Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Worse Than an Earthquake"

Worse Than an Earthquake
by Kathy Kelly
January 21, 2009

Rafah--Traffic on Sea Street, a major thoroughfare alongside Gaza's
coastline, includes horses, donkeys pulling carts, cyclists,
pedestrians, trucks and cars, mostly older models. Overhead, in stark
contrast to the street below, Israel's ultra modern unmanned
surveillance planes criss-cross the skies. F16s and helicopters can
also be heard. Remnants of their deliveries, the casings of missiles,
bombs and shells used during the past three weeks of Israeli attacks,
are scattered on the ground.

Workers have cleared most of the roads. Now, they are removing
massive piles of wreckage and debris, much as people do following an

"Yet, all the world helps after an earthquake," said a doctor at the
Shifaa hospital in Gaza. "We feel very frustrated," he continued.
"The West, Europe and the U.S., watched this killing go on for 22
days, as though they were watching a movie, watching the killing of
women and children without doing anything to stop it. I was expecting
to die at any moment. I held my babies and expected to die. There
was no safe place in Gaza."

He and his colleagues are visibly exhausted, following weeks of work
in the Intensive Care and Emergency Room departments at a hospital
that received many more patients than they could help. "Patients died
on the floor of the operating room because we had only six operating
rooms," said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan, M.D, an ICU doctor who grew up in
Chicago. "And really we don't know enough about the kinds of weapons
that have been used against Gaza."

In 15 years of practice, Dr. Abuhassan says he never saw burns like
those he saw here. The burns, blackish in color, reached deep into
the muscles and bones. Even after treatment was begun, the blackish
color returned.

Two of the patients were sent to Egypt because they were in such
critical condition. They died in Egypt. But when autopsies were done,
reports showed that the cause of death was poisoning from elements of
white phosphorous that had entered their systems, causing cardiac

In Gaza City, The Burn Unit's harried director, a plastic surgeon and
an expert in treating burns, told us that after encountering cases
they'd never seen before, doctors at the center performed a biopsy on
a patient they believed may have suffered chemical burns and sent the
sample to a lab in Egypt. The results showed elements of white
phosphorous in the tissue.

The doctor was interrupted by a phone call from a farmer who wanted to
know whether it was safe to eat the oranges he was collecting from
groves that had been uprooted and bombed during the Israeli invasion.
The caller said the oranges had an offensive odor and that when the
workers picked them up their hands became itchy.

Audrey Stewart had just spent the morning with Gazan farmers in Tufaa,
a village near the border between Gaza and Israel. Israeli soldiers
had first evacuated people, then dynamited the houses, then used
bulldozers to clear the land, uprooting the orange tree groves. Many
people, including children, were picking through the rubble, salvaging
belongings and trying to collect oranges. At one point, people began
shouting at Audrey, warning her that she was standing next to an
unexploded rocket.

The doctor put his head in his hands, after listening to Audrey's
report. "I told them to wash everything very carefully. But these are
new situations. Really, I don't know how to respond," he said.

Yet he spoke passionately about what he knew regarding families that
had been burned or crushed to death when their homes were bombed.
"Were their babies a danger to anyone?" he asked us.

"They are lying to us about democracy and Western values," he
continued, his voice shaking. "If we were sheep and goats, they would
be more willing to help us."

Dr. Saeed Abuhassan was bidding farewell to the doctors he'd worked
with in Gaza. He was returning to his work in the United Arab
Emirates. But before leaving, he paused to give us a word of advice.
"You know, the most important thing you can tell people in your
country is that U.S. people paid for many of the weapons used to kill
people in Gaza," said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan. "And this, also, is why
it's worse than an earthquake."

Kathy Kelly ( is a co-coordinator of Voices for
Creative Nonviolence ( She and Audrey Stewart have been
in Gaza for the past six days.

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