By Eva Bartlett
The streets leading from the seriously-damaged Wafa rehabilitation centre in Sheijaiyee were filled with black filth smelling of sewage. The hospital, attacked on January 12th with a chemical bomb that may well be white phosphorus and which set fire to the roof, and whose 4 different buildings were shelled intensely on January 15th, is trying to re-build and re-open, as is the shelled, burned, seriously-damaged al Quds hospital in Tel el Hawa, Gaza city.
Even today, after mentioning to the Canadian TV crew accompanying me that fire blobs had burned up to yesterday, we found still more blobs spread out, smoldering and willingly breaking into white smoking fires anew.
I have seen this often enough now. The Canadian new crew were impressed by it, by the fact that it’s now 8 days after the fire and the blobs are still simmering, smoldering, ready to flame up.
The Red Crescent team of the north had gathered at the Ezbet Abed Rabbo station, to cut swathes of transparent plastic into lengths to be further cut to fit glass-less windows, blown out in the bombings on and around the houses. This is the first step in providing some immediate relief from the cold. For the homeless, however, I don’t know what will be offered, if tents are available…
In the next few hours, I was able to meet another extended family, take their testimonies (which included shelling of their house, phosphorus-like fires, sadistic drawings left behind by the IOF occupying the house, the imprisonment of the elderly parents for 4 days (no food, no water, no toilets, no medicines) and the killing of their sheep and goats. The mother was terrified, and thanked me in a stream of frightened babble intermixed with gratitude for listening. “We saw terrible things, terrible things,” she said. “They’ve come 3 times, and this was by far the worst ever. I saw dead bodies on the streets. We are just an old man and woman, why did they do this to us?” The medicine and insulin that she should have been taking lay in the dirt, stepped on, where it was thrown by soldiers taking them from their one-room house to a room of their sons’ house. The older man pulled an inhaler out of his breast pocket, saying that this too was denied him during his imprisonment.
*very brief clip (camera battery died) to show the panic and trauma of the mother, even days after her escape from the ordeal of being held captive by Israeli soldiers
I also returned to the home of my friends, to take the testimony of Abu N who I’d worried so much about. Two days ago when I’d first seen him again, after nearly 3 weeks of wondering if he was still alive, he’d been pale, sallow, nervous, looked defeated. Yesterday, too, he looked weak, less the proud elderly man he’d been before. Today, I was gratified to see much of his former self returning, despite his ordeal, despite the killing of his wife. He and one son chuckled as they vied for conversation time, his English returning only in bits but his determination to practice it returning in waves. Seeing the two, so crushed by the loss of Umm N, returning to life was inspiring. H. has told me many times now, though, that he cannot tell me of his own losses during these weeks. They are too great, and so he moves on without healing, but moves on at least.
Rudely, I left before a meal, though all insisted I stay. Normally, I would not turn it down, particularly after they had just begun to get their house into less of a disaster state: feces cleaned up from where the IOF soldiers had strewn it, all over the house; bags of soldiers’ filthy leavings taken out; soldier-soiled clothing gathered, bagged, and burned; and the many shattered dishes and broken items cleared out. It is barer, and there are so many new bullet and tank shelling holes. The un-describable, terrible, stench still lingers, that of an army which occupied the house for 2 weeks and left shit and unknown foul smells throughout the house. It is a stench I’ve smelled in other houses in the area occupied by the IOF.
But even though I was very happy they had progressed enough to cook in their kitchen and bask in the hospitality they love, I had to leave, to allow time for visiting Arafa’s family.
14 days after his murder, the family was finally able to begin the 3 day mourning process. I visited them on the last day, unaware until today that is was happening. I found his widow as expected, grieving painfully and lamenting the loss of a kind man, good husband, loving father. After seeing bodies in many states of injury, near-death, and savagely-rendered death, I found that I am still able to cry. While the horrors of Israel’s continual bombing, I’d become surprisingly immune to shock or fear from the noise or notion of being hit, and even to death. But just looking into Arafa’s widow’s eyes, seeing her pain and remembering my own pain at losing him, my emotions proved to be intact still, meaning that a lot will surface later, in quieter times.
And this realization leads to the subsequent realization that so many Palestinians don’t really have a means of addressing their pain and psychological scarring. Particularly as so many have repeatedly endured invasions, as well as other emotionally-damaging things like living under military occupation, being imprisoned or having family members imprisoned, and living under siege and in closed borders, to name but some.
Abdullah, one of Abu N’s grandchildren, cries pretty much all of the time I see him now. He was a bit of a cheeky 6 year old when I first met him 2 months ago. Now he seems stuck in his memories of bomb explosions and drone sounds (the drones I can identify with: even now, near midnight on January 20, 2 days post cease-fire, the drones circle. The very distinct noise the drones here make is not a noise I can disassociate from the 3 weeks of precise bombardment and death which accompanied it). And very likely he won’t get any sort of therapy for this, although his family is compassionate, and will have to carry this baggage along with future baggage, as will the majority of those here. The most visible aspects of this war on Gaza are the massive craters, the demolished houses and buildings in every direction, in every town and city, the burnt-out warehouses and shops and hospital rooms and schools and cars…and the amputated limbs, the burned skin, the still-burning fires. But those very deep emotional injuries are what were intended to cripple society even more than physical damage.
*Arafa abd al Dayem, killed January 4th while trying to recover a wounded and a dead body. He stood at the back of his ambulance, loading the corpse, when it was shelled by an Israeli tank, inflicting fatal wounds.
*another of the many sketches on a chessboard-sized scrap of material left by Israeli soldiers occupying a house in Ezbet Abed Rabbo, eastern Jabaliya.