and the actual commitments made were $2.7 billion.
With this budget – assuming all countries actually pay up – what destruction will be excluded from reconstruction plans? And what about the immediate relief efforts? Are they included in those $2.7 billion? Or are there immediate relief efforts at all? On UNRWA’s Twitter feed, one finds no significant change in the statistics compared to those immediately following the ceasefire.
Nearly threemonths on, 32,000 of the 100,000 people left homeless by the war remain scattered around 18 UNRWA schools. The rest live hand-to-mouth existences in the homes of relatives or in rented accommodation.
And the harsh reality goes on: the number of refugees in Gaza relying on food aid has risen to 867,000 and 47 percent of Gazans are unemployed. The youth unemployment rate is nearly 70 percent.
But it is not just the unemployed who are penniless. Some 50,000 public sector employees have not been paid for a year thanks to the tightened Israeli blockade and inter-factional political rivalries. The power deficit, meanwhile, 54 percent before to the military onslaught, is now more than 70 percent. Gaza’s only power station lacks even fuel to run. Shouldn’t this fuel at least be part of immediate relief efforts?
The conference also failed to provide clear mechanisms or even a timeline for the reconstruction process, leaving it at the mercy of those who control the borders.
Soon after the ceasefire, Robert Serry, the UN envoy to the Middle East, devised a complex plan to monitor construction materials entering Gaza that included CCTV cameras, international inspectors and detailed lists of benefactors, all to placate Israel. Israel retains the right to veto any beneficiaries of aid, or major rebuilding projects. The plan is supposed to alleviate Israeli “security concerns”.
But Serry is ignoring the fact that all the subterranean defences the Palestinian resistance established were in fact dug after the first war on Gaza in 2008, ie during the strictest years of the blockade when construction materials were already completely banned from entry.
He also fails, as a representative of the international community, to fulfil his obligations towards a nation under occupation. His plan not only legitimises the blockade, but makes the UN an accomplice.
It is also projected that the mechanism will slow down reconstruction to a rate at which Oxfam now estimates it will take 50 years to reconstruct Gaza. This is not to mention the corruption that is very likely to flourish around these many complicated steps. Furthermore, before the war, Gaza had a deficit of 75,000 housing units as a result of the blockade. Serry’s plan fails to explain how those units, which people living in the most crowded enclave on earth desperately need, are going to be built.
It’s no wonder people here are already making jokes about Serry’s name, which rhymes with that of Kerry, the US secretary of state whose years-long shuttle diplomacy has yielded a big zero.
The failures to address the Gazan crisis extend even deeper. What about the $600 million needed to solve the power problem? Following the war, Israel once again declined to increase power supplies to Gaza. Having eight hours of electricity a day is the best a Gazan can hope for.
And what about the vanishing water supply? In many areas, water is available only once a week, and in some of those, the salinity approaches that of sea water. And sanitation? The overwhelmed sewage treatment facilities and the outdated pipelines pose a constant public health risk.
Those are all real issues that are not going to vanish on their own. In 2012, UNRWA announced that the Gaza Strip would be uninhabitable as of 2020; the war only brought that date closer, making an already vulnerable community even more vulnerable. Also missing are any guarantees or mechanisms to prevent Israel from launching further aggression on the besieged and impoverished enclave. Talks to solidify the ceasefire were supposed to be held in Cairo a month ago, but they haven’t materialised; every time there seems to be a new excuse to postpone.
The conditions in Gaza are worse than ever. Many assume that the eruption of another bout of violence is just a matter of time.
And finally, the most crucial condition, and the one always overlooked: justice. There are absolutely no talks on any effort to hold accountable the criminals responsible for the murder of 2,205 Palestinians. Until justice is served and Palestinian rights are restored, the coal still smoulders under the ashes.
By banning Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor, from Gaza, Israel is ridiculing itself.
I first met Dr Mads Gilbert in November 2011, almost exactly three years ago. I was a medical student in my 4th year at the time, and I had just begun clinical training. Dr. Mads was on a visit to the Gaza Strip, one of many to Gaza and the West Bank he undertakes regularly to tutor medical students and doctors on how to deal with trauma and cope with the stress of war. I remember his lectern was on the left side of the hall. My seat was on the far right. At the time, I had not heard of the man, and while he was preparing his slideshow, a friend and I tried to guess his age. We were shocked that he was in his seventh decade; whatever toll the years had exacted on his body, he compensated for in enthusiasm and spirit.
He came back to help during the second Israeli assault on Gaza in 2010 and stayed for the duration of the last assault this summer. I met him then in June, two weeks that assault started. It took me a few seconds to recall his face and name, enough for him to preempt me. “I recognize you. You are the guy in the photo,” he told me, referring to a selfie we shared back in 2011, long before selfies became “cool”. I used the opportunity to ask him to tell my friends a story I remembered him telling during that long lecture in Gaza. Mustafa was a Palestinian child who lost his mother and his right arm to an Israeli bomb during the siege of Beirut. Dr. Mads helped the boy for few days, but as soon as he was able to stand, Mustafa started helping his doctor taking care of other victims. A special bond was established. Thirty years later he still remembers the boy, but he has lost touch. He still uses visits to Lebanon to look for Mustafa, he even prints his photo and distributes copies to anyone who might have once known the boy.
When the war on Gaza erupted in July, Dr. Mads was at Shifa hospital; he was a medic, a doctor, an anaesthesiologist, an activist, a promoter of human rights and a human being. When all ventilators were busy, he manually helped a seriously injured child breathe for more than 15 minutes. There was no complaint. When a girl who had just lost several family members collapsed, he stayed by her side until she was back on her feet. And when twin sisters were injured by artillery shrapnel he personally made sure their wounds were neatly stitched and all the metal removed.
He was compassionate and sympathetic. And he hated pain; he always carried syringes filled with Ketamine – a sedative/anaesthetic – for emergencies. During Ramadan he fasted with us. He didn’t have to, but he did so out of respect. When the flow of injuries was light he would use the time to conduct interviews, or tutor medical staff on ways to conserve already short medical supplies. Human rights were his focus. Politics didn’t matter to him; what mattered were people.
The eighth night of the war was busy. We couldn’t take a break until two am. We drank coffee together and shared our views on the situation. In his opinion, Israel was committing three major war crimes in Gaza. The siege, the targeting of civilians, and the disproportionate use of force. These were all war crimes, he said. Israeli impunity had to end and the criminals responsible must be brought to justice.
That was the Mads Gilbert I knew, and that is the Mads Gilbert Israel recently banned for life from entry to Gaza, citing “security concerns”.
By banning this 67-year-old doctor, Israel not only ridicules itself but insults all humanity. Still, it is good to know that all the most sophisticated weaponry in the world is no match for a free spirit.
This article appeared on al-Araby al-Jadeed on the 20th of November 2014 here
Israel bombed the ice vendor. The blazing summer, made worse by the absence of electricity, drove dozens of people to gather around a small store which used to sell ice. According to my friend who lives in Shejaiya, eleven drone missiles targeted the marketplace on July 30, including the ice store. Twenty-four civilians were killed in this particular assault, four of whom died before my eyes at Shifa hospital where I work. Twenty-four hours before this massacre, two artillery shells disabled the sole power plant in Gaza, exacerbating power deficiency from about 50% to more than 90%. This and the unilateral ceasefire Israel announced two hours before the attack gave people a false sense of security, which drove dozens of them to their fate at the ice store.
In Gaza havens are far, heavens are closer. The strike on Shejaiya market came only few hours after 16 people had been killed in an artillery strike on an UNRWA-run school. Those killed were refugees who fled their homes in the northern parts of Gaza in obedience to the threats they received from the “IDF” through phone calls, SMSs, leaflets, and random artillery on their area. The artillery, however, followed them to where they evacuated. The leaflets, it should be noted, specified the areas to which these people were forced to flee as well as the routes they were required to take. This was the sixth attack on an UNRWA school; just a week before, 21 people were killed in a similar strike on a school in Beit Hanoun north of Gaza. Yesterday, UNRWA announced that of 273,000 at the start of the 72-hour ceasefire, 187,000 displaced Palestinian civilians are still taking shelter in 90 UNRWA schools – an average of 2,077 people per school. But that’s just one third of the problem. One week after the Israeli ground invasion, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos estimated that 44% of the Gaza Strip was a no-go zone. This means that about twice as the number of refugees in UNRWA schools are or were taking refuge elsewhere, in their relatives’ houses, or at their friends’; in my house alone three uncles and their families were taking shelter. On August 6th UNRWA estimated that 30% of Gaza population was displaced. As such, areas already heavily populated have had their population double and were susceptible to daily artillery shelling. On several occasions, for example, shells hit a houses in my street, which is considered to lie in one of the safest areas – if such area existed.
In Gaza there is shortage in almost everything, but death is in abundance. In the past 30 days, I have seen whole families get obliterated, children left with no one to call family when they grow up, and beautiful little girls with scars in their faces, scars that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I saw, moreover, young men pulled from under the rubble after being trapped there for a week. On my twitter account are uncountable stories, but I shall never forget little boy Kinan who lost all of his family, and who cried himself to sleep in his hospital bed calling for his father to come take him home; or Anas, a 16 year old teenager whose last breath I saw him take, and who, one hour before he was murdered, posted on Facebook demanding that if his house was going to be targeted that it should be done sooner than later, because he was too tired and wanted to sleep.
At Shifa hospital, I have seen all kinds of atrocities, but what pains me more than anything else is that most of the victims have been reduced to mere numbers. A boy whose picture showed him clinging to a paramedic was lucky enough to have a photographer at the scene and at the right time to document this heart-wrenching moment, a moment which went viral. Thousands, however, remain without luck. Even him, the lucky little boy, will soon be forgotten just as how the world has forgotten his ancestors who were expelled from their land more than six decades ago. For nearly seven decades, the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians went unaccounted for, always in the name of peace. Unless justice is sought and realized, peace will be false and wobbly. By “justice”, I mean a comprehensive process which restores the rights of the Palestinians inside and outside historical Palestine. Citizens of the world must be active participants in attaining such justice. This could be achieved, for example, through economic and academic boycott, through supporting arms embargo on Israel, calling for bringing Israel to the ICC, and through exposing and breaking the siege on Gaza. Moreover, the world needs to see what is happening in Gaza as a secondary symptom of the primary disease, that is, settler-colonialism and occupation. Without such conviction, violence will not be abolished and, regardless of what anyone has to say, the Palestinians will continue to resist.
This article appeared on mondoweiss.net on the 21st of August 2014 here
Thursday night, 17 July, was the heaviest yet since Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began almost two weeks ago.
Dozens of people arrived to Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital, where I was on shift that night. Some arrived torn to pieces, some beheaded, some disfigured beyond recognition, although still alive and breathing.
Seemingly indiscriminate artillery fire, a new element in Israel’s assault, had exacted a heavy toll on civilians.
The medical staff were lucky to get a break of less than half an hour. Some spent it watching the flares and bombs Israel was raining on the eastern neighborhoods of Gaza City, while others refueled with coffee or lay down for a few moments.
The relative calm did not last long. At around 3am, about eight or nine casualties arrived at the emergency room all at once. The last to come in were four siblings — two of them little children, both about three years old, with relatively superficial wounds. But it was clear they were pulled from under rubble, their faces and clothes covered in dirt and dust.
Then came the older of the four siblings, a boy in his early teens. His head and face were covered in blood and he was pressing a rag to his head to stanch the flow. But his focus was on something else: “Save my little brother!” he kept screaming.
The last to arrive was his brother, the child in the above photo that circulated around the world.
“I want my father!”
He was carried in by a paramedic and immediately rushed to the intensive care unit, which is right next to the ER. He clung to the paramedic, crying, “I want my father, bring me my father!” until he had to be forced to let go.
As I stood by, alert for orders, a group of four medical personnel immediately started to treat the boy. But he kept kicking and screaming and calling for his father.
His injuries were serious: a wound to the left side of his head which could indicate a skull fracture and a large piece of shrapnel in his neck. Another piece of shrapnel had penetrated his chest and a third had entered his abdomen. There were many smaller wounds all over his body.
Immediate measures had to be taken to save his life; he was sedated so the medics could get to work.
Upon carefully examining the wounds, it appeared that the explosion from the artillery round sent flying small pieces of stone from the walls of his house, and that some of his wounds were caused by these high-velocity projectiles.
He was extremely lucky: his neck injury was just an inch away from a major artery, his chest injury penetrated all the way through but failed to puncture his lung, and his abdomen was struck by shrapnel that just missed his bowel.
He had a stroke of luck denied to many that night.
The medics performed heroic measures in a remarkably short time, and the little boy’s life was saved.
Meanwhile in the emergency room, the elder brother was stitched up and the younger two siblings were washed and thoroughly examined for possible hidden injuries.
Somehow, despite the horror and the pain, they were sleeping. I don’t know how they did it, but I felt envious and grateful for the divine mercy that found its way to them.
Their brother with the most serious wounds will almost certainly survive, but with many scars and a difficult recovery period, both physical and psychological.
Too many casualties came in that night, too many for me to get this boy’s name, to know whether he was reunited with his father, or even what became of the rest of his family.
But there’s one thing that I know for sure, which is that hundreds of children just like him suffered similar or worse injuries, and up to the moment of this writing, nearly eighty children just like him have been killed as Israel’s merciless attack goes on.
This blog was originally posted on Electronic Intifada on 20 July 2014, you can find it here