'If they take it out, they’ll take us with it'
Excerpted from MIDDLE EAST EYE
Joe Catron gives a first-person account of becoming a human shield for the El-Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza
El-Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital is quiet inside. Its staff evacuated most of the patients over a week ago, leaving behind only those too critical to stay with relatives. Entire floors are now empty, with the footsteps of a doctor or nurse down a hallway sometimes breaking their silence.
The 14 remaining patients are the most critical cases. Alone among the Gaza Strip’s hospitals, el-Wafa specialises in occupational and physical therapy. Its current residents have survived the kinds of traumas, like car and industrial accidents and near-drownings, which have killed others...
...When a missile whistles past, everyone, staff and patients alike, cringes until it crashes somewhere close nearby.
They have reason to worry. Early Friday morning, four Israeli warning rockets – non-explosive missiles sometimes fired at buildings, typically civilian homes, before a larger airstrike – slammed into the hospital’s roof and walls.
Then late in the afternoon, a missile struck its fourth floor, the building’s highest, leaving a gaping hole, shattering windows and unhinging doors.
A short time afterward, Basman Alashi says, the hospital received a telephone call from an Arabic-speaker with an Israeli accent. Without identifying himself, the man asked if anyone had been injured in the strike, and whether the hospital planned to evacuate...
... I have come to spend 12 hours at el-Wafa with a Swedish activist in the hopes that our presence will deter further Israeli strikes on the hospital. After the bombings on Friday, its administration gathered eight foreign activists in Gaza to ask that we maintain a presence there.Their request was based in a simple logic: that in the eyes of the world’s governments and media, Palestinian blood is cheap, while foreign blood is expensive. It is a tragic calculation, but perhaps not a flawed one...
... Late in the afternoon, when a group of foreign journalists arrive, I walk around the hospital with them and Basman. Outside, he seems momentarily taken aback when one of them asks him the obvious question: why would Israel bomb a hospital?
“I can’t tell you what they’re thinking,” he says.
But whatever Israel’s plans for the hospital, its 14 patients stand in the way. And with Gaza’s hospitals full beyond capacity, they have nowhere else to go. That leaves the hospital’s staff no choice but to stay with them, Alashi says. Gesturing at the hospital, which towers behind him in the fading afternoon sun, he tells the reporters, “If they take it out, they’ll take us with it.”
- Joe Catron, a solidarity activist and freelance writer from the United States, currently lives in Gaza, Palestine. He co-edited The Prisoners' Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, an anthology of accounts by detainees freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange, often contributes to the Electronic Intifada, and tweets at @jncatron.
- Complete text and relateds stories: MIDDLE EAST EYE
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