Reflections from War Encounters, #1
Here are my reflections on visits with injured Gazans treated in Jerusalem during summer 2014.
We call them casualties. We call them collateral damage. We call them unintended consequences. They call themselves something different. If you’d like, we can introduce you to some of them.
Visit #1, Hospital #1
Rahma lies in bed, her hair covered by a simple white head scarf. She has strong, dark, well-groomed eyebrows, and a lovely face with smooth skin, dark eyes and full lips. She must have been in her 20s. As we enter the room, the hospital staff person whispers that Rahma suffered a spinal injury and is now paralyzed. She doesn’t know that she lost a daughter and a son. Her female companion (a sister or aunt?) stands near her and Rahma’s lips begin to quiver and tears fall helplessly from her eyes. She just learns that she lost her children. “My daughter is a martyr. My son is martyr,” she whispers in a soft voice looking briefly at our eyes. We witness her quiet pain. One of our ladies strokes her hand, speaking soft words to her. She suffers silently, weeping, a snapshot into the anguish of her heart.
Beside her lies Ahad. She is 10 years old. She stares at us intently, yet when we move, her eyes don’t follow us. She suffers from a head injury and is still in shock. There are so many faces. I want to remember you, Ahad. I ask what she likes to do to know something about her. She speaks quietly, muttering that the most important thing is to take care of ourselves.
Nearby is Jihad, another young mother. Maybe in her 20s. It’s hard to tell because of the many cuts all over her face and arms. She is fair, but pale from sadness. She lies so still on her side, staring into the ground, barely blinking. Her eyes are glazed and empty. Beside her sits a silent companion. Jihad lost all her children.
In another room we meet Sajah, a 14-year-old girl; she lies deep in a coma. She has not come out of it since she was injured and too much time has passed. One of the hospital staff shares with us that she saw a picture of Sajah from before the war. Just days ago she was as beautiful as she was clever. She was at the top of her class. She wanted to become a pediatrician. Her uncle sits beside her, prayer beads in hand.
We also meet 14-year-old Amani. She suffers from minor injuries compared to those around her. She looks like I did at her age, or maybe one of my cousins. She is dark with strong features. She has a leg fracture, but the crowded and sad surroundings can’t hide her wide smile and perfect teeth. She is the only person we see who offers us a wide, genuine smile. It is a little shy. We are strangers. We come bearing simple gifts, a little gesture. She accepts it happily and willingly. What do you like, Amani? How can I remember you? Lots of things, she says, I can’t decide on one.
Walking from ward to ward we see the hospital hallways crowded with people. It’s not usually like this, the public relations director tells us. It is just that they are overflowing with the companions of the patients. The hospital has funding to put them up in hotels, but the Gazans’ permits limit them to the hospital compounds. So here they stay when they are not at the side of injured family members. They lie on sheetless mattresses and coverless pillows.
We step into a nurse’s office for a moment. She welcomes us, looking intently when she hears several of us are Israeli. “Welcome,” she says hospitably. “Death is better than this suffering,” she tells us. Who are we to argue with her? I believe life is valuable. They do, too. They work tirelessly, kindly serving those in their care. Wherever we go, patients are quick to smile and thank the hospital staff, a witness to their dedicated work.
Visit #1, Hospital #2
In another hospital, we meet more patients.
When we tell the hospital supervisor we are a group of Israeli and Palestinian women praying for peace, he looks at us a little condescendingly, a smirk turning up the side of his mouth. It’s okay, I think. We can dream a vision big enough for unbelievers. Maybe we are just young and naïve, but we hold on to our hope.
The hospital supervisor brings us to him in the ICU. We meet Mutassim. He is nine years old. He tosses his head back and forth in pain. He is on morphine, we are told. He lost his two brothers and is here with an uncle. We try and say a few words. He is in too much pain to respond.
There are so many who are unexpectedly gracious to us. Those who sit beside the beds of their suffering loved ones stand when we come in. They give us their chairs and insist we sit down, that we are welcome.
We meet two young men with amputated limbs. One is Islam, 24 years old. One arm is removed above his elbow. We speak with him for a few minutes. He is open, welcoming. Please sit down, he beckons. We briefly sit, limited in what to say. What can we say? We hope and pray for something better. We pray for full healing.
We meet Aa’id. He is a 24-year-old civil engineer suffering from leg fractures. He is happy for company. Another Israeli lady and I are visiting him alone and we’re limited in the Arabic pleasantries we can say.
We meet a mother dressed in a well-worn but beautiful traditional Palestinian outfit, black with red embroidery. You are welcome, she greets us, but her son, her only surviving child, refuses to see us. That is fine. We leave a gift with her and tell her we pray for peace and healing.
We leave the hospital, our minds full with images of their faces, and pieces of their stories.
To be published January 11, 2015