preloader

Shell-Shocked

By Mohammed Omer

Click here to buy Shell-Shocked

Shell-Shocked

Ramadan, when night descends, is usually a joyous time. Friends and family gather to break their fast at the iftar meal. Not this year.

Nights are the worst. That is when the bombing escalates. Nowhere is safe. Not a mosque. Not a church. Not a school, or even a hospital. All are potential targets.

On Monday, the Israeli military fired artillery rounds at Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, claiming to target a cache of anti-tank missiles. Dr. Khalil Khattab, a surgeon, was operating on a patient when the first shell struck. He ran to the floors below to discover at least four dead and dozens of colleagues—doctors, nurses, orderlies and administrators—injured. The medical staff had become patients.

The Gaza Strip—a little less than half the size of New York City—is home to 1.8 million people, mainly Muslims, with a small Christian minority. Its population is cut off from the world, living under the blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel in 2007. For anyone over the age of seven, this is the third time they’ve lived through a sustained attack.

In two weeks of bombing and shelling, more than 600 Palestinians have been reported killed. Since the Israeli ground invasion began, 28 Israeli soldiers have died; the conflict has also claimed the lives of two Israeli civilians.

Here in Gaza City, the electricity was gone; it was dark everywhere. The water supply was foul, food was rancid, and fear permeated the summer night. On Eighth Street, I visited the al-Baba family. For this family of fifteen, a corrugated tin roof was all that stood between them and the bombs. Hani al-Baba, 23, heard the hum of a drone. Some are for surveillance, some are weaponized. Which is which, one never knows.

The sound was enough to send the children scurrying into corners, trembling and praying. Nervously, Hani scanned the night sky. Israeli strikes have taken out entire families. In a town near Khan Younis on Sunday, more than twenty members of the Abu Jameh family died when their home was hit. For safety, Hani’s father split the family into different rooms—a scene played out in nearly every home in Gaza, a grim shell game of family members.

Suddenly, a bomb exploded in the field behind the al-Babas’ house: a boom followed by a flash of light. Everyone screamed. The ground shook, the air seemed to implode, sucking the breath from lungs. Then it was dark again. Why this area was being bombed was unclear. There were no “terrorists,” no rockets. It was a neighbourhood of families, scared and cowering in the dark.

The long siege has bled the Gaza Strip dry. There is no money for public services; the majority of the population lives in abject poverty. And now at least 120,000 Gazans have been displaced by the fighting, thousands taking temporary shelter in United Nations schools. Many will return to homes damaged or destroyed, with little or no means to rebuild. Cement is especially severely rationed because Israel suspects it is diverted by Hamas to build tunnels for fighters.

At Shifa Hospital, what struck me was the resilience and dignity of the families. Forced to evacuate under gunfire, they had become refugees in their own land. I watched a grandmother who’d fled the east of the city comforting her four grandchildren and two daughters. The family broke their fast with slices of bread, two yogurts, cucumber and tomatoes. This was their iftar.

All Excerpts

Coming soon   /   View all

  • Tibetan Caravans
    Tibetan Caravans

    Born into an eminent merchant family in Ladakh in 1918, Khwaja Abdul Wahid Radhu, often described as ‘the last caravaneer of Tibet and Central Asia’, led an unusual life of adventure, inspiration and enlightenment. His ancestors and elders, and later he, had the honour of leading the biannual caravan between Ladakh and Tibet, which carried […]

Connect with us

Join the Speaking Tiger Books mailing list: