Under siege at a Gaza hospital

Israel shelled the Indonesian hospital, with patients and displaced people inside, on 20 November. This is a view of the hospital on 29 November. (Mohammed Alaswad / APA Images) 

I had a dream last night that I saw my aunt, uncle and cousins sitting in a fragrant garden, smiling and sharing fruit from the trees.

I woke up crying, knowing that they were no longer on this earth, as my uncle’s entire family was massacred by Israel at their home in Jabaliya refugee camp.

It happened the night of 20 October, when Israel dropped bombs on Jabaliya, located northeast of Gaza City, for 15 minutes nonstop. The bombs leveled entire blocks of buildings, crushing their inhabitants.

My uncle’s building was one of 10 that Israel destroyed on a single block.

On that day, in the morning, my dad, sensing that something was wrong, called one of my cousins. My cousin’s voice was shaking as he told my dad that Abu Shadi, Um Shadi and all their sons and daughters had been martyred.

My dad put the call on speaker, and the news of their murder filled the room. I spent the next hours in my bedroom, crying for hours until I fell asleep.

When I woke up, there was more news.

Two cousins had been rescued from the wreckage. Yet the remaining 12 members of the family were not alive when they were pulled from the rubble.

My uncle Fathi.

My aunt Khadija.

My cousins Ahmed, Shadi and Shadia.

Shadi’s wife and her three children.

Oday and Huda, the two children of my cousin Shaima.

I thanked God for the two survivors. It would mean that their family would not be erased from the civil registry.

One of the survivors

My cousin Shaima survived the massacre. She is my age, 30.

Her children were among those pulled dead from under the rubble. Shaima was alive but unconscious.

Her condition was critical. At the Indonesian hospital in north Gaza, she underwent a series of surgeries over three days.

The surgeries treated various fractures in her body, including in her pelvis.

Shaima’s husband Mahmoud works as a nurse at the hospital where she was being treated. He entered the operating room and saw her on the table.

He begged the doctor to save her life.

She awoke from the surgery to find her husband sitting next to her. She was surprised to be waking up in the hospital.

She had no idea what had happened until the sounds of more Israeli airstrikes near the hospital reminded her that her home had been bombed.

As the minutes passed, Shaima remembered more. She had been trapped under the rubble with her two children, Oday and Huda.

It was dark and they all cried for help, but nobody could hear them.

The children told her they were afraid of the dark. She read Quranic verses to them until they went to sleep.

Shaima stayed awake the entire night, hoping to see daylight come through the rubble or to hear the voices of rescuers. She eventually passed out.

She asked Mahmoud about Oday and Huda. Where were they?

Mahmoud could barely bring himself to tell her the truth.

He asked if she could be strong for him. She promised she would.

“They are now in heaven,” he said.

Shaima didn’t believe him. She was injected with tranquilizers to calm her down.

She slept for 12 hours, but, even upon waking, she had to be told again that her children were dead. She was given another injection.

The injections were repeated every 12 hours for the next week. One month later, she began to accept that her children are gone.

But she fills her hours watching videos of Oday and Huda on her phone.

Under siege at the Indonesian hospital

A week ago, I talked to Shaima on the phone for the first time since the war started.

She told me about the horrors of the past month and about how her recovery at the Indonesian hospital was anything but restful.

Israeli bombings continued near the hospital every night. The hospital was full of the displaced, and their cries and weeping filled the corridors during the bombings.

Shrapnel flew into the hospital yard and, on occasion, through hospital windows.

From her hospital bed, she watched as the injured streamed into the hospital after every bombing. She watched mothers and fathers beg for doctors to save their children’s lives.

The bombs around the hospitals seemed to get closer and more furious each day, until one day, Israeli tanks besieged the hospital from all directions.

She would cry as she watched on, remembering her own children.

Shaima told me that she had told her mother-in-law that, before the war, Oday and Huda had been looking forward to a planned gathering with me at the beach, that I had “promised them a piece of chocolate.”

All the while, panic filled the hospital. Doctors and nurses shouted, calling for everyone to get out of the rooms damaged by Israeli shelling.

Her husband Mahmoud checked in on her and sighed with relief that she was fine.

On 20 November, four days before the truce, Israel intensified its attacks on the hospital, killing 12 people and injuring many more.

During the brief truce in the last week of November, Shaima was evacuated by ambulance with many others.

They were all terrified.

Shaima is now sheltering at an UNRWA (UN agency for Palestine refugees) school in Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza that is currently under attack by Israel.

She is there with her brother Hamza, who used to work as a principal at another UNRWA school. Hamza is now using a wheelchair due to injuries sustained during an Israeli attack.

She was happy again to see him for the first time since the massacre in Jabaliya. She asked him to stay near her.

“We either live or die together,” she told him.

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.