Just as Gaza is crowded with people and cement, it is also crowded with complexity and contrasts.
The days are full from seeing the most amazing, resilient people--full of warmth and hospitality, to a tour through such destruction that you cannot believe it even to see it with your own eyes. Today that tour was through the neighborhood of Shejaiya--one of the areas that was devastated by Israeli bombs and tank fire this August.
We started the day at a school and center for hearing impaired children--a center for children with Cochlear Implants. The philosophy is to have classes blended with children who have hearing impairments and children with normal hearing. Together they get lots of great instruction and learn together. They build bonds of friendship and camaraderie. Though the school furnishings and materials are older and a bit worn out looking, the atmosphere was very inspirational and the teachers seemed so loving and committed. The children were beautiful. The director talked about the added hardship of being through the trauma of the war and siege and having a special health care need. The children have needed a lot of psychosocial support since the start of school yet staffing to support this need is limited due to lack of funds. In addition, their equipment needs are huge. But it was one more example of the sheer humanity and determination that one sees in all aspects of life here.
Life goes on despite the horror of the siege and the veil of the summer's trauma ("The war of aggression" as it is called). These aspects of life are never farther than a millimeter away in every conversation. Everyone reports that they truly thought they would die as no place in Gaza was safe. People talk of how they held their children close for weeks and never let go. The nurses talked of how they had to be at work due to the huge #s of trauma patients, yet all the time--often for days on end staying at their jobs in the hospitals, they worried and stressed about the safety of their families at home. People talk about the summer in words laden with hopelessness and immense isolation--("How could the world have watched and let this happen?") to just a strong faith in Allah--what ever was meant to happen will happen--not just about last summer, but onward for things to get better.
After the Cochlear Implant Program we spent much of the rest of the day touring neighborhoods and medical sites with a wonderful young man from the Palestine Medical Relief Society (PMRS). The mission of PMRS is to be a sort of "safety-net" system--to find people in remote and very under-served areas of Gaza (the hardest of the hardest). We toured a "mobile clinic". This is a great public health setting. In really difficult to reach and highly (HIGHLY) impoverished neighborhoods, a family volunteers their home for the medical team to hold a clinic in for a day. So right there in the neighborhood, in one of the homes, they set up the clinic. The site moves around the neighborhood, so all the neighbors are familiar with where the clinic is and, if today was any example, they line up in large #s to get care. Today there was a dermatologist, a nurse, a pharmacist and a psychologist--all seeing patients in one room that was jammed with people. I am guessing they can see 100 patients or more in a day. The doctor told me about how the crowded living conditions, warm weather and lack of hygiene facilities for bathing or clothes washing led to a dramatic outbreak of scabies that often gets infected.
We also accompanied the Palestine Medical Relief dressing change team on a home visit. They are monitoring wounds and dressings of 27 patients throughout Gaza who are still recovering from wounds sustained in the summer from bombings. The woman we saw with the team today was wounded on August 4. She and her 8 year old daughter went out to the market to grab some food for the family when they were hit by a bomb. The 8 yr old little girl was killed. The mom sustained fractured tibias in both legs, burns and bad wounds over her legs and thighs. She was taken to a hospital in Jerusalem for pinning of her legs, and skin grafting of the wounds and burns. She is now home with huge "cages" around her legs supporting the externally placed pins that go through the skin to hold the bones until she must return to the hospital in 2 months more for the external pins to be made into internal pins. Her wounds on her legs and her emotional pain were enormous. Just totally beyond all words...
The quote in the title of this blog is from one of a group of men who spend their daytime hours in a small make-shift shed atop the rubble that was their homes just a few months ago. Their entire neighborhood, Shejaiya, was bombed into stone. It is now blocks and blocks of heaps of rubble, slabs and rebar with some partially (precariously) standing, but very damaged houses. These few men have set up a little encampment.--perhaps a vigil of sorts. In the night they go back to where their families are staying--some of the ~100,000 Gazans who are still internally displaced. They have a little fire over which they were toasting pitas, a few battered mattresses and broken chairs. They spend part of the day looking through the rubble for belongings and beginning to figure out how they will ever do the absolutely enormous painful and seemingly impossible job of removing mountains of cement that used to be walls and floors and ceilings and belongs--their homes. One man showed us the few things he had salvaged--some torn and dirty blankets and fabric (possibly curtains), one blanket that was folded in a plastic blanket bag--probably it had been stored away clean and neatly folded for summer. Now the plastic bag was torn and the blanket was covered in dirt.
Next to another badly damaged home was a very small garden (see the picture). The owner of that home came over to us and showed us several photographs of the before (a beautiful house, yard and community garden plot). Now all dirt, mud puddles and a badly broken house. The people of this once close-knit neighborhood are scattered all over--staying in UN School-shelters, renting flats elsewhere if they can afford it, or staying with friends or family. Scattered in the destroyed houses one sees little make-shift shelters of corrugated metal, blankets or plastic sheeting tied up over broken walls, or whatever people have rigged up to try to protect themselves. There were very heavy rains during parts of the last 2 days, so I have no idea how they are even surviving.
I think I will let some photos tell the day's story--they will do it better than my words. It is absolutely a humanitarian crisis and there should be no question--war crimes WERE committed here.