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.


Being Chicken, and Refugees

Chicken (and Refugees)
I am a big chicken. My friend reminded me recently that during the “hostilities” last November, after the first night of rockets, I gchatted her that “the last rocket sounded really close” and convinced her (and myself, I suppose) to head for Tel Aviv. No one seems to know what to call what happened last November, hostilities doesn’t convey much, but it wasn’t quite a war. Let’s settle for “the lobbing of explosives towards places filled with fragile and unique human bodies, too successfully by the Israelis in that 158 people were killed, which is 158 too many, and less successfully, but still too successfully by Gaza, because six people dead is six too many.”
But I want to talk about leaving Beer Sheva. As I said before, I am a big chicken. One night of sirens, and running for the corner of the house away from windows, and I packed a small bag and headed for the train. It was actually a good time to leave, my friends who left later than me had to duck for cover multiple times while trying to get to the train station.
From Tel Aviv, I went to Nazereth for a weekend, and from Nazereth I went to Afula, where my school had already assigned me for Family medicine. When patients heard where I was from, they would say “You ran away from the rockets,” but with a smile, because they had relatives sleeping on their couches, and I would insist that I was just in the north for school, but they were more or less right.
There is something very primal, very human, about the urge to run away from violence. It’s an instinct in all of us, and generally a good one.
My journey out of Beer Sheva made me think about journeys others had made. I went to Tel Aviv because I had friends there and because it is where most of the buses and trains go to from Beer Sheva. I had read once that before Israel’s independence, Gaza City was the transportation hub for the south. When a lot of people fled the violence around Beer Sheva in 1948, they ended up in Gaza.
But unlike them, I was able to go back.