Monday, January 12, 2009

Day 15: 271 dead children

Before leaving Rafah for Cairo last night, I went to the border terminal one last time.

Just after the end of the daily so-called cease fire from 1-4 p.m., a convoy of at least 10 ambulances arrived from Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. The crowd of media pounced on the first few ambulances to arrive, as paramedics began to transfer the patients to Egyptian ambulances. I was standing at a distance, having decided the compelling stories were slipping through the cracks with such a frenzy.

As I stood there alone, a paramedic walked toward me saying, "Come, look. A baby." I followed him to his ambulance and looked inside. When I saw the 3-year-old girl lying there, face covered in burns and bruises, both legs and an arm broken, I felt something inside me break.

Her mother, I was told, was also injured and coming in an ambulance to join her daughter at the border. The Israeli bomb killed three other members of the family. The baby's grandfather was standing nearby and I told him I was sorry for what happened. Then I held up my camera and said, "Is it okay?" He nodded yes.

I turned back toward the little girl and sat on the steps of the ambulance in the open doorway. She immediately began to wail. I didn't want her to be afraid of me. So I started talking to her, telling her she was going to be okay, that her mom would soon be there and that she was safe. Of course she couldn't understand a word of what I was saying, but something in my voice must have calmed her down, because she stopped crying. I took four photographs.

The girl's mother arrived, and the grandfather went to the side of her gurney to help move her. The mom sat up and tried to move on her own to the Egyptian gurney, but maybe it was too painful. She collapsed into her father's arms. I think she just wanted to be with her little girl. Mother and daughter were transported together to Al-Arish's military hospital.

Above, a paramedic waits in the doorway of a Palestinian ambulance next to her patient, a 15-year-old boy who was injured when Israeli bombs hit the mosque where he was praying in Gaza City.

The convoy of ambulances also brought two Norwegian doctors who amazingly had been working at Al-Shifa hospital alongside the Gazan doctors and nurses for the past 11 days. They somehow received approval to go across as part of the Norwegian Aid Committee. Dr. Mads Gilbert called the Palestinian doctors heroes and said their homes had been bombed and some members of their families had been killed and they still stayed at the hospital working around the clock, without proper equipment and sometimes without electricity.

He mentioned that 11 paramedics and one doctor had been "killed in action," that is, while driving clearly marked, uniformed ambulances to hospitals or to the border to try to save a patient. Dr. Gilbert also said that a bomb landed almost right in front of the convoy, shortly before their arrival at the border crossing.

A young man reaches toward his wounds in pain.


janhoo said...

It should be mentioned that Mr. Madsen is a Norwegian Marxist that has publicly supported the WTC terrorist attacks, to just mention one of this extremist opinions. It is also likely that he staged some of the reporting he did from the Gaza strip.

Holly said...

First of all, Dr. Gilbert was not the first person to tell me that ambulances had been hit, either directly or indirectly by Israeli air strikes. A wide variety of doctors, paramedics and officials have been telling me this for days.
I can also confirm that there was an explosion near the Egyptian border with Gaza shortly before the convoy arrived. It was just on the other side of the border gate. Whether or not ambulances are being directly targeted, they are certainly driving in a treacherous environment.

As for the hellish conditions at Al-Shifa hospital, this has been confirmed by journalists inside Gaza through their photographs and footage. I find it extremely unfortunate that the television footage, in particular, is not widely available to people around the world.

Secondly, your attempt to discredit Dr. Mads belies the fact that he is one of the few "Western" people to see and hear first-hand what is actually going on in Gaza, because, as you may know, Israel has so far denied all access to "Western" journalists. Until Israel allows us to see and hear for ourselves the conditions in Gaza, we have to use the words and experiences of others to tell the story.

I'm sorry you're having a hard time believing this. I really don't want to believe it either, but in the face of overwhelming evidence, this is what I've been able to report so far.

FWickeham said...

Thank you Holly for telling (&showing) it the way you see it.
Please be careful out there.

chas said...

holly-i have been following your blogs for only a short short time now, and i find them very interesting. this one def. broke my heart. this whole war is horribly sad. eithere way, war is war and nothing good comes from it.
i find you a brave, brave woman. there are not many women out there with their camera being the only weapon. and more so...i find you brave for sitting with that little girl, comforting her. you win kudo's in my book, thats for damn sure.
i think you covered this small story very well. photographically, too.

robin said...

As the mother of a 3 year old, I can thank you for that child's mother for staying by that baby's side until her mother showed up. I'm sure it was a great comfort to them both.

Erin said...

Holly, I understand why you "just [don't] know." This was a very heart-wrenching post, certain to haunt me for some time, though certainly not as I imagine it will you. Thank you again for your tenacity in reporting. I respect the hell out of you!

Anonymous said...

Be safe. The work you are doing is important.