Mark Clarfield at the southern Israeli front

Mark Clarfield Despite all of the problems working as  a doctor in southern Israel during these trying times, life must go on. For example, I really had to get my car serviced today.  So despite all the pressure on me to get to work, on my way in I stopped at the Honda garage just a few blocks from the hospital. While signing in, I suddenly heard the eerie and very scary sound of the air raid sirens which go off (usually ) when there is an incoming missile. There really is nothing like it. It sounds like a nightmare but the only problem is you know you aren’t dreaming.

We have been instructed to immediately find shelter, either in a bomb shelter if near one, or in a designated “protected area” which is usually just the inside of a building, far from windows and as far from an exterior wall as possible. In case you are caught out in the open, one is meant to lie down on the ground, put your hands over your head and, if religious, pray; if not, hope that this is your lucky day.

Fortunately this building had a proper bomb shelter, into which we all crowded: me, another customer, two secretaries, a sales manager, and a couple of mechanics who happened to be bedouin Arabs from a nearby settlement. Amazing how we suddenly  all lost our social roles and became absolutely equal, all of us dependent for our safety on the strength of the reinforced concrete shell surrounding us.

Despite our equality, I could see that one of the secretaries was quite frightened. Automatically going into my doctor mode, I tried to reassure her. I smiled and attempted  to express the proper balance between bravado and calm concern. I offered that we were in fact quite safe now and just had to wait – either for the “all clear” or the “boom” of the rocket, indicating that it had hit the ground (and missed us).

In any case, as I explained in my best evidence-based mode, while the chance of a rocket hitting someone was real, the chance of that particular projectile hitting us was very low. I used the lottery as an analogy, and the fact that I had never won, as proof. (As in most clinical situations, while one must never lie, one does not always tell the whole truth). I could see that my words were having some effect, and in order to keep calming her down, I just kept talking, going over my “certainty” that nothing would happen to us.

Fortunately, nothing did. The missile, while indeed bent on causing death and destruction by those who had sent it our way, fell in a open field.  We got the “all clear” and filed out of the shelter, each one of us immediately going back into our civilian roles. On the way out, the secretary surreptitiously squeezed my hand, leaned over and whispered, “Thanks, doc.”

One of my colleagues was waiting for me outside the dealership. I got into her car and headed off to the hospital  to my day job.

Dr A Mark Clarfield, a long-time contributor to Medical Post, is a doctor at the Soroka Hospital, Beer-sheva, which serves the south of Israel. It is designated to receive casualties from the fighting in Gaza, and, being only 40 kms from the strip, has already come under missile attack from rockets fired from there.  

  • Unfortunately the Gazans dont have the privilege of air raid sirens and concrete re-inforced bomb shelters (wouldn’t be effective anyway due to the depleted uranium armour piercing and new tungsten DIME weapons the Israelis use). Rather the civillians ( AlJazeera and you will see nothing but civillians, bruised and bleeding) in Gaza receive an automated phone call telling them to vacate their house (God only knows where the IDF suggests they go, when the whole of Gaza is under seige and attack???).

    Since the article touches on the psychological impact of the rockets on Israelis, i suggest reading this article: – the story of a 14 year old Christian girl, who suffered from a neurotic disorder and hysteria, just as many children in Gaza are suffering. During the shooting of F-16 missiles, she fell on the ground due to the dreadful sound and died as a result. Classically, psychological disorders are described as, ‘they dont kill you, but they stop you from living’. Sadly, in Gaza they are actually resulting in the deaths of innocent children.

    The IDF has shown its true colours, and the world – the humane world – will never forgive them for this.

  • Michael Gordon

    The answer of course if you keep pushing the “rights and wrongs” back far enough is that Israel despite Jewish presence in the region from time immemorial, really according to its opponents should hever have been allowed to come into being. Each military attempt to remove the Jewish people from the time of the establishment of the state resulted in Israel’s stubborn determination to remain and build a wonderful nation – despite total Arab and Palestinian opposition. The occupation talked about by Israel’s neighbors is the country, not the West Bank or Gaza- so no matter how you slice it – Israel will always be wrong in its attempts to defend its existence – this episode is just another one by Hamas an avowed enemy of the state who is willing to hold its own people hostage and have them killed to achieve their goals. Israel will defend itself against its enemies no matter how ruthless they are to their own people as evidenced by the vicious way Hamas has treated Fatah members and how summary executions of so called “collaborators” take place without a judiciary process. So despite all the rhetoric and the often veiled anti-Semitism that comes out as Anti-Zionism, Israel will have to defend its existence one way or the other.
    Michael Gordon

  • Matiram Pun

    Dear Dr Clarfield,
    Thank you for bringing the situation so lively and vividly!!! This is very very scary. It is beyond imagination how narrow the grey area is there between the green area of Life and red zone of Death there!!! Hopefully, there will no more civilian casualties.
    Best wishes,

  • Jerome Teitel

    The suffering of the non-combatant Gazans is indeed tragic and heart-wrenching. One can legitimately question and object to Israel’s tactics (nobody does this more than Israelis themselves) but not to its goals: Israel has the duty (not just the right) to protect its citizens from the vile, racist Hamas terrorists who have embedded themselves into the local population, and who prize dead Palestinians as much as they do dead Jews.

  • Farzana Nayeemuddin

    However you try to defend it, the Israeli actions are an absolute disgrace on the face of humanity. The Palestinians have been rightly fighting for their homeland for over 60 years. Showering bombs will kill hundreds of people but not the determination of the Palestinians. I wonder if Dr Clarfield ever spares a thought for the innocent Palestinian victims as he worries about getting his car serviced !!!

  • Mark Struthers

    Life (and death) in Gaza! What comforting words of human kindness can Professor Clarfield offer the terrified children of Gaza …

    … and their deeply traumatised families?

    Look at the young people of Israel who laugh as the bombs rain down on Gaza … and at the extermination of the Palestinian people. I can only pity the nation … and the monster that Israel has become.

  • Michael Ingram

    For a moment let us focus on hamas and not israel. What regard do they show for the people they report to govern (let alone those they seek to wipe of the face of the earth in the most distasteful anti-sematism since nazism).
    palestinians were buutchered int eh street by hamas as they overthrew fatah in june 2009 even going INTO hospital to murder their wounded opponents.
    And now hamas exploit their captive population, every casualty feeds its campaign for the Islamist world it seeks – civilins sacrificed for the cause.
    Meanwhile Israeli doctors will treat all who need their care regardless of background, and ignoring the howling condemnation of the anti-semitic apologists of Hamas.

    No one can be anything but saddened by the images we see , no one wants the horror of Gaza, the failure is not seeing where the true responsibility lies- with an Islamic exterminationist terrorist organisation who belive in teh sacrifice of life not with a free liberal secular democracy which belives in the sanctity of life.

  • Christos Georgalas

    Israel is rapidly losing any moral authority it once commanded – and in doing so, is underming its own legitimacy.
    More and more, the concept of a race- based state becomes untenamble – and the only solution is a single , two communities, mixed state – exactly like in South Africa

  • Michael Cohen

    What is happening in Gaza is a tragedy – both for the Gazans and Israelis. I currently work with Jews and Arabs in Israel. Traumas are deep on both sides. I wish to ask the readership what any other country would/should do if a territory which they had walked out of in order to create peace was brutally taken over by an organisation whose members kill their own ‘brothers’ and which is hell bent on the destruction of that state, daily firing thousands of rockets into civilian areas for the last few years? Can such a situation be imagined in the UK with Hertfordshire launching rockets daily on Buckinghamshire? What would the Government do? Why has Hamas been amassing and using an arsenal of weapons instead of giving Palestinians the prosperous coastal land/port that they should have? Why does Hamas use civilians as human shields and where is the condemnation? Why the comparative silence when Hamas kills fellow Palestinians in cold blood? When will the international community begin to look in its own back yard (how many thousands of innocents did we kill in Iraq/Afghanistan as a part of ‘collateral damage’? how many of us in the UK had been fired upon by Iraq? did the numbers add up then?). In Darfur 400,000 people have been murdered by the Sudanese government working with Arab militias and 2.5 million people displaced and I don’t remember any credible or comparable protests outside the Sudanese embassy or a single brick being thrown into a Starbuck’s as a result of frustrated protestors. I await a rational response from anyone who deplores all violence and who is willing to be honest and balanced. I work and pray for peace, rationality and responsible words and behaviour from all of us.

  • Nadeem Jilani

    Mr. Cohen
    I am sure you know that two wrongs do not make one right. So just because so many innocents were killed by British or American forces in Iraq/Afghanistan, mass murder of Palestinians by Israel cannot be justified. You mention about Hamas’s “brutal” takeover of Gaza but easily forget that they were the democratic choice of Palestinian people. When elected representative of a neighbouring ‘state’ are humiliated, put in prison, their offices and homes destroyed and their contact with outside world is totally cut off by the regional bully i.e., Israel then how can you expect them to build a nation and govern responsibly. This is a lie that “Israel left Gaza three years ago” as all the ports, borders and movements are still controlled by Israel. There is a crippling economic blockade which is ongoing for last 18 months. If your understanding of events in this conflict is not coming straight from “Likud manifesto” then you will realise why a senior aide of Pope recently described Gaza as a big “concentration camp”.
    One may not agree with tactics employed by Hamas and certainly they also have blood of innocents on their hand, but if Israeli’s have a right to chose a war criminal like Ariel Sharon (remember massacre of Sabra & Shatila) and world offers him the dignity of a head of the state, then why not offer the same to democratic choice of Palestinians. After all people like Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela were also considered ‘terrorists’ by some and freedom fighters by others. World has certainly benefitted by engaging such people in dialogue and listening to their genuine grievances. But that requires a burning desire for peace which doesn’t seem to be there anywhere.

  • Cyril Light

    What a shame that Dr. Clarfield is unable to post some poignant and sad remarks about the experience of practicing medicine in a time of war, without his remarks being politicized by the earlier responses on this blog and Israel again being rebuked for protecting its right to exist.
    There would be no war at all if Hammas had not continued to bombard civilian cities in Israel and accepted the right of Israel to exist.
    So I ask, where were your righteous criticisms against Hammas when they were launching rockets into civilian areas of Israel which precipitated this current war? Where are the condemnations from public health interests that Hammas is using the residents of the Gaza strip as human shields by using schools, mosques and hospitals for launching sites of rockets?

  • Adam

    In response to Cyril Light,

    “There would be no war at all if Hammas had not continued to bombard civilian cities in Israel and accepted the right of Israel to exist.”

    When did Israel ever accept the rights of Palestinians to exist? It has not done so in word or especially in deed.

    Quite the contrary it has acted to split Palestinian land in two, with little right to free movement between them, it further expands settlements in the West Bank, and refuses to discuss the right to return for those forced out by its illegal actions before and after its creation in 1948.

    It continues to treat Israeli Arabs as 3rd class citizens and arbitrarily makes incursions into Palestinian territory to bulldoze buildings, assassinate officials; military or otherwise; imprisons without charge or trial, and most recently it collectively punishes the population for electing a government that opposes the occupation!

    As for recognition, Hamas has at least offered a 10 year truce (with the state it ‘won’t’ recognize), if only it abides by its UN commitments particularily the 1967 border, but stating with the lifting of the blockade (which continues to contravene the so called ceasefire) that has so hurt the Gazan population.

    Israel even denies the right of the Palestinian people to elect their own government, it elects Hamas over Fatah, who where seen by Palestinians as corrupt and compromised, and who then confirm this by colluding with Israel and the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government, When that partially fails it trys to brake them financially and politically, many Hamas MPs are indeed still imprisoned (without charge) in Israeli prisons.

    And if Mr Light expects us to believe that Hamas started this war he should know that Israel first broke the ceasefire on Nov 4 2008 (not counting the blockage!), and often launches rockets/shells/assassinations/and other attacks into civilian areas as the Palestinian death toll will show. It even killed 6 Palestinians in the West bank in January.

    His remarks are as “politicized” as any others on this blog.

    Israel is not being rebuked for its “right to exist” as he says – it is being rebuked for the atrocities it commits.