A doctor’s blog from Khan Younis: ‘It’s grim, but it’s real’

28 Oct

profile Dr Halfan Knusdsen MD

Posted by Dr Halfdan Knudsen on his blog ‘Gazan Medicine – working & living in Gaza’ – 25 October 2014

Bad Days

This post turned out different from what I intended. I was going to tell you a light-hearted intro about where I live now and what I am working on. Instead what you are about to read forced itself to the forefront. It’s grim, but it’s real. Today is a better day, but no day is really good.

Yesterday was a bad day. Woke up with this strange feeling of being locked in and isolated from everyone and everything. This place does that to you sometimes. Going for a drive down south [from Gaza City] to Khan Younis just reinforced that sense – I have never before travelled anywhere, where the sense of foreboding and imminent catastrophe were this strong. The coastal stretch is empty, abandoned buildings and bombed out shells everywhere, the stench of sewage so thick you could cut it with a knife. In places the sea is dark brown instead of the clear green-blue of the Mediterranean other places. I wish I could convey that feeling of Ragnarök having come and gone, the few people you do see look completely dejected, dressed in rags, dirty, eyes empty and hungry.

And Khan Younis itself is a world apart from Gaza City. Rough, poor, hard-edged, threatening. We stopped for lunch at a place – they served us, but no one really spoke to us, and our driver was outside the café the whole time, keeping watch. No one has the energy to smile at us and say hello like they do in GC, the looks you get tell a story of hatred, abandonment, hopelessness and rage, borne out of desperation.

There is nothing here for anyone – by 2016 there will be no water in Gaza fit for irrigation, let alone drinking. The UN has effectively legalised and tightened the blockade through its deal with Israel over transfer of rebuilding materials. People are being evicted from the UNRWA schools to live in the streets, while rebuilding is happening at a snail’s pace and the rains and cold of winter is coming. No one is being paid, half the aid money for Gaza is going to the West Bank and the other half is being controlled by Israel. And still the Palestinians are being blamed.

Last week, an Israeli settler ploughed his car into a crowd of people on the West Bank seriously injuring some and killing a small child. The settler was quoted as saying he didn’t stop the car because he was afraid for his life.

The next day, a Palestinian man ploughed his car into a crowd of people in East Jerusalem seriously injuring some and killing a small child. The Palestinian was never quoted as saying anything – he was shot dead at the scene.

I have struggled to find any real news on the first story, but the second have been paraded across CNN, BBC, NY Times, and any number of other major news outlets, decrying it as a terrorist attack and gushing about the grief of the parents and so on.

To my mind, this is a case either of two tragedies of equal proportions due to unbearable circumstances of life, OR it’s two equally heinous terrorist attacks. But that is hard to make anyone understand.

Also, this weekend, a Palestinian was injured by an unexploded ordnance (UXO), digging through the rubble. The war is far from over.

Maybe there is nothing to be done. I know a lot of my colleagues privately think that all the NGOs doing aid work here are just prolonging the inevitable. We cope with darkly humorous sarcasm, but there is always an undercurrent of self-doubt, sometimes you think that everyone in the room feels that the work we do, while well-intentioned, is both worthless and even cruel, but few put that sentiment into words, maybe for fear of what it might do to us all.

And we keep going, get out amongst the people clinging to hope, insisting on making life livable still, and feeling grateful just for having the company of people who have chosen to live here in the largest prison in the world. And that, I suppose, is the thing keeping us all together.

Mahmoud’s response (slightly edited):

Actually I agree with you about Khan Younis
- maybe you feel its different than Gaza city
 – it sure will feel that
 most of the Israeli attacks in the war were on Khan Younis
 and most of people killed in the war from Khan Younis – more than 600 were killed there. It is difficult to see smiles on their faces.
 The wound is still not healed 
- you see what Israel left behind them after their attacks:
 people without houses,
 damage everywhere,
 sons without parents
 and parents without sons
 – it was really a holocaust for Gazans.

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