Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hell in Gaza by Shirin

The following is a diary written on the first day of the bombing by my dear friend, Dr Majdi Ashour. He is a physician and a Fullbright scholar who received a Masters in Public Health here in the U.S. He is someone whose intrinsic kindness is obvious the moment you put eyes on him. His wife is a darling, beautiful, and very kind and intelligent person as well.

This diary is from the first day of the bombing. He was going to try to write something every day, but was not able to write more after this one. So, this is before it got really bad, and before anyone knew how bad it was going to be.

Dr Majdi Ashour is a Palestinian native of Gaza, a physician and a Fulbright scholar who achieved his Masters in Public health in the United States. He lives in Gaza City with his wife and two year old daughter. He is a long-time personal friend of mine, and one of the kindest people I know. This is his experience on the first day of the Israeli assault on Gaza before anyone knew how bad it would become or how long it would last. Unfortunately, he has not been able to write more since then. There has been no communication from him for more than a week now, and I do not know whether he and his family are alive, but I do have an idea what he and his family are suffering. I hope at least they have some food and water, because I cannot imagine the pain of seeing your beloved two year old baby girl going hungry and thirsty, let alone the pain of knowing that there is nothing you can do to ease her hunger and her thirst. So, this is how the hell began.

The doctor's story is below the fold...

Being lucky in Gaza!

Personal Note by Dr. Majdi Ashour

I left the clinic where I work at 11:20 am in order to attend the defense of a Masters dissertation of a friend of mine which was scheduled to be held at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society building in Gaza. I got into a usual 7 passenger Mercedes' Taxi .

While in the taxi on our way to Gaza, we heard a huge explosion, then we saw 2 huge Mushroom-like dust clouds going up into the sky. The taxi driver decided to change his direction from Salah Eldin Street to the Sea shore Street to reach our final distention in Gaza City. We were not sure what was up. The taxi driver turned the radio on alaqsa radio station - Hamas radio station. The radio declared that there was an air strike by Israeli air forces. One passenger began shouting that all traitors should be killed or transferred to Ramallah. The taxi reached a junction near the Palestinian Red Crescent Building which was blocked due to an air strike to a buiding neighboring it.

I crossed on my feet the ruins of a destroyed building as the taxi could not cross it. The building which was hit by Israeli Air Force's F16 fighters was the ex-headquarters of the Preventive Security Forces which was seized by Hamas militants in June 2007.

When I reached the Palestinian Red Crescent building where the defense of the masters thesis was to take place, I noticed the damage incurred to the building; the windows and the doors were broken as a result of the destruction of the neighboring buildings; the grounds of the building and the hospital were covered by shrapnel from the broken windows.

Before entering the building , my eyes captured the frightened face of a woman looking for her daughter who had left her school during the air strikes. The air strikes took place around the time the children were leaving schools at 11: 30 am. At the entrance of the building I met the brother of my friend and his masters thesis supervisor. I shook hands with them; they told me that air fighters had bombed dozens of localities and more than forty people were reported dead at Gaza hospitals. I asked immaturely but naturally whether the dissertation's defense would take place today as scheduled; they were reluctant, but the supervisor responded with confidence that it should. They left to inspect the office of the supervisor and to make sure that windows were not damaged.

I stepped up to the hall where the defense should take place; I shook hands with my friend, his wife and two daughters. My friend expressed his readiness to complete the task and defend his dissertation even in this atmosphere and without the new fashioned PowerPoint presentation, electricity, and the luxury of a full hall of audience and the expected celebration. The masters thesis of my friend is about the role of NGOs in providing health care services in Gaza Strip. I commented trying to show a sense of humor that his topic is highly political and so is the atmosphere.

An external examiner came to the hall carrying an envelop him, we shook hands with him. After a while, the university supervisor came with the brother of my friend. He told us that the internal examiner tried to contact him by the mobile unsuccessfully; he received a missed call from his home phone. I suggested that we could try to reach him using the land line of the hospital. The supervisor agreed to my suggestion. We went to the hospital. The hospital entry was crowded and the emergency room was oversaturated by dead and injured. We were told that the hospital had received 8 dead. We asked to use the phone of the hospital receptionist. The supervisor called the internal examiner, who was unable to reach the building where the defense is scheduled. Therefore, the defense was postponed.

I was told that 40 synchronized air strikes had taken place all over the Gaza Strip, of which 2 targeted a police station and a fire station in the suburb where my apartment is located. I realized that the 2 huge bombings that I saw while in the taxi on my way to Gaza were in the small suburb where my apartment is located. I became anxious; tried unsuccessfully to call the mobile of my wife; phone the land line of my home but no answer from home. I became more anxious.

I called my brother who lives in the neighborhood where the Red Crescent building is located, he told me that he is okay and that he called my home several times but no one answered. I walked to his home. He, the lucky, has an electricity generator at home. We watched the TV painfully and clicked on the internet explorer to know what was going on. He told me that the windows of the apartment of our other brother who live in the same suburb where I live, were broken after the air strikes. I tried to call home several times unsuccessfully. By the end, I succeeded in reaching my; she told me that she went to the neighboring apartment which has the windows damaged. She and our daughter were fine but horrified. The windows of our apartment are okay.

I phoned my parents, brothers, and uncle. Every body is alive and physically safe. I excused myself from my brother and left his apartment. I bought some candies for my daughter and took the taxi home.

I entered home; my two years old daughter smiled, then smartly showed me that she has learned a new phrase: "Ana Khayfa Baba" - " I am afraid Baba". I hugged her. My wife told me that we have only 4 pieces of small pita bread. I responded angrily that bakeries are run of cooking gas and wheat. She told the 4 pieces are enough for me, the hungry, and the daughter. I asked about her; she told that she will make stuffed eggplants. I went to the grocery store.

On my way to the grocery store, some of my neighbors were standing on the terrace of the building. I shook hands with them and congratulated them on their personal safety. They told me that almost all the windows of the buildings of the suburb where we live were damaged and only those of the few luckies were not. We exchanged ideas and thoughts about the unpredictable life and future of Gaza. One said this is the beginning. The second expressed his belief that they are interested in weakening the governing regime in Gaza but not liquidating it. I responded that we are expected to live in this way for decades. Another one, who is known to be a Fatah employee, said that it is better to live under Hamas rule than under a direct Israeli occupation and added that some Iraqis were interested in getting ride of Sadam regime but when USA troops came to Iraq, it killed over a million and a civil war was exploded. I excused myself and went to the grocery store; bought pretzels and eggs.

As unusual, I fried potatoes, onion, and eggs. I took a modest but delicious lunch with my daughter and wife. As the electricity was cut, I have nothing to do with my computer or the TV. I took the Arabic translation of Milan Kundera's L'Ignorance, which I started reading yesterday by the kerosene light yesterday evening, to the bed to have my usual afternoon nap.

I got up before 5 pm, I lit the kerosene light and got back to Kundera. I took my dose of coffee and cigarettes. I played with my smart daughter and spoke with my wife. I completed reading the novel before 8 pm.

My wife went with our daughter to the bed. I had nothing to do except waiting for the electricity.
The electricity current came back at 9: 20 pm. I switched on the TV. I turned the TV to BBC arabic, Al-arabia, Al-Hurra, and Palestine TV Channel and also to Aljazeera, which I have ignored since the seizure of power in June 2007. The TV channels tell that more than 230 were killed and more than 700 were injured, among them serious cases. One TV channel showed a Palestinian leader donating blood to the injured in Gaza. I smiled; it is better to keep my O negative blood for an unexpected more dangerous emergency.

I got away from the switched on TV to the computer to type my personal notes about this bloodiest day in Gaza.


iamcoyote said...

Thank you Shirin, for the person account.

iamcoyote said...

Also, to be fair, CG, if you have personal stories you'd like to have front paged, I'd be happy to put them up. Now, my big boss is in town, so I'd better get some work done. I've also got a friend coming from out of town, so I may be absent over the next week.

Be excellent to each other, please!

CG said...

Thanks for the offer Coyote, but I don't have any. There is a girl from our temple who is over in Israel on a 2-week trip right now. I'm sure they won't go anywhere near the south, so hopefully no harrowing stories from her, but I'd be interested to hear what the atmosphere was like over there among the Israelis--how they're feeling about all this.

I saw that commercial you guys were talking about--the mellow-dramatic one about helping Israel. The organization is called The International Federation of Christians and Jews ( and was founded by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and supported by Jewish and Christian righties/neo-cons. Of course the Christians supporting this org just want the Jews to have all of historic Palestine so Jesus can come again and send all the Jews to hell. Their mission statement is about fostering understanding between Jews and Christians, but the website is all about Israel.

They do some good things, but if I wanted to donate to those causes (helping former-Soviet Jews, helping Ethiopian Jews) I wouldn't do it through this organization.

iamcoyote said...

I shoulda known, CG, that neocons were involved. It was one of the most offensive things I'd ever seen. Clear and unselfconscious, unapologetic propaganda.

iamcoyote said...

And I would be interested in hearing about your friend's experience in Israel. I'm to the point where I don't trust any "reporter" or pundit to just tell what's actually happening. So, even a "word on the street" thingy might be very informative!

CG said...

Interesting blog I found:

"Peaceman" blogs from Gaza and "Hopeman" blogs from Sderot.

Shirin said...

It is beyond me why any Jew, let alone any Jew who cares about Israel would associate with a group of false friends whose "love" for Jews and Israel is all about bringing about events that are supposed to lead to the destruction of the Jewish people.

With "friends" like that, Jews don't need enemies.

CG said...

Exactly Shirin. I don't get it either. I guess since we don't believe in the "end times" the way they do, some Jews don't care why some Christians support Israel--they'll take whatever they can get. Ick.

mainsailset said...

Per the Guardian this morning Obama may be poised to open up communication with Hamas

h/t AmericaBlog

iamcoyote said...

Obama may be

I'll believe it when he does. When I see "may be" or "may do," I know I'm being manipulated. I've finally learned to trust my instinct not to trust anyone. They all lie.

Anjha said...

Coyote, I think that "may be" were Mainy's words, not the articles.

According to the article:

The Guardian has spoken to three ­people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive.

Obama a) canot tip his hand right now b) cannot step on the still President's toes and c) when he does engage Hamas will have to do so secretly or risk legitimizing them.

I think that it is reasonable.

However, engaging Hamas is not as necessary at the moment as speaking out against Israel. Condi "abstained" during the vote at the UN Security Council which was BS.

There is absolutely no reason for our unconditional support of Israel. While I agree that Israel is an ally, and while I agree that they need our support - they cannot be allowed their illegal aggression with our tacit approval. This is BS. There is a ton of evidence that Israel is not following the rules of conflict.

Israel - by all accounts - is participating in War Crimes.

Unfortunately the US no longer has any credibility, thanks to the Bush Admin, in speaking out against war crimes.

Shirin - the most striking things from your friends account are 1. that he was so calm at the beginning of the attacks. He acted as though this were just another day in Gaza. He was not even panicked about his family until he heard reports that some of the bombings were in the area of his home. I find this striking. That anyone could become so used to living under this kind of stress and terror that they do not even react like anything is out of the ordinary.

I worry about my child at school if there is a wind storm - I cannot imagine what it would be like if I had to deal with bombing. Crap.

The second thing that I found so striking is his report of deaths and injuries:

The TV channels tell that more than 230 were killed and more than 700 were injured, among them serious cases.

We are still hearing that on the first day of strikes there were 40 killed. Now we are not even being given numbers.

I hate having my information censored. When this happens it is nothing more than propaganda.

Gawd what a shitty, shitty world we live in.

CG said...

Found this analysis in Haaretz interesting. Emphasis is mine:

At midnight Friday, according to Hamas' interpretation of the Palestinian constitution, the tenure of Mahmoud Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority comes to an end.

The confrontation in the Gaza Strip has granted Israel the opportunity to decide whether Abbas will lose his legitimacy before some of his nation, or will secure continued Fatah rule in the West Bank.

The decision to adopt the Egyptian-French-American compromise may bring an end to the fighting in the Strip and create the conditions for the resumption of the peace process. A decision to reject it may, instead of causing the collapse of Hamas rule in Gaza, bring about the crash of Abbas' rule in the West Bank. And that will, by extension, destroy the road map.

The proposal is based mostly on the 2005 agreement on the crossings that Israel signed. It established that the Rafah crossing would be operated by the Palestinian Authority and a third party - in this case the European Union - would supervise its operation.

In addition it was agreed that the crossings would be operated on a continuous basis and would be described as international border crossings. Israel would allow the crossing of goods and people between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

A Hamas victory in the January 2006 election resulted in the shelving of the document governing the crossings and the Hamas takeover in the Strip, in June 2007, effectively killed it.

Egypt's Hosni Mubarak would be glad to revive the agreement without offering Hamas an official role. But he also understands something that Israel finds difficult to comprehend - that Hamas is not going anywhere. The alternative to including it in the governance of the Gaza Strip does not translate into a new "security reality" but a new chaotic situation.

As such, Mubarak is relying on the willingness of Khaled Meshal, Hamas' politburo chief, to accept the presence of Abbas' officials at the crossings, next to Hamas representatives and European observers. From the point of view of Hamas, this is as far as it can go. If Israel wishes to have a long range cease-fire that will allow the resumption of the peace process with Fatah, it must come the rest of the way.

In order to make this happen, Mubarak is willing to accept the presence of foreign troops in an effort to prevent smuggling of arms into the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Egypt would like to avoid an opening of Rafah crossing that will strengthen the link between the Strip and Sinai, something Cairo fears like the plague.

Incorporating the PA in the running of the crossings would retain Gaza as an inalienable part of the Palestinian situation. Since its election victory three years ago, it turns out that including Hamas in Palestinian government is a necessary condition to solving the problem.

Shirin said...

CG, one of the things that amazes me is that the very same people who viciously slander critics of Israel's policies and actions with the nasty label of anti-Semite, simultaneously fervently embrace the so-called Christian Zionists whose goal is to use the Jewish State to bring about the complete obliteration of the Jewish people.

The irony is stunning.

Shirin said...

Anjha, Majdi would say with resignation "this is our life". Yes, it IS appalling.

What broke my heart the most is that his beautiful beloved girl had to learn to understand and to say "Ana Khaifa, Baba" - "I am scared, Daddy" at the age of two years. It makes me want to cry when I think about it.

And now the thing that I think about is, assuming they are even alive, what they have been going through in the last two weeks. Do they have food? Do they have water? And how do you deal with hearing your two year old child asking for food and having to tell her there is none? And how do you manage to deal with seeing your precious baby terrorized and you cannot do anything about it?

And I wonder whether after this is over Majdi's resignation might not be replaced by rage, and hate, and a desire for revenge?

Shirin said...

CG, tangential to the article you posted are you aware that the facts about the "Hamas coup" are not at all as they have been presented in the U.S. media, and certainly by the U.S. government?

Hamas made the coup because they knew that Fatah, instigated and aided by the U.S. and Israel was about to make a coup against them, so they beat them to it. The U.S. and Israel's part in it all is documented.

So, once again the Bush regime - and with them the Israeli government - are hoist on their own petard.