It started with a sheep. It had roamed between the walls of Ahmed’s home and the home behind them. Ahmed wanted to show me the sheep, the Hola sheep.
He calls it the Hola sheep after his new daughter, an 8 day old infant named… Hola. (by the way, the boy in the above photo is obviously not Ahmed).
Hola is Ahmed and Islam’s first child, a “war baby” (more accurately, a “massacre baby”… but that sounds pretty terrible).
Ahmed and Islam married 5 days before the Israeli massacre of Gaza began last winter.
Like any new parents, Ahmed and Islam are as proud as can be, think their girl is the greatest (she’s pretty cute). Ahmed fawns over her like Palestinian men have a habit of doing: Palestinian men hold no pretense of machoism when it comes to children; they’re all noises and gurgles…
I’d been in the Red Crescent office at Diwwar Zimmo, near Ezbet Abed Rabbo. Ahmed, coordinator of all the Red Crescent volunteers and a seasoned medic and member of the Civil Defence (like the Fire department), had called me there. Today they were having a conference on health issues, followed by some youths performing Dabke. I can never resist Dabke.
Ahmed was grinning a little more than ever, which is already normally a lot. He was happy to see me, he said, and happier to show off photos of his new daughter.
“Hola. She’s eight days now. She came out with her eyes wide open.” It’s true, a photo 30 minutes after her birth shows a tiny infant with platter eyes. She was much the same today, 8 days after her birth.
Those who can afford to do so have a feast in honour of a newborn baby. I’m invited Friday, though I don’t think I will go as early as Ahmed invited me (my vegetarian tendencies lead me to prefer arriving after the sheep has been…prepared).
He’s in love with her, keeps asking me don’t I think she’s gorgeous?
And now he’s been welcomed into fatherhood, and he seems to be leaping into to the role.
Islam, his wife, is doing well, her health is fine, she’s also thrilled with their daughter (many women here prefer not to be photographed, which is why there are no photos of Islam).
[I wrote this earlier, but since I’m talking about him, will repeat it]
Ahmed has one of the greatest laughs in the world, and he uses it regularly. Immediately after the massacre, when we were walking through the ruins of what was Ezbet Abed Rabbo, eastern Jabaliya, I forgot that he had shrapnel wounds on his back and legs, that walking was hard for him. He didn’t mention it until many crushed houses and burnt out staircases later. The shrapnel was from an Israeli army attack on he and Dr. Issa on January 12, in which the doctor was killed by the missile’s explosion, decapitated, and Ahmed was littered with shapnel, including his skull.
I didn’t know that Ahmed had also been attacked a later time (and I now suspect there have been other times and medics to ask about). The other attack I learned of by chance, watching a Youtube clip, a documentary made by a Palestinian journalist, Radjah abu Dagga, on the dangers inflicted on Palestinian medics as they try to do their work. I watched, coming to a scene where a medic is lying on the ground, shots firing at and around him. He gets up, runs toward the ambulance, and seconds later I see that he is Ahmed [at 2:00 minutes and on].
He is still young but holds and carries well much responsibility with his two roles (medic and civil defence), is personable and gentle, fairly crazy, generous, and a wonderful ambassador for the Palestinians living under siege and repeated Israeli massacres.
He worked through some of the worst massacres during the winter Israeli attacks, including the Fakhoura school attack with white phosphorous.
My first encounter with Ahmed was during a very cold night with the Red Crescent. Underdressed, I was shivering in the ambulance when Ahmed was introduced. He disappeared and reappeared minutes later with a turtleneck and sweater he said he’d brought from home but which still had their price tags on them.
Following the halt of the widescale bombing (still bombing the tunnels and random attacks throughout Gaza), we surveyed the damage done to the clearly visible Red Crescent centre in Ezbet Abed Rabbo.
While Ahmed’s situation is better than the majority in Gaza who live far below the poverty line (over 90%, the September 2009 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCATD) report states), they are still not well-off, still subject to the problems of living in a poorly-designed, too-long-inhabited refugee camp. The below photo is from October 2008, when rains flooded their home.