July 17, 2014 at 1:00 am


Life in a hospital under siege

Palestinians in Gaza are under attack. (THOMAS COEX / AFP/Getty Images)

I am staying with my patients come hell or high water, as you Americans say. Doctors and nurses in New Orleans did the same when Katrina ravaged them.

My staff and I are standing by the side of 14 elderly patients who simply cannot be moved because they depend on round-the-clock care. Medical teams the world over would do no less by their patients. We stay together, or we leave this world together.

At the moment, it seems we may leave this world sooner rather than later. Israel’s attack Friday on my hospital is a serious violation of international law. It should alarm humanitarians the world over. Volunteer internationals have gone through the facility to confirm no missiles are hidden here. The United Nations is welcome as well.

Israel fired two “warning” rockets at our facility’s fourth floor that would have been deadly had we not moved some patients Wednesday. Remarkably, shortly after the blast we received a phone call from Israeli authorities inquiring whether there were patients on the rocket-blasted floor, if anyone was injured, and if we planned to evacuate the premises. A Palestinian complicit with such an attack would be instantly deemed a terrorist.

Israeli officials call similar strikes “knocking the door.” Such euphemisms are rife. Israel also “mows the grass” — a violent trivialization of human life that inevitably leads to civilian deaths — and denounces embedded “terrorists” who are actually people with wives and children. A Palestinian blowing up an Israeli general’s home would, again, instantly be deemed a terrorist.

The language used against Palestinians endangers my patients. Hiba Kalli is one such patient. She is 85 years old, and every time a bomb explodes, she’s traumatized, instantly thrown back into memories of the multiple wars she’s survived. There is little I can do in the moment but hold her hand as she whispers, “Please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me.”

How could our helpless patients and that old woman be a threat to the state of Israel? I need an answer from the IDF. Since when is a hospital a military target in any war? And the question we ask ourselves is if this is really an act by the self-described “most moral army in the world,” is targeting women and children, prayer places, and hospitals moral?

Palestinians fled under gunfire, massacre and threat from Zionist militias in 1948. Sixty-six years later there is a stubborn determination to cling at all costs to this tiny strip of land 25 miles long by six miles wide. Many Palestinians are determined not to be pushed any farther away from villages and lands that were once ours — and legally still are — just a few miles away.

Basman Alashi is executive director of El Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza, Palestine. He graduated from Western Michigan University.