Today, I visited Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza, to speak with some of the victims of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. The latest attacks on Gaza over more than 5 weeks have taken their toll on a place already stricken by a crippling 8 year blockade.
The gardens of the hospital have become a tent city, except no one even has any tents. People have used what was left of their belongings – rugs, blankets, sheets – to erect makeshift shelters from the harsh Gaza sun. Weeks ago, days ago, these people had homes, businesses, dreams. Now, they huddle together in the blistering heat, with no place to go. Their homes and their entire neighbourhoods have been flattened.
The hospital tries to provide them with emergency food – but things are scarce. The children surround me and wave into the camera, smiling, temporarily rehumanised by the novelty of this strange western woman with her bizarre hair cut. I try my hardest to smile back and play with them, but my heart is breaking.
We enter the hospital and speak to person after person, horror story after horror story, it is relentless. This is a level of devastation beyond anything most people alive in Britain today can even come close to imagining. The hospital is packed with the living, the dead, and the living dead. Some people talk in raised voices, some sit in a vacant silence, a woman clearly suffering shell-shock is helped down the hall, barely able to put one foot before the other. It’s hot, so hot.
A man sits in a wheelchair. His left leg was blown off while he sat on his doorstep. Israel had announced a 4-hour ceasefire, so he was about to go to find food and supplies during the break from shelling. Instead, an Israeli shell landed in the street, killing 12 and injuring 120 of the residents. His life-long best friend was killed. He tells me he does not even know how to live in the world without him.
A child, just 8 years old, lays on a gurney. His pelvis and femur were shattered when he was blown from his fourth storey home by an F-16 missile which killed many of his relatives. He is covered in plaster from his chest to his knees.
A father and son sit alone in a side room. They are the only two of their family left alive. An Israeli missile hit their car as they fled their battered town – his teenage daughter was decapitated in the blast. He had to carry her all the way to the hospital, headless, in his arms.
We enter a room full of women, they are all from the same family. They were at home, cooking dinner, when all of a sudden a shell hit the street outside. In that moment, they tell me, everything they knew was over. In the bed sits the matriarch, with cataracts in both eyes shimmering greeny/blue, loose strands of grey hair escaping her hijab, and a canula in her arm. Her husband and three sons (ages 27, 23, and 18) were killed in the shelling of 3rd August.
“All the men in our family are dead. Gone.” she says.
She is surrounded by her son’s widows, and her daughter.
But she is one of the lucky ones. Luck has an entirely altered meaning here in Gaza. Here, luck means a chance to get out. She will be heading to Germany for surgery in coming days, and hopes to be able to remain there – this thanks to relatives of her son-in-law.
The next family we see are not so lucky. An F-16 missile destroyed their 4-storey home, with 40 members of the family in it. How many are left? The matriarch sits up in her bed with her arm in plaster, a daughter and son circle her protectively, another daughter who shattered her pelvis in the attack is elsewhere in the hospital, looked after by her husband. This is all that remains of the family. She speaks on the death of her daughter, Asma, who choked to death under the rubble of the family home. She was calling out for help. The family dug desperately through the remains of their home with their bare hands in frantic efforts to save her. But she became weak, and then she ran out of air and died. They were able to retrieve her body and bring her with them to the hospital – she joins the many others in Al Shifa’s overfull morgue.
As we drive back to my hotel, both me and my normally bouyant driver Khalil are quiet. I enter my room, drop my bags to the floor and cry. These dignified and courageous people are being pushed beyond all tolerance. I asked each person what they saw for Gaza’s future, and nobody could answer. They can’t see past the next day.
As I begin this article, so does the sound of shelling…someone else’s home may just have been destroyed too, another family heading for Al Shifa.
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