The drive to my new hospital takes up the better part of that hour which exists between dawn and sunrise. The roads are a placid network of asphalt conveying us ungrudgingly in the dark – the light traffic at this hour was no skin off its back. A strong cup of coffee keeps me awake a quarter of the way. A precious golden brew resting close to my knees. The rest of the time, I rely on the conversations and deliberations coursing through on the AM radio to steer my mind away from thoughts of sleep.
The broadcast is a bitter pill to swallow so early in the morning. The world is in a state of hideous funk. I listen – worried, impassioned and angry – to updates from Gaza. During my first twilight drive, a UN official is being interviewed from the Gaza strip. We are almost a full month into the start of the siege, and the death toll is tremendous. I was mocked by an Israeli proponent on social media when I raised the question of humanity in the early days of the military operation. “100 people is not “scores of people”. In Syria 100,000 have been killed. That’s scores. If you care about saving lives I suggest you take interest in the Syrian conflict or north Korea. Or African conflicts. The Israeli Arab conflict is actually relatively clean and measured.”
Now there are more than 1800 lives lost on the Palestinian side. 70% are civilians, close to a third are children. I hope that even Eyal Bar in his defense of a “clean and measured” operation on civilians at its incipience can see that there it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend this kind of massacre now.
With their eyes and crosshairs aimed at the densely populated Gaza strip, the Israeli government and its defence forces balk at the suggestion that they are targeting civilians, despite the fact that they have proven to really excel at it. To the world, they deny any accusations of war crimes wholesale. To their own people, they assure them that they are merely defending themselves. To their supporters, they teach a litany of justifications.
They insist: We do not target civilians. We are targeting Hamas. Hamas hide their weaponry in civilian areas and use Palestinians as human shields. We try to minimize civilian death by calling them and asking them to evacuate. We drop a warning bomb on rooftops almost a full minute before we reduce the building to rubble. Failing to remove themselves from those buildings after such warning is a sure sign that they consent to being used as human shields.
Their supporters feel appeased and forget to ask: when entire housing blocks are being blown up, have the Israeli Defence Forces carefully left a few power sockets unharmed so that every Palestinian can ensure that their phones are fully charged, and that the telecommunication towers are still able to provide good signal in order to receive the warnings? If a family had an 80 year old grandmother on the 5th floor of a building about to be bombed, would she have time to to evacuate in the 57 seconds between the warning bomb and the actual full scale detonation? If a rapist texted a family to say he’ll be around in 5 minutes to violate and possibly kill their occupants, is the act justified if they were not able to get out in time? If at last the rapist was deemed dangerous and needed to be terminated with heavy artillery, would it be right to rain missiles on his suspected place of hiding even though it was right next to my local high school?
For many, and rightfully so, this kind of logic just doesn’t make the cut. The international community is whipped into a frenzy of protests in major cities numbering hundreds of thousands. Some would even say scores. The solidarity for a free Palestine that has been present over decades is now amplified on every platform available. We are becoming a digital beast, and there are ways in which we can harness our powers for good. Information is shared in a nanosecond, and when it is not forthcoming, the demand for more coverage and reporting of the events on mainstream media is thunderous. Yet even more deafening is the silence and inaction from the major powers on the world stage, watching without intervening.
In the end, it was almost as if the Israeli Defence Forces themselves felt the need to awaken the UN into acknowledging that a serious humanitarian crisis was going on here. They did this by bombing a UNRWA school in Gaza, where thousands of hungry, injured, tired, and scared Palestinians were taking shelter. And then they bombed another.
This was the interview I was listening to that morning on the AM radio. The voice of the UN official sounded ragged, exasperated. “How can this keep happening?” The Israelis were told of their coordinates, he reported. There were 3,300 people sheltered there.
I think of the little girls with matted curls pressed up close beneath the trembling wing of their mothers, their eyes wide in a question they can’t even form. I think of boys only 5 or 6 or 7, in the height of all that is curious and innocent. They must be thinking the same thing: “How can this keep happening?”
In this maleficent dance, Israel has a strong and stalwart partner. No matter where it turns and which misstep it takes, the USA is there to stand by them. Together they ignore the cries of people protesting in front of government buildings around the world, asking for a reprieve. It stands up in an international court that begs the investigation into the war crimes being committed by their Israeli ally, their solo vote of “No” sticking up like a sore thumb. Sure, an attack on a UN building that sheltered civilians caused a raised eyebrow, but it didn’t stop them from replenishing the ammunition of the Israeli army.
Work at the new hospital is heart-stoppingly busy. Before the dust of the day’s events had had a chance to settle in my mind, the hourglass of a night’s reprieve was ready to be upended once more. It’s time to make the drive again. Even in the low light, the route is becoming more familiar. I can weave towards the appropriate lanes without hesitating, and mark the halfway mark when the big bridge looms up to the right of the motorway. We press the pedal to the floor as we climb up and the momentum takes us past the speed limit on the way down. In a visual orchestra, a dozen red brake lights come on together while at the same time a hundred pale stars take themselves away from our retina. The radio transmission crackles, spits and reverberates as I make the hook turn onto Anzac Avenue and simmers down once I’ve driven past the AM frequency sinkhole. My phone givens off a series of bells as I back into my hospital parking spot, signalling sunrise and the end of the window for Fajr prayer.
In the first few days, I somehow survive the myriad teething issues of trying to be fully functional in a completely new environment and make the long drive back to arrive home after dark. I am thankful for the non-existent bedtimes of Asian kids when I see Yama Pot awake at the top of the stairs, full of beans, cuddles and conversations. She wants to jump around, exercise, make me laugh. After a 24 hour on call day mid-week, I was allowed home in the bright light of day. We head to the playground with Yama Pot, who screams several happy octaves as we push her on the swings.
Fingertips just tipping would send you
Every bit as far – once you got going –
As a big push in the back.
Sooner or later,
We all learned to go sky high,
Backward and forward in the open shed,
Toeing and rowing and jackknifing through air.
– Seamus Heaney
It’s during the evening AM broadcast that I’m introduced to musicians, artists, writers and scientists whom I dutifully look up when I get home. One of the voices I discover is that of Omar Musa, and in his book of poems that I now own, he ponders:
“What a beautiful world we live in,” I think as I sit with Yama Pot on a motley rug, reading a book of thick cardboard pages. The slow smile that comes on halfway through a funfair ride. Her cheeky smile as she tries to trick me into laughing. Hearty, steamy food from a table set by my mom, surrounded by my family who visits with all the things I miss about them when the house is quiet and I’m alone again.
“What a heartbreaking world we live in,” I feel when at the end of a drive full of news of war, I walk onto a ward full of illness. When another cease-fire comes and goes and the dead keep increasing in numbers. When the reports never seem to get any prettier, and I wish there was something we could do. When the liars of the world speak their untruths so freely, and there are still those who eat them up at the cost of justice and peace.