The Strongest Weapon of All
By Kathy Kelly, Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence
January 19, 2009
Dr. Atallah Tarazi, a General Surgeon at Gaza City's Shifaa Hospital, invited us to meet him in his home, in Gaza City, just a few blocks away from the Shifaa Hospital.
Early this morning, he and his family returned to their home after having fled five days earlier when the bombing attacks on Gaza City had become so fierce that they feared for their lives. "Believe me, when I would drive from the hospital to the place where my family was staying, I prayed all the way," said Dr. Tarazi, "because the Israelis would shoot anyone on the roads at night."
Dr. Tarzi has been practicing medicine as a General Surgeon all of his adult life. Now, at age 61, he says he has never seen such terrible and ugly wounds as he saw during the past three weeks when he and a surgical team tried to help numerous patients with broken limbs, shrapnel wounds, and severe burns. Neurosurgeons, vascular surgeons, orthopedic and general surgeons worked together on patients, as a team, trying to save them, but there were many whose lives they couldn't save. He described patients with shrapnel wounds in their eyes, faces, chests, and abdomens, patients whose legs were amputated above the lower limbs. Most, he said, were civilians.
"These are strange ways of destroying the human body," said Dr. Tarazi. "Please, come tomorrow to the Burn Unit, and you will see patients suffering from the use of white phosphorous."
Dr. Tarazi said that he began to understand the extent of the trauma and danger by listening to the stories of wounded and injured patients.
"Some were sitting in their houses when a tank bomb hit them. They didn't know what happened to them," said Dr. Attalah. "Survivors would reach the hospital after many of their relatives had been killed."
Patients from Beit Lahia told him that in one home, an extended family of 25 people had been attacked while inside their home. When relatives came to help them, Israeli snipers shot eight of them. Many of the wounded were left to die. Ambulances and Red Cross relief workers weren't allowed to enter the area.
At one point, Israel announced a lull in the fighting, but then bombed the Palestine Square, near the municipal offices. Four people came to the hospital, severely injured. "We couldn't save them," said Dr. Tarazi. "Seven others were injured, and they survived."
"In Gaza City, all of the important buildings necessary for maintaining a city have been bombed," said Dr. Tarazi. "From ministries to civilian police stations, all have been destroyed. Some were Hamas buildings, but not all."
We had just walked through the area where the buildings housing ministries of justice, education, and culture were completely destroyed. Driving into Gaza City we saw mosques, factories, houses and schools reduced to rubble. We asked Dr. Tarazi to tell us why, in his opinion, the Israelis had attacked Gaza so fiercely.
He believes that the attacks are essentially irrational but that a main cause for the timing and the magnitude of these attacks is that certain Israeli candidates for upcoming elections want to assure the Israeli public that they are willing to use military force to insure security for Israelis. "Palestinians all the time pay the taxes in blood," said Dr. Tarazi.
"One of the worst aspects of this war," says Dr. Tarazi, "is the lack of respect for the UN. Three United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools were bombed. In Jabaliyah, more than 45 people were killed at a UN school; F16s bombed UNRWA supplies and stores."
"In Shifaa Hospital, we saw plumes of smoke for day and night. All Gaza, every day, was covered with smoke and chemicals. We don't know how it affects the health."
"Yes, 'rocklets' did go out," says Dr. Tarazi, referring to Hamas rockets fired into Israeli towns, "and we felt sympathy for any Israelis hurt by the rocklets. But, if someone hurts you with a pin, you don't cut off his head. You ask WHY the person tried to prick you with a pin. Consider that people here are trapped in a prison and there is a shortage of everything. No one can repair anything. People wanted borders opened so that goods could come and go. After six months of closed borders, people are frustrated. Now, one side declares a cease fire, they say nothing about opening the borders, nothing about withdrawal, and yet they want NATO to help tighten the siege."
"I hope President Obama will be much better than George Bush concerning these things," said Dr. Tarazi. "Human beings that have such a strong army should be civilized and not behave like a terrorist group. Fanatics can be expected to use terror, but a democratic state shouldn't use fallacious statements as an excuse for massive killing. A state which does this should be brought before an International Court of Justice."
"And yet," he said, "we must experiment with ways of love. We are trying, with Jewish people…by feelings and actions. We need to succeed. We need to live together. We are trying to be in good relations with all the partners, all the views."
"The strongest weapon all over the world is love," says Dr. Tarazi, adding that he has always believed this and has said this to his colleagues, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, throughout his career. He recalled declaring this same belief at the Eretz border crossing, shortly after the Israelis launched "Operation Cast Lead." He had been among the 200 Christians who were chosen (800 had applied) to cross the border and celebrate the Orthodox Christmas holiday with family members in the West Bank. When the attacks began, he ended his holiday and hurried to the border, knowing he must return to his work and his family. At the border crossing, he greeted soldiers, "Merry Christmas." Soldiers answered, "Do you have weapons?" "Yes," Dr. Tarazi replied, "I have the strongest weapon of all, the weapon of love."
Worse Than an Earthquake
by Kathy Kelly
January 21, 2009--Gaza--Traffic on Sea Street, a major thoroughfare alongside Gaza's coastline, includes horses, donkeys pulling carts, cyclists, pedestrians, trucks and cars, mostly older models. Overhead, in stark contrast to the street below, Israel's ultra modern unmanned surveillance planes criss-cross the skies. F16s and helicopters can also be heard. Remnants of their deliveries, the casings of missiles, bombs and shells used during the past three weeks of Israeli attacks, are scattered on the ground.
Workers have cleared most of the roads. Now, they are removing massive piles of wreckage and debris, much as people do following an earthquake. "Yet, all the world helps after an earthquake," said a doctor at the Shifaa hospital in Gaza. "We feel very frustrated," he continued. "The West, Europe and the U.S., watched this killing go on for 22 days, as though they were watching a movie, watching the killing of women and children without doing anything to stop it. I was expecting to die at any moment. I held my babies and expected to die. There was no safe place in Gaza."
He and his colleagues are visibly exhausted, following weeks of work in the Intensive Care and Emergency Room departments at a hospital that received many more patients than they could help. "Patients died on the floor of the operating room because we had only six operating rooms," said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan, M.D, an ICU doctor who grew up in Chicago. "And really we don't know enough about the kinds of weapons that have been used against Gaza."
In 15 years of practice, Dr. Abuhassan says he never saw burns like those he saw here. The burns, blackish in color, reached deep into the muscles and bones. Even after treatment was begun, the blackish color returned.
Two of the patients were sent to Egypt because they were in such critical condition. They died in Egypt. But when autopsies were done, reports showed that the cause of death was poisoning from elements of white phosphorous that had entered their systems, causing cardiac arrests.
In Gaza City, The Burn Unit's harried director, a plastic surgeon and an expert in treating burns, told us that after encountering cases they'd never seen before, doctors at the center performed a biopsy on a patient they believed may have suffered chemical burns and sent the sample to a lab in Egypt. The results showed elements of white phosphorous in the tissue.
The doctor was interrupted by a phone call from a farmer who wanted to know whether it was safe to eat the oranges he was collecting from groves that had been uprooted and bombed during the Israeli invasion. The caller said the oranges had an offensive odor and that when the workers picked them up their hands became itchy.
Audrey Stewart had just spent the morning with Gazan farmers in Tufaa, a village near the border between Gaza and Israel. Israeli soldiers had first evacuated people, then dynamited the houses, then used bulldozers to clear the land, uprooting the orange tree groves. Many people, including children, were picking through the rubble, salvaging belongings and trying to collect oranges. At one point, people began shouting at Audrey, warning her that she was standing next to an unexploded rocket.
The doctor put his head in his hands, after listening to Audrey's report. "I told them to wash everything very carefully. But these are new situations. Really, I don't know how to respond," he said.
Yet he spoke passionately about what he knew regarding families that had been burned or crushed to death when their homes were bombed. "Were their babies a danger to anyone?" he asked us.
"They are lying to us about democracy and Western values," he continued, his voice shaking. "If we were sheep and goats, they would be more willing to help us."
Dr. Saeed Abuhassan was bidding farewell to the doctors he'd worked with in Gaza. He was returning to his work in the United Arab Emirates. But before leaving, he paused to give us a word of advice. "You know, the most important thing you can tell people in your country is that U.S. people paid for many of the weapons used to kill people in Gaza," said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan. "And this, also, is why it's worse than an earthquake."
Kathy Kelly (email@example.com) is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org http://www.vcnv.org/> ) She and Audrey Stewart have been in Gaza for the past six days.