Sharon Lock | Tales to Tell
Back in Gaza city late last night, we met by the sea to welcome back A, who returned through the Rafah border the day before, after his kidnap off a Gaza fishing boat by Israel late last year. It was hard to give him much of a festive welcome with the stories we had to tell.
Mo spoke of the Al Fukhary area, near his home, where due to lack of electricity for radios or phones, no-one had heard a thing about the danger of the phosphorous bombs, and thought they were just fireworks. Many people went out to see what they were, and received serious burns. C said that doctors treating phosphorous burns have been burnt themselves, she had unconfirmed reports that some even needed finger amputations.
And so many more stories, even just one or two steps from me.
Jilal, from Jabalia Red Crescent, who – like so many, many men – worked for ten years to afford his house, now destroyed.
Majed, my nurse friend from Al Awda hospital, whose aunt is in hospital with a fractured leg; her house fell on her.
Dr Halid’s wife and two little daughters, alone in their small tin-roofed house in Magazi refugee camp while he was cut off from them in Gaza city. They sheltered in the room they thought safest, but it was struck by a rocket. They moved to another room, it was struck by a second rocket. A final rocket struck the third room they tried. Now the family is living with Dr H’s father.
Basma from the UHWC, who tells me about the family that called her, crying, to say they had no home and no possessions and were going to have to sleep on the street that night.
Hamse, our 21 year old security guard with whom all the other internationals (who are not so stroppy about police guards as I am) made friends. He survived the first day attacks that killed so many police, but was killed later. He leaves a 5 month old daughter.
Dr Waleed, Medical Director Al Quds Hospital; his friend has a leg amputation with continuing complications. She woke in the night with the feeling she should move her family out of the room they were in. After shifting them, she went back there herself and the room was hit.
V interviewed Dalal, the 12 year old whose entire family died while she was with her grandma. Her house is destroyed, all that is left her is her cat.
And Amira, who crawled, injured, to the house of my friend Haider Eid ’s cousin. Haider wrote about her on Electronic Intifada:
You might prefer to talk to 14-year old Amira Qirm, whose house in Gaza City was shelled with artillery and phosphorous bombs – bombs which burnt to death 3 members of her immediate family: her father, her 12-year-old brother, Ala’a, and her 11-year old sister, Ismat. Alone, injured and terrified, Amira crawled 500m on her knees to a house close by – it was empty because the family had fled when the Israeli attack began. She stayed there for 4 days, surviving only on water, and listening to the sounds of the Israeli killing machine all around her, too afraid to cry out in pain in case the soldiers heard her. When the owner of the house returned to get clothes for his family, he found Amira, weak and close to death.
When I saw Dr Halid the other day, on the request of a journalist, I asked him about evidence of the weapon called gbu39 or “dime” (dense inner metal explosive) bomb. This is believed to have been used by Israel for the first time in Lebanon in 2006, and now here as well. Dr Halid said the ICU doctors were seeing something new to them: what appeared to be mild external shrapnel injuries coupled with disproportionate massive internal damage.
“There will be small chest wounds, but then the lungs will be destroyed. Or minor abdominal entry wounds but then kidneys and liver destroyed.” I heard today that it seems that the dense metal shrapnel splinters into tiny particles upon entry to the body, which are then carried by the bloodstream, swiftly shredding everywhere they reach. So many patients appear to stabilise, and then die shortly afterwards. As if that wasn’t enough, Lebanon experience suggests that those who do survive experience quick onset of cancer. What kind of mind dreams this stuff up?
I didn’t manage to finish writing this last night, and a quiet night made me hopeful. But just now, 11.45 am, we heard an explosion some distance from where I am sitting in the Red Crescent office. E, who had earlier reported the return of planes in the sky over the city, called to say it had rocked her building. I have on my lap the small son of one of the medics, a quiet child of a little over a year, who is wearing a thoughtful expression. What will happen to us all if this begins again?
One of the incredibly frustrating things about the last weeks was Israel deliberately attacking ambulances and killing medical workers who went to collect the wounded, resulting in Red Cross instructing Red Crescent not to move unless permission from Israel was in place. In the final days of attacks, C and EJ decided several times to move without permission (or co-ordination as the Red Cross calls it) along with a couple of intrepid medics. So around the same time as my hospital was on fire, EJ and C were going to some houses where 5 men had tried to go outside to get bread for their children. Their bodies were now in pieces on their doorsteps, within view of hysterical wives and children. EJ and C went in with stretchers, collected the body pieces, and evacuated the families.
If attacks begin again, we hope to play this role among others, because we have found it so distressing to realise how many injured died completely needlessly. Especially so many stories that involved parents left with dying children for days, or children left with dying parents.