Reflections from War Encounters, #2
Here are some more reflections from an Israeli Jerusalemite and her encounter with injured Gazans treated in Jerusalem during summer 2014. She, along with a few other Israeli and Palestinian women, made a few trips to see them while the war went on. To read about the first visit, click here.
Visit #2, Hospital #1
We return to the hospital a week later. A few more Israeli and Palestinian ladies join us, including a musician. We bring little gifts again, this time some art supplies we hope will be therapeutic for the patients. The best gift we can give them though is a break from their memories and pain and we hope that music will lift their spirits, a momentary reprieve from the harshness and despair.
We inquire about a number of the patients we saw the first time. Many were sent back to Gaza while others were transferred to hospitals in the West Bank for further treatment. Those that left the biggest impressions on us are gone, but there are many other patients to take their place.
The first patient we see was in the hospital last time, but we were not able to see him then. His name is Yamen, from Breij. He is 3 ½ years old. He suffers from broken bones and burns, and he and his younger sister are the only survivors of a strike on their home. They survived because somehow they flew out the window of their home. He landed on a satellite dish and was found two days after the bombing. His sister miraculously landed on a couch in another building, completely untouched by the destruction around her. Yamen lost 18 members of his family, including his parents, siblings, and extended family. He is accompanied by his grandfather. He has nightmares every night. He remembers what happened to him. They haven’t told him his parents are dead, but they think he knows. He is quite silent for a young child, barely talking. He rarely smiles, a hospital worker tells us. His grandfather asks that we take the candies out of the gift bag with art supplies, telling us Yamen’s teeth are bad and he is eating too many sweets instead of food. We give Yamen the gift (without the candy), and he puts it aside, barely glancing at it. He picks at his bandages and yellowed peeling skin. The flutist sits down and begins to play. Yamen’s countenance changes. He tries to sit up and a smile breaks out on his small, scarred face. He keeps asking for more and more music, momentarily forgetting his troubles.
When will he be released? Any day now, a woman on the side tells us. She was friends with Yamen’s mother, who was a social worker. The friend tells us that Yamen’s mother was communicating with her via Facebook during the war, and she mentioned that if anything happened to her, please take care of her children. Yamen’s mother was trying to find a way to bring equipment for handicapped children into Gaza when her home was hit. This friend helped arrange for Yamen’s treatment here in Jerusalem.
We meet Khaled. He is six years old. He smiles to receive a gift and listen to music. He likes it so much he wants to play himself, and the music ends when he decides he would rather grab the flute and play it than listen to it. There is a six-week-old baby lying next to him, recovering from open heart surgery. She is also from Gaza. They aren’t related, but they share a room. Her mother sits quietly next to her.
We also meet Ihab who is 16 years old. He lies in a coma. His father hovers protectively nearby. Can we play for him, we ask? Even in a coma, he will be able to hear the music. The father agrees, clutching his prayer beads tightly. He stands to the side. The flutist isn’t sure what to play, so she plays the first song that comes to mind, “As a deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.” Muslim prayers are quietly recited by the father and some standing on the side. Before the flutist starts playing, Ihab’s eyes are still, but as she begins to play, his eyes began to move rapidly, and his mouth moves a little. Many of the hospital staff in the ward gather outside the door to listen to the beautiful music coming from the room.
We walk into another room and visit with an old lady. She wears a dress with a red and white floral pattern, but tells us she lacks more clothes and her slippers don’t fit. Can we play the flute for you? “Play for us. The music that was in our hearts is gone,” she says. We play for a while. They don’t want us to leave, but eventually we move on to visit other patients.
We visit Shahad. She is 10 years old from Khan Yunis. She is covered with a blanket from the waist down. Her upper body and face are covered in cuts and burns. She has a thick paste running down one arm to soothe the burns. She tosses and mutters in pain. Her burns hurt. This young girl is here with her mother, and beside her is Qusai, four months old, Shahad’s nephew. Qusai’s parents died, and he lies on a bed at the feet of his grandmother. This story reinforces the stories we have already heard. It’s not just the injured patients who suffer the trauma. It’s all of them here. Shahad’s mother lost her sibling. Qusai’s grandmother lost her children. This is the only time we hear a patient bring up the political situation that has brought them and us here. “Look at what Israel did to us!” the grandmother says, pointing at Shahad and Qusai. We are sorry for your suffering, we tell her. We ask Shahad what song she wants to hear. After a bit of prompting, she wants to hear the song from the Titanic, “My heart will go on.” It’s a bit hopeful, a bit mournful.
We come to another room. Here are patients from the Najjar family, a family that lost many lives. Ayman lies on a bed. He is 10 years old. He is thin, sickly thin. We saw him on our previous visit. Last time he was with his younger brother, but his brother passed away from his wounds in the hospital. This time he shares a room with Hussein. Hussein looks like he is in his early 20s. He is a paramedic. Both of his legs have fractures. His mother tries to lift the blankets to show us; Hussein protests. The family is happy to have us with them. As the flutist plays, they smile and sing along. They are happy, jolly even. They want songs from the Titanic and Aladdin. They film us and the music, capturing these moments for their own memory.
Visit #2, Hospital #2
We return to the next hospital. We meet a doctor, a physical therapist, who greets us. He asks a number of questions. One of the ladies with us is from Norway, and he asks how he can move to Norway. He wants to leave. There is nothing for him here. Where are the patients, we ask? He points us in the right direction.
We see that Aa’id is still here. He recognizes us and smiles. He seems happy to see a familiar face returning. We inquire as to how he is healing. Slowly, yes. He is lonely. His companion is not with him at the moment, perhaps walking around the hospital grounds to breathe in some fresh air. He pulls himself a little higher in his bed. Please, take a chocolate, and he tries to get up to offer us something. We take the small candy, one of his only belongings in the large, empty room. I wish we had a chess or checkers board, something to sit and do with him when we have no words and the silence is lonely instead of peaceful. He will likely be here another 10 days and then return to Gaza.
The doctor taking us around this ward seems to have disappeared, so we peek in the surrounding rooms. We see a little girl, surrounded by balloons and some women. We introduce ourselves and walk in. We give her a gift and she accepts it with a shy smile, peeking up at us through her lashes. Her name is Shama, she is 10 years old. What do you like to do? She is silent. What do you like to study? The ladies laugh. Children don’t like school, they say. We wish her good health and a speedy recovery.
We look into another room. There are a few patients. I recognize a mother in her beautiful Palestinian outfit. Her son lies next to her. Will he see us? He didn’t want to see us last time and we want to respect his wishes. His mother welcomes us. Her son doesn’t smile, but that is fine. We have no expectations. We leave a gift, and wish them health and peace. Know that we are still praying for you, praying for peace.
Our small group, mostly young mothers, need to return to their babysitters and homes. We wish we could stay, but the parking meters have nearly run out and we must go. We hope to return, we tell the doctor.
To be published January 11, 2015