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Vittorio Arrigoni: In Gaza Hippocrates is dead

Published by Il Manifesto, 10th January 2009.
Translated from Italian by Daniela Filippin

In Gaza, a firing squad put Hippocrates up against a wall, aimed and fired. The absurd declarations of an Israeli secret services’ spokesman, according to which the army was given the green light in firing at ambulances because they allegedly carried terrorists, is an illustration of the value that Israel assigns to human life these days – the lives of their enemies, that is. It’s worth revisiting what’s stated in the Hippocratic Oath, which every doctor swears upon before starting to practice the profession. The following passages are especially worthy of note:

I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity. I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity. The health and life of my patient will be my first consideration. I will cure all patients with the same diligence and commitment. I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics, or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient.

Seven doctors and voluntary nurses have been killed from the start of the bombing campaign, and about ten ambulances were shot at by the Israeli artillery. The survivors are shaking with fear, but refuse to take a step back. The crimson flashes of the ambulances are the only bursts of light in the dark streets of Gaza, bar the flashes that precede an explosion. Regarding these crimes, the last report comes from Pierre Wettach, chief of the Red Cross in Gaza. His ambulances had access to the spot of a massacre, in Zaiton , East of Gaza City, only 24 hours after the Israeli attack. The rescue-workers state they found themselves faced by a blood-curdling scenario. “In one of the houses four small children were found near the body of their dead mother. They were too weak to stand on their feet. We also found an adult survivor, and he too was also too weak to stand up. About 12 corpses were found lying on the mattresses.” The witnesses to this umpteenth massacre describe how the Israeli soldiers, after getting into the neighbourhood, gathered the numerous members of the Al Samouni family in one building and then proceeded to repeatedly bomb it. My ISM partners and I have been driving around in the Half Red Moon ambulances for days, suffering many attacks and losing a dear friend, Arafa, struck by a howitzer shot from a cannon. A further three paramedics, all friends, are presently inpatients at the hospitals they worked in until a few days ago. Our duty on the ambulances is to pick up the injured, not carry guerrilla fighters. When we find a man lying in the street in a pool of his own blood, we don’t have the time to check his papers or ask him whether he roots for Hamas or Fatah. Most seriously injured can’t talk, much like the dead. A few days ago, while picking up a badly wounded patient, another man with light injuries tried to hop onto the ambulance. We pushed him out, just to make it clear to whoever’s watching from up above that we don’t serve as a taxi to usher members of the resistance around. We only take on the most fatally wounded – of which there’s always a plentiful supply, thanks to Israel.

Last night at Al Qudas hospital in Gaza City, 17-year-old Miriam was carried in, with full-blown labour pains. Her father and sister-in-law, both dead, had passed through the hospital in the morning, both victims of indiscriminate bombing. Miriam gave birth to a gorgeous baby during the night, not aware of the fact that while she lay in the delivery room, her young husband had arrived in the morgue one floor below her.

In the end, even the United Nations realised that here in Gaza, we’re all in the same boat, all moving targets for the snipers. The death toll is now at 789 dead, 3,300 wounded (410 in critical conditions), 230 children killed and countless missing. The death toll on the Israeli side has thankfully stopped at 4. John Ging, chief of UNRWA (UN agency for the rights of Palestinian Refugees) has stated that the UN announced they shall suspend their humanitarian activities in the Gaza Strip. I bumped intoGing in the Ramattan press office and saw him shake his finger with disdain at Israel before the cameras. The UN stopped its work in Gaza after two of its operators were killed yesterday, ironically during the three-hour truce that Israel had announced and as usual, had failed to comply with. “The civilians in Gaza have three hours a day at their disposal in which to survive, the Israeli soldiers have the remaining 21 in which to try and exterminate them”, I heard Ging state two steps away from me.

Yasmine, the wife of one of the many journalists waiting in line at the Erez pass, wrote to me from Jerusalem. Israel won’t grant these journalists a pass to let them in and film or describe the immense unnatural catastrophe that has befallen us in the last thirteen days. These were her words: “ The day before yesterday I went to have a look at Gaza from the outside. The world’s journalists are all huddled on a small sandy hill a few km from the border. Innumerable cameras are pointed towards us. Planes circle us overhead – you can hear them but you can’t see them. They seem like illusions, like something in your head until you see the black smoke rising from the horizon, in Gaza. The hill has also become a tourist site for the Israelis in the area. With their large binoculars and cameras, they come and watch the bombings live.”

While I write this piece of correspondence in a mad rush, a bomb is dropped onto the building next to the one I’m in now. The windowpanes shake, my ears ache, I look out the window and see that the building gathering the major Arabic media agencies has been struck. It’s one of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, the AlJaawhara building. A camera crew is permanently stationed on the roof, I can now see them all bending around on the ground, waving their arms and asking for help as they’re covered by a black cloud of smoke.

Paramedics and journalists, the most heroic occupations in this corner of the world. At the Al Shifa hospital yesterday I paid Tamim a visit – he’s a journalist who survived an air raid. He explained how he thinks that Israel is adopting the same identical terrorist techniques as Al-Qaeda, bombing a building, waiting for the journalists and ambulances to arrive and then dropping another bomb to finish the latter two off as well. In his view that’s why there’ve been so many casualties among the journalists and paramedics. As he said this, the nurses around his bed all nodded in agreement.Tamim smilingly showed me his two stubs for legs. He was happy he was still around to tell the story, while his colleague, Mohammed, had died with a camera in his hand when the second explosion had proved fatal. In the meantime I asked about the bomb that was just dropped on the building next door, where two journalists, both Palestinian, one from Libyan TV and the other from Dubai TV, were injured. This is a harsh new reminder that this massacre must in no way be described or recorded. All that’s left for me to hope is that among the Israeli military summit no one readsIl Manifesto, or habitually visits my blog.

Stay human,
Vittorio Arrigoni