”To the innocent people of Gaza, our war is not against you but against Hamas. If they don’t stop shooting rockets against us, you’ll be in danger.” It’s the transcription of a recording you can hear when answering the phone in Gaza just now. The Israeli Army is under the illusion that Palestinians have no eyes or no ears. No eyes to see that the bombs are hitting almost exclusively civilian targets, such as mosques (15, the last being the Omar Bin Abd Al Azeez di Beit Hanoun), schools, universities, markets and hospitals. No ears to hear the cries of pain and terror of the children, innocent victims and yet all the same the preordained targets of each one of these bombings. According to hospital records, as I’m writing 120 minors were struck by the bombs, 548 being the total death toll so far, plus 2,700 wounded and many, many missing.
Two days ago, night time never came to the Red Crescent hospital in the Jabalia refugee camp. Apache helicopters hovering overhead constantly showered us with luminescent devices, to the point that we could no longer tell between dawn and dusk. The repeated cannon shots from a tank posted at less than a kilometre from the hospital seriously cracked open the building's walls, but it managed not to stay more or less intact until morning. Around 10, bombs exploded onto the neighbouring field, with machine gun fire exploding all around. To the doctors of the Red Crescent hospital, this was clearly a message from the Israeli Army, ordering immediate evacuation, or death. We moved the wounded into other hospitals, and the operative ambulance base is now on the Al Nady street. The medical staff sit on the sidewalk waiting for the calls, which follow one another frantically.
For the first time since the Israeli attack, I've actually seen corpses of members of the Palestinian Resistance. A tiny number of people, compared with to the hundreds of civilian victims, the rates of which have risen exponentially since the land attacks started. Following the shooting at the Jabalia mosque, which left 11 dead and about fifty wounded, all of which took place while the tanks were coming in, for the whole of Saturday while accompanying the ambulances we realised just how terrifyingly powerful the howitzers shot by the Israeli tanks were, as if destructive power had been lacking in the last few days. At Bet Hanoun, a family huddled in front of a wood stove in their house, was struck by one such killer cannon shots. We carried 15 wounded away, 4 of which were in hopeless conditions. Later, towards 3:30 AM, we replied to an emergency call, but it ended up being too late. Standing by their front door, three women in tears handed us a four-year-old girl wrapped in a white sheet, her shroud - she was frozen already.
Another family was fully hit, this time by the Air Force in Jabalia - the two adults had bomb shrapnel in their bodies. Their two children were only slightly injured, but from the way they were screaming it was obvious they were suffering from a psychological trauma, something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives, enduring well beyond a cut on their cheek. Even though no one ever remembers to mention them, there are thousands of children suffering from serious mental illnesses caused by the terror of constant bombings, or worse by the sight of their parents or siblings being torn apart by the explosions.
The crimes that Israel is soiling its bloodied hands with in these hours go well beyond the boundaries of what can be envisaged. The soldiers actually prevent us from running in aid of the survivors in this immense unnatural catastrophe. When the wounded are in the environs of the armoured vehicles of the Israelis who've just attacked them, us Red Crescent ambulance staff aren't allowed to get anywhere close, as the soldiers take pot shots at us. We need to be escorted by at least one Red Cross ambulance, after an agreement of the latter with the summit of the Israeli Army, before we can hope to run in aid of any human lives. Just try and imagine how long such a proceedings would take, a death sentence for sure for all those awaiting transfusions or urgent care.
Even more so since the Red Cross has its own wounded to care for, so there's no way it could answer our every call. We must thus park in a "protected" area, this term being a euphemism in Gaza, and wait for people to bring us their languishing relatives, often carrying them on foot. That's what happened around 5:30 this morning. We stopped the ambulance with the engine on, in the middle of a crossing, communicating our whereabouts via phone to the relatives of the patients on their way. After ten unnerving minutes in waiting, when we'd already decided to evacuate the area in response to another call, we saw them as they turned the corner, advancing towards us, slowly, a mule-drawn cart carrying people. It was a couple and their two children. The best possible illustration of this non-war. This isn't really a war. There aren't two armies battling it out on one front, but a people enduring a siege by an Air Force, a Navy, and now one of the world's most powerful infantries, certainly the most advanced when it comes to technological military equipment. Here they are, attacking a miserable strip of land, just 360 square km, a place where its inhabitants still use mules to move around, and with a hotchpotch resistance whose only real strength are their readiness towards martyrdom.
When that mule-drawn cart got close enough, we approached them and beheld its macabre cargo with horror. A child was lying with his skull cracked open, his eyeballs literally hanging out of their orbits, swaying onto his face like those at the end of a crab's stalks. When we picked him up, he was still breathing. His little brother on the other hand had a disemboweled chest, and you could distinctly count his white ribs beyond the tatters of torn flesh. Their mother held her hands onto that eviscerated chest, as if trying to fix what the fruit of her love had managed to create, and which the anonymous hatred of a soldier, obeying to sadistic orders, had now forever destroyed.
I want to report another crime, our umpteenth personal mourning. The Israeli army continues to target the ambulances. After the killing of the doctor and nurse in Jabalia 4 days ago, today the new victim was a friend of ours: 35-year-old Arafa Abed Al Dayem, father of four. Towards 8:30 yesterday morning, we received a call from Gaza City. Two civilians had been struck down by a tank's machinegun fire and one of our Red Crescent ambulances rushed to their aid. Arafa and one of the nurses were loading the two wounded onto the ambulance and closed the doors just in time to rush back to the hospital, when they were hit by a howitzer from a tank. The shot decapitated one of the wounded and also killed our friend. Nader, the nurse who accompanied them, managed to survive though he ‘s now a patient in the same hospital he works in. Arafa, an elementary school teacher, was a volunteer paramedic for emergencies. We were being showered with bombs and yet hadn't had the heart to call Arafa in such a high-risk situation. He showed up of his own accord, working with a full awareness of the risks involved, being convinced as he was that aside from his family, there were other human beings in need of defending and aid. We miss his jokes, his irresistible and contagious sense of humour, which cheered the whole of the Al Awda hospital in Jabalia up, even in its most dramatic moments, when there were more dead and wounded flowing in than you could manage, and you felt guilty and useless for not being able to do much to help, crushed as we were by a tremendous, unrelenting force, the Israeli Army's death machine.
Someone has to stop this massacre. In the last few days I've seen things, heard uproars and smelt pestilential miasmas that I'll never have the courage to talk about, if I should ever have children of my own. Is there anyone out there? The desolation of feeling isolated and abandoned is equivalent to a view of a Gaza neighbourhood after a heavy air raid campaign. Saturday evening, I was connected via phone to the protesting crowds in Milan, and I handed my cell phone over to the heroic doctors and nurses I'm working with at the moment. They looked reassured for a few moments. Demonstrations the world over are a sign that you can still believe in someone, but these demonstrations are still not large enough to exercise the necessary pressure onto Western governments, which should be forcing Israel into a corner, making it take responsibility for its war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Many terrified pregnant women are prematurely giving birth to their children right now. I was personally present with three of them as they were rushed to the delivery room. One of these, Samira, seven months pregnant, gave birth to a beautiful, tiny baby called Ahmed. Rushing to Awda hospital on board the ambulance with her and leaving behind our rearview mirrors the scenarios of death and destruction (where just a moment before we'd been picking up corpses), I thought for a moment that this new life, on the point of blossoming, could be a harbinger of future hope and peace. But the illusion melted away with the first rocket falling at the side of our ambulance on our way back to Awda from the centre of Jabalia. These brave mothers sadly give birth to creatures who absorb nothing but the green light of tanks and jeeps, or the blinking flashes that precede an explosion. What life expectancy does a child who takes in this much suffering and these many cries of doom right from the first moment of its life have?
the newspaper Il Manifesto