Crossing Wadi Gaza (Gaza valley) was always an event where the scenery became secondary to the odour: notorious for smelling of a vast cistern, the Wadi has for years been one of the main tributaries of Gaza’s sewage, channelling sewage from central Gaza into the sea, at a rate of roughly 80 million litres a day.
But after the last Israeli attacks, the route itself has become the primary concern, nauseating odour secondary.
In the hours between Tuesday Nov 20 and Wed Nov 21, an Israeli warplane bombed the simple but vital bridge connecting Gaza and all north of the Wadi with central Gaza and all south. The bombing severed the bridge at a key structural place, making it all the harder to repair. Layperson estimates range from one month to several needed in order to re-build the bridge.
Salah el Din is more crowded than ever, it being the main north-south road and now the alternative to most commuters formerly using the coastal road.
But determined Palestinian drivers almost immediately made their own detour around the stinky Wadi Gaza, driving roughly 2 km over rutted, muddy earth—a scarcely-used road—to connect with an inner road circling back to the coastal road.
For those headed to the Shifa hospital area and anywhere downtown Gaza City, the bumpy detour is worth the effort: the Salah el Din route lands one in Sheyjayee, east of Gaza City, or the Saha’a market, also eastern Gaza City, at best, meaning another commute from their to downtown, to places of work, to universities. For those living near the coast, the sea route is the obvious choice, even with the plodding new detour. All the same, a couple of days of the intense rain that comes this time of year (or the sudden Israeli release of dam waters on the other side of the Green Line border, leading to deadly flash floods) will submerge this simple solution to the bombed bridge.
The brisk clip of the 8-seater Mercedes becomes a creaking, bumpy lurch as the car slows to accommodate the rutted bypass path. Joining the parade of Mercedes and individual cars risking the muddy detour, I remember a documentary I saw on Gaza, when it was not merely militarily occupied but also occupied by the same kind of illegal Jewish colonists which have colonized massive swaths of the occupied West Bank and which continue to expand their illegal colonization of east Jerusalem). In the documentary (start at 12:30), Palestinian vehicles, horse and donkey carts, and pedestrians, veered off the main coastal road to take a mucky beach detour, vehicles and carts sinking into the wet sand, all because they were not permitted to be on the roads near the illegal Jewish colonies and Zionist military outposts.
We go to Shifa hospital to talk with Dr. Ayman al Sahabani, to get his take on the latest round of Israeli attacks. As we wait in from of Shifa for the busy doctor, a boy, maybe 13 or 14, knocks ripe olives out of the single tree in the small roundabout. It is late in the year, but as no one else has yet harvested the fruits, he seems to have taken the initiative, laid a blanket under the tree, knocked the now black and plump olives down, and is sweeping them up. Even that paltry amount, salted and bottled, is a nutritious contribution to a typical rendered-impoverished Gaza family.
After speaking with Dr. Sahabani, we go upstairs to the children’s ward, to see some of the children still recovering from a variety of injuries. Abdul Aziz Ashoor is six and has the handsome sweet face of most kids here, as well as the maturity beyond his years that most kids here possess. His left arm is bandaged up to his shoulder, and when his father pulls aside the bed sheet his bandaged legs emerge. The box of chocolates behind his pillow is more for guests: Abdul Aziz will barely eat anything, his parents say.
The boy speaks in a small, barely audible voice, relates his injuries when we ask. It was 4 pm Nov 20, the day before the “cease-fire” (note: warplanes polluting the skies as I type, 12:30 noon Gaza time, Nov 27). He, his brothers and a cousin were playing in front of their home on Kishko street in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City when the Israeli bombing attack occurred. His cousin Mohammed, 8, died from his injuries, and six others were injured, including one of Abdul Aziz’s uncles. Mother and father bedside, his father says “at the time of the attack there were so many other attacks occurring, all the ambulances were busy… we couldn’t wait for one, so we took him in a car to the hospital.
Aside from shrapnel littering his body, including his abdomen, an artery in one leg was severed, meaning immediate surgery.
Outside Shifa, a small tent set up serves as a poignant reminder of the 42 children the Ministry of Health reports were killed in the Israeli attacks and the at least 421 injured, among them life-altering and critical injuries. Horrifying images to accompany the horrifying words of Dr. Sahabani who spoke of decapitated children, “brain matter out”, and various lethal burns and charring, to name but some of the inflicted injuries and means of death.