As we have reached the third anniversary of the most horrific months of my life, I am re-posting a record of a day in Gaza in July 2014
The scenes as I go to work each day are harrowing – I must walk past the morgue of Al Shifa Hospital. For the first few days I didn’t even realise it was the morgue – a few cars parked outside, small groups of people clustered against the walls, some obviously grieving – in the hospital grounds during a war, not an uncommon sight. But each day the numbers of cars, and of people grew, and one morning the stark reality of what it was hit me. As I walked a car drove past me and stopped, and a man approached it cradling a bright white tightly swaddled body in his arms, that of a very small child. I went around the car to let him through, and met men running with a stretcher with a covered body on it – or so I thought.
As they ran past, a bloodied limb fell onto the ground in front of me. It was not a body on the stretcher, but a collection of body parts – the horrific evidence of the type of weapons being used by Israel, some prohibited, others so new they are still in the testing stages – on Gaza civilians. Norwegian surgeons Mads Gilbert and Eric Fosse who are working in the hospital say they have never seen some of the injuries before, in 30 years of work in war zones.
I carry on, past the young men sitting sobbing against the wall, heads on knees. I can barely restrain my own tears.
The numbers outside the morgue swell, and subside, but the numbers inside continue to grow. Some days I can’t even get through, some days ambulances or cars arrive and bodies are removed in front of my eyes, while relatives scream, faint, or numbly watch as yet another family member is taken from them. The misery, the grief, the sheer human pain is overwhelming. And I walk on past, and go upstairs to report the dead and injured in facts and figures, my heart bursting, my soul shaken, and desperately trying to cling to that thing called humanity when there is so little evidence of it in what I have just seen.
I go upstairs and see the exhausted doctors and surgeons, who two weeks ago were healthy, vibrant human beings now reduced to haggard, pale ghosts of themselves, struggling to keep going, to provide care and save lives when there is so little care to provide, no medicines, no supplies, no equipment, and where lives that might be saved are lost to the sheer numbers demanding their attention. Doctors who must decide on the spot which patients live and which die, not because clinically they couldn’t all be saved, but because there are only resources enough for one.
Doctors, nurses and hospital staff who all now know that even in the hospitals they are not safe, because Israel is now deliberately attacking them. Three hospitals have had to be evacuated since Thursday, seven hospital staff have already been killed or injured. Ambulance drivers and paramedics who know that when they go to retrieve the injured, they may not return – 12 ambulances have been destroyed, one driver killed and five ambulance officers injured. All in a day’s work – and these people have not been paid for months, they are doing this out of their own sense of compassion and duty.
I go to the wards to interview survivors and their families. One might think that this would be less traumatic – at least they are alive, there is hope. It is not – babies whose bodies are blasted with shrapnel so they look more like a pepper steak than a human baby, unconscious children with tubes going in and out crying for mothers and fathers who will never comfort them because they are dead, mothers sharing a room with several of their children, all sliced, diced, minced or shredded by Israeli arms made in or funded by the US, not knowing if or which of them will get out of there, and if and when they do, will they be able to walk, talk, feed themselves, study, work or have any semblance of the normal future she hoped for them. Fathers collapsed into themselves, wracked with guilt that they did not, could not, protect their family.
I walk outside, and the sky is blue, the sun is shining. Birds are even singing. I want to scream at them “Don’t you know what is happening?” I walk home beneath the ever-present drones, the sound of explosions almost keeping pace with my footsteps. I go back past the morgue, now shut up, and deserted – on the outside at least. A group of children run past carrying bottles of water, giggling and falling over, helping each other up. I pass the maternity ward, see a man in the street calling to his wife, who appears in a window and holds up their new-born baby for him to see.
I wonder, was this deliberate, the siting of the maternity unit next to the morgue? So that as one leaves, the affirmation of life is what remains?
After all, this is Gaza, where mere existence is resistance.