Haunting memories of genocide

The rubble of al-Shifa and nearby buildings

The scale of destruction in Gaza is unprecedented. Here is what remains of al-Shifa hospital and nearby buildings.

Omar Ishaq DPA via ZUMA Press

There are memories that will always haunt you.

I remember Wafa. Wafa was a woman in her thirties. She was dead when the paramedics brought her to the emergency department of al-Shifa hospital, where I was working that day.

Wafa had struggled with infertility for 16 years. But after several attempts at artificial insemination, the treatment finally succeeded.

And then some: In August 2023, Wafa gave birth to quadruplets, three boys and one girl.

They were all killed in an Israeli airstrike on her husband’s home not long after 7 October. He survived, but I have no further information about him.

Why do I remember Wafa’s case so vividly?

I guess some might conclude that her 16-year struggle to get pregnant had all been in vain.

I don’t. She succeeded. She never gave up.

I remember Shahd.

Shahd had been injured when a missile struck her home.

Her husband had perished.

Shahd was pregnant when the paramedics brought her to me, asking for me to check on the health of her baby.

But she hadn’t come to me first. She had been transferred from the orthopedic department because doctors had had to amputate her left leg as well as the toes of her right foot.

Her lower right leg was fractured in several places and her face had been scarred beyond recognition from shrapnel.

I placed the ultrasound on her abdomen. I did so fearing the worst. Genocide only leaves room for the worst.

The fetus had died in her womb.

I cried when she told me that she knew me, because she followed me on social media.

I cried because she had lost her baby, her husband, her face and her home.

Some memories will always haunt you.

Every patient

I remember every patient and every case.

I am a third-year medical student. I was in my third year of training at the obstetrics and gynecological department at al-Shifa hospital on 7 October.

I remember the first days of panic and confusion, when Israel’s bombardment was so comprehensive and so indiscriminate the hospital was overrun with patients and relatives, spilling into corridors and waiting rooms.

I remember not being able to find a way to get to work from my home in northern Gaza, because no one dared to take to the streets and even ambulances were being targeted.

I remember how quickly we were short staffed. Many healthcare workers had been killed in the early days. Within a month or two, many had been displaced south.

We worked 48 hour shifts to compensate. But even that was not enough. And then the Israeli military began striking the hospital. Missiles had already struck the fifth floor of the intensive care unit of the obstetrics department when the army forced us to move the maternity department to al-Helou International Hospital.

This was early November and before everyone had been forced south.

One day I was resting in the emergency room after a long shift. A huge crash startled me awake, and more followed. Israeli tanks were shelling the hospital, striking the fourth and fifth floors.

I was covered in shards of glass and I could barely see for the cloud of dust.

I was terrified. Everyone was terrified. Outside, pregnant women, patients with IV drips and urinary catheters still attached, were fleeing barefoot in a panic.

That was the moment I realized the scale of destruction Israel intended to visit on us. It was the moment I decided to move south. For my life and for the lives of my family.

Some memories haunt you.

Haya Hijazi is a medical student in Gaza.