When I met my first Gazan

The first time I met someone from Gaza, I was with a group of classmates visiting Save A Child’s Heart at Wolfson Medical Center in Tel Aviv.
While we were sitting around waiting for the volunteer coordinator, a man named Yusuf* wandered out and introduced himself to us. He spoke English and Hebrew easily, and explained that he had worked in in Israel, back when that was possible. He was there with his infant grandson; when the family sent the baby to Israel for medical care, they sent the grandfather with him because he was the only one in the family who could communicate in Hebrew.
One of the nurses walked by. “We love him,” she said. “I don’t know what we’d do without him, he’s been translating for all of the families here.”
As they later took us through the ward, they pointed out which one was Yusuf’s grandson. He was tiny, surrounded by tubes and sedated. He was somewhat blue, because his body could not get enough oxygen into his blood. He didn’t look so good, but the doctor thought he had a decent chance of making it out of the NICU, but he would always have health problems, and his rebuilt heart would only last him for so long.
It wasn’t Yusuf’s job to be an unofficial ambassador for Gazans, a different face than what the news portrays, although he played the part admirably. It wasn’t his job to be the volunteer translator of the unit, although he did that happily.
He told us exactly why he was there. It might be Allah’s will that this baby would die, he told us. But he would only accept that if he had first done everything he could to save his grandson.
This was a few years ago. I don’t know what has happened since to Yusuf and his grandson.
But the news looks different when the people it affects have a face and a story.
*names and other identifying details of patients are always made up, or left deliberately vague.


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