Mark Clarfield on children in the crossfire

Mark Clarfield Two days ago a terrible tragedy occurred in Gaza and the day before that in Israel – both involving innocent children. In Gaza, an errant tank shell hit the building in which 55 year old gynecologist Ezeldeen Abu-alaish and his children where residing. Three of his daughters were killed outright and a number of others were wounded. While the army is still investigating, an initial probe indicates that Israeli soldiers returned fire from a source either in the building or nearby. In any case a terrible tragedy occurred.

Dr Abu-alaish is hardly your typical physician from Gaza. Fluent in Hebrew, he had trained in obstetrics here in Israel in my own Soroka Hospital. He still has many friends in Israel and continues his research collaboration at a Tel Aviv hospital. He believed in and despite his personal tragedy, still believes in Arab-Israeli coexistence and has made his position known for years. He is an outspoken critic of Hamas and its policies. The doctor’s many friends and colleagues in Israel were devastated by the news and arranged to have his wounded daughter transferred from Gaza to be cared for here in an Israeli hospital.

But the truth is that bullets and missiles were hardly flying in one direction. The day before yesterday, while teaching medical students on the top floor of our hospital tower, the air raid siren went off at 16:45. We all ran down the stairs trying to find shelter within the inner corridors of one of the internal medicine wards one floor down. There was no bomb shelter close enough for us to get to in time. Within just a few seconds we heard first a boom, then a boom! followed by a BOOM!! as three Grad missiles slammed into Israel. They were aimed at civilians and one found its mark crashing into a car very close the hospital injuring six civilians, two critically .

The most seriously injured was seven year old Orel Eliazorof, the son of one of the OR nurses at our hospital. Seconds after hearing the same alarm which we had heard, the boy took a piece of shrapnel in the brain. This, despite the fact that his mother had thrown him to the ground and covered him with her body, trying in vain to protect her son. She flagged down a passing car and brought him the few blocks to my hospital where he underwent neurosurgery and is presently in a critical condition.

Of course I am fully aware that there have been two narratives going on in this bloody conflict. There is rarely any black and white in any war, and from the children’s point of view we all just want to keep them safe. That being said, adults must realise there is still a big difference between Israel and Hamas. Whatever the errors made by the Israeli army in trying to protect me and my children, Hamas cannot hide behind civilian casualties to claim any justice for its cause as they are clearly trying to hit civilians. For some reason many observers forget (or chose to ignore) the fact that this organisation has been raining missiles down on my patch for at least eight years before this present doleful chapter, and for almost three years since we withdrew from Gaza. We had hoped our neighbours would begin to make a Palestinian homeland out of the vacated territory.

Despite all the bad news, we all hope and pray that the ceasefire will hold, and that the killing will stop.

Post script the morning after the Israeli-initiated ceasefire: Hamas has already lobbed 17 missiles into Israel…

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.

  • Mark Struthers

    Israel has committed a massive crime in Gaza.

    And ‘the growing outrage at the killings in Gaza’ is confirmed in a letter to ‘The Guardian’ today, signed by numerous academics from all over Britain.

    “Israel must lose… We must do what we can to stop Israel from winning its war. Israel must accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and not upon the criminal use of force.”

    Can Professor Clarfield really think it possible to bomb Palestinian Arabs into peaceful coexistence with the Israeli Jew? Is this a realistic Israeli policy? I wonder what terrible tragedy could ever turn Professor Clarfield into a critic of Israel and its democratic policies?

  • Anon Emous

    Someone needs to put an end to all this nonesense propaganda that comes out of Israel. “Missiles have been raining down”…”we pulled out of gaza 3 years ago completely, handing Gaza over to the palestinians, who decided to turn it into a terrorist camp”…”Hamas siezed power”…”Israel doesn’t hide behind civilians”…”Hamas only target civilians, and we only target Hamas”…”we only carry out surgical strikes, that hit the target precisely and nothing else” blah…blah..blah…

    Rockets are not missiles – missiles are guided, rockets are crude. Why dont the IDF report the number of rockets fired towards their army bases? Isn’t it because they want to distort the picture? Do you think Hamas would still use this tactic if they had better weapons? Also, who first violated the 6 month ceasefire – the IDF carried out an attack in Gaza during the ceasefire, when the rockets had stopped.

    If Isreal wanted to coexist peacefully with the Palestinians they would not have imposed a blockade on Gaza, turning it into an open prison. What kind of pullout do you call it when you still control all the borders, the sea, the air etc. In addition to that whilst showing the world they were pulling out of Gaza, they quitely siezed more land in the West Bank, and built more new settlements than they dismantled in Gaza. And what about the wall, which would be fine if it were just on the 1967 borders, but no, it cuts deep into the west bank, stealing yet more land.

    Hamas were democratically elected, no one has the right to overthrow them. Israel claims they are a terrorist organisation and so they can be destroyed; well, many now say that the goverment of Isreal is a terrorist organisation (for what they have done to Gaza), does this mean we can all go round bombing them to pieces? It also really annoys me when people say, “Hamas should have used this opportunity to turn gaza into a paradise”. Are they living in cloud cukoo land. How do you expect the Gazans to develop their area if they can barely get enough food and fuel to survive.

    The bombing of the UN compounds, Dr Abu-alaish’s children and other massacares just go to show that no weapons can tell the difference between civilians and combatants in urban areas. The IDF don’t hide behind civilians? see this article: – and there have been reports from the current conflict of IDF soldiers preventing palestinian civilians from escaping from their homes after IDF soldiers had occupied them, so that they could act as human shields. Its even more sickening to see picture like this: – of Israelis having a ‘picnic’ on a hilltop overlooking the destruction in Gaza, aren’t they supposed to be under a barrage of rockets? You try hard to show you have a human side, but the pictures speak for themselves.

    Every action has a reaction. The rockets from Gaza are merely a reaction to 60 years of oppression, persecution, land grabbing and cold blooded murder. When Israel understands this, and that if it wants peace for its citizens, it need to stop inflicting hell upon its neighbours, then there may be some hope.

    When a person suffers from hypoglycaemia, they can often become aggressive and agitated. We treat this by giving the patient glucose and not a sedative, because the glucose addresses the underlying problem, whereas a sedative only treats the symptoms.

  • Michael Gordon

    Rockets are not crude in their lethal effect or intent. These rockets fell from the day of the Gaza pullout with Hamas stating clearly that the withdrawal was a sign of weakness. They had a chance to demonstrate something other than a committment to eliminate the country. At the end of the day the “occupation” spoken of by Hamas is all of Israel, not Gaza nor the West Bank (read their charter)- until it agrees to Israel’s existence nothing will happen other than conflict.
    Whan Hamas agrees to the existence of Israel and Iran agrees to stop talking about its destruction – maybe there will be hope for the future- until then – it probably will not happen. In the meanwhile we physicians must do what we can to treat all of those injured whatever the cause of their injuries as those who end up in the line of military fire deserve care whatever the dynamics of the conflict – a long history of medicine propels us to treat whoever comes to us for care- irrespective of the political or military basis of the conflict.

  • As a pacifist I obviously condem any violent loss of life – and my thoughts and sympathies are with the families of the murdered on both sides.

    Hamas as an elected government are acting like terrorists – but Israel cannot excuse the genocide of the innocents in Gaza as being casualties of war – they have effectively created a “concentration camp” in Gaza and have then just invaded killing women and children.

    The international community and America in particular could have stopped Israel committing this genocide before it started.

    Israel must lift the blockade of its neigbour and treat them as a soverign nation recognosed by UN and Hamas must stop shelling Israel.

  • Riaz Ahmed

    This argument will go on for ever. Who started the war, Palestinian rockets or Israeli Assassination of Hammas leaders in Nov.2008. The damage is done, there are thousands of injured who need treatment and a poor country has been bombed to stone age. Who foots the bill here. I think countries supplied arms to Isreal should pay for the reconstruction and the treatment of the injured in Gaza. Countries who have supplied rockets to Hamas should pay for damages in Southern Israel.World must seriously consider arms embargo for the whole region that includes Israel and Hamas. Already Greece has blocked a shipment to Israel and Royal Navy has offered to police the sea bordering Gaza.
    According to the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator (OCHA) nearly one-third of those killed in the Gaza Strip, 340 were children, and that 1600 more children have been moderately to severely injured.
    At a UNICEF press briefing in Geneva, its Regional Director for the Middle East, Sigrid Kaag, repeated earlier calls for the protection of children caught in the conflict. I think same kind of child protection procedures should be in place internationally with teams collecting evidence and charging the perpetrators in conflicts like Gaza.We have not heard a word from any organisation or professional bodies whose claim to fame has been child advocacy. Were these children any different ?

  • Norman Bauman

    I have been haunted all week by the tragedy of Ezeldeen Abu-alaish and his family, and the others he represents.

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complicated, but one point is simple: Israel has been wrong from the beginning.

    Israel has been violating international law since 1967 by occupying the territories, according to its own legal advisors. In peace negotiations, Israel has refused to comply with international law and return the occupied territories to the Palestinians. This has prevented a peaceful settlement.

    This is conveniently documented by the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. As they say:

    ‘Israel took control of and occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after the 6 Day War in June 1967. The legal adviser to the Israeli government, Theodor Meron, delivered an opinion on a question asked by the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the legality of civilian settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. His conclusion, simply stated in the cover note to the opinion, was that “civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention”. ‘

    Settlement in the Administered Territories

    The Israelis can hardly claim that they want peace and want to end the killing, if they refuse to follow international law and leave the settlements.

  • Anon Emous

    Why must Hamas agree to the existance of Israel BEFORE there can be peace? Does Israel recognise Palestine as an independent state? They may say they do. However their actions, namely, land grabbing, building new settlements, checkpoints, control of airspace, blockades, etc, clearly show that Israel is gradually planning to expel the remaining Palestinians. They are only interested in a Jewish state, which they believe is promised to them by God. Go on Jewish/ Israeli websites and read the comments, and you will quickly realise that most Jews beleive Israel belongs exclusively to them. Why does Israel refuse palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes?

    As physicians, we do a better job by preventing, rather than just treating.

  • Nadeem Jilani

    Hamas may be firing rockets at Israel for last 8 years but Israel has been ruthlessly killing Palestinians since 1948 well before creation of Hamas’s resistance.”Have we forgotten, wrote Robert Fisk in Independent, the 17,500 dead – almost all civilians, most of them children and women – in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same 2006 bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians?”(
    Hamas or No Hamas, Palestinian leadership has always been treated with disdain by Israel’s racial supremacist leaders. Remember how Yasser Arafat watched helplessly his headquarter being bulldozed by IDF days prior to his death. This shows that in Zionists’ scheme of things, there is no scope for a Palestinian state. They will take every opportunity to destroy any foundation of a viable Palestinian state. Hence the attack on schools, government buildings, hospitals and roads. And they will always “engineer” excuses to do so and try to sell it to the wider world as “Israel’s right of self defence”. If Israel has this right then people of occupied territories also have a right to fight and defend themselves from the occupier under Geneva Convention. Why this unreasonable demand then from Palestinian leadership to accept the right of existence of a racially supremacist state on their land? Why not a state where all citizens, Jews, Arabs and others, have equal rights and live together side by side in peace? Why is there an open invitation from Israel to all Jews from anywhere in the world, to come and settle in Israel but denial to the people of the land, the Palestinian refugees, similar rights. If world stood against an “Aryan state” or apartheid South Africa or a white supremacist Rhodesia and it is lining up against “Islamic Republic” of Iran then why this double standard in case of Jewish state of Israel? Yes Jewish people suffered terrible atrocities from Nazis and other racists in the past but why should Palestinians pay a price for the crimes of others. In my opinion peace will not come by blaming the victims or demonising their leaders or bombarding them to ‘stone ages’ but by ending the unjust occupation, lifting the siege, stopping the illegal settlements and respecting the democratic choice of Palestinians. Hamas as we know has agreed to the ‘Arab initiative’ which promises Israel recognition within 1967 borders so it is wrong to say that Hamas wants Israel wiped out of the map. I know many prominent Jews both in and out of Israel, who also do not support the idea of a Jewish state but want a secular democratic single state where Arabs and Jews have equal rights and live side by side in peace. That may be the real Promised Land.

  • Mark Struthers

    I have forever been puzzled by the puzzle of good intentions and bad intent.

    Professor Clarfield tells us that with every homemade rocket, Hamas intend to hit the Soroka Hospital … and cause death and serious injury to large numbers of frail and vulnerable Jewish patients. That is the Islamic terrorists’ intent … and it is not good.

    However, the Israeli democracy intends no harm to Arab civilians as their precision guided missiles, white phosphorous shells and civilian preserving DIME munitions, rain down so precisely on the Gaza strip. We know from the likes of Professor Clarfield that Israel is scrupulous in its intention … to avoid hitting hospitals, schools, and United Nations facilities … and as many Arab civilians as possible. And with all this care and good intention, we can see how the pictures of the destruction of the Al-Quds hospital in Tel el-Hawa are so intensely unbelievable.

    I am forever puzzled by the enigma of Israeli good intent.

  • From Canada

    I am shocked by how so many people above have successfully distorted the entire history OF the 20th century. They have chosen to blame Israel for all the ill that has befallen the Arabs living in Gaza and the Middle East. The Arabs care more about sending rockets into Israel, for the past 8 YEARS than in building their own land and helping their own people! What people sends their own children to be suicide bombers! What people uses their own children as human shields to increase the number of injuries and fatalities incurred!

    Israel has through great effort and a genuine desire to live and prosper, succeeded in building an oasis in a sea of hate! What Israel has contributed to the world since 1948 is far greater than all of the entire Arab world has ever contributed! If not for Israel’s inventions, you would not even be able to read this blog, never mind all the medical discoveries and innovations over the past 61 years!


    Kudos to Dr. Clarfield!

  • Dr Anthony Papagiannis

    Taking sides almost never helps resolve an argument. On the other hand, not taking sides and simply watching constitutes tacit approval of or agreement with whatever atrocity is taking place. A war is a bloody and criminal activity for both sides involved. However, the relative magnitude of the forces used in the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created an inordinately high number of casualties and a correspondingly graver humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I am afraid that Israel’s tactics in trying to eliminate Hamas militants hiding among civilians is reminiscent of King Herod massacring the infants to make sure that he had killed Jesus. If one adds to the immediate destructive effects the more delayed consequence of sowing the seeds for at least one more generation of discontented Palestinians, then one cannot really see any benefits for Israel in this whole business.

  • A lone American

    So much hate between so many people for so long. Rockets, missles, killing, jews, arabs. All people are trying to do nothing more than live their lives as best they can and provide safety and better lives for their families. I have travelled a good deal of the world and seen many people, many families, many neighborhoods, many villages, towns, cities and countries. All have good people and bad people. I would hope everyone could strive to hold their tempers long enough to listen and observe their neighbor’s lives and hardships, and help themselves by taking the time to understand and empathize, maybe even help. This is not idealistic, this is understanding everyone, your worst enemy, your best friend hurts and loves, and be capable of great and horrible things with the proper motivation. I’m not saying to forget, nor to even forgive, but to empathize and allow for the growth of yourself and your neighbor. Unfortunately, I concede my country is not a good example of this at all, but we don’t fit a stereotype either.

  • Adam

    DR Clarfield has concerns for the lack of a nearby bomb shelter at his hospital, yet 1.5million Gazans have no bomb shelters, just the bombed out and bulldozed rubble of their former homes to hide in from the variety of weaponry on offer to the Israeli military.

    And Israel uses the most advanced and up to date weapons imaginable, as well as the now considered, more mundane killing devices; such as tank shells, hell-fire missiles, cruise missiles, bombs and artillery, landmines, cluster bombs, machine guns, attack helicopters and F16 fighter planes.

    One such weapon in its new arsenal is white Phosphorous, first tested in Iraq by the US military, which has caused horrific chemical burning injuries that doctors are unable to adequately treat, that prolong the burning for days ( and the the latest perverse use of science, the experimental DIME explosive (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) a weapon that, if the victim is unlucky enough to survive the initial wound, the consequences are horrific and by designed are made to keep on killing— tiny fragments of the ordinance after entering the body continue to do harm, they shred internal organs and contaminate the blood stream, often leading to a painful death which again medics are at a loss to treat ,and if the initial trauma and after effects do not kill them the following cancers probably will.

    Has Dr Clarfield treated any of these patients in Israel?

    I very much doubt it. Because the elected representatives of the Palestinian people appear to have a modicum of humanity, by comparison and don’t use chemical, or radioactive weoponry, they use crude rockets to resist a sickening onslaught, Hamas are no saints, but please don’t paint Israel as the victim, because the world can see and knows who the aggressor is.

    The brainwashing of Israels’ population, indeed the worlds populations, over the last 60 years, the necessary dehumanizing and demonetization of the Palestinians which makes this conflict ‘justifiable’ is just another example of Israel as a big brother style, racist state, and the ‘West’ is complicit with it:
    “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.”
    – sounds like the war on terror in a nut shell.

    Keep the people ignorant to keep political power and keep them afraid by use of the permanent war, to justify the horrors that are perpetrated in our names on the ‘enemy’, to seize their land or assets, or just to keep power, but to do this you need apologists and dupes and above all an ideology that allows this horror to continue, lets hope the dupes awaken and start to question the apologists, and challenge the ideology and racist policies that is Zionism.

    I don’t know whether Dr Clarfield is a dupe or an apologist, I hope for his sake he is an apologist, as the psychological effects of finding out you’ve been fooled and lied to all your life can be quite painful.

    And his Post script: “the morning after the Israeli-initiated ceasefire: Hamas has already lobbed 17 missiles into Israel…”

    Here is how my Post script reads:
    Jan. 18 – 8.30 am
    two missiles in the Amal area east of Beit Hanoun, killing 11-year-old Angham Ra’fat al-Masri and injuring her mother.

    10.40 am – the killing of Maher abu Rjaila, 23, shot in the chest by Israeli troops as he walked on his land east of Khan Younis city.

    Others injured after the ceasefire include a 14-year-old boy hit in the thigh by shrapnel fragments, and a 35-year-old man also with shrapnel injury [and numerous others, before and since].

    Israel’s assault on Gaza killed at least 1,330 people, with as many as 200 more bodies expected to be recovered from under the rubble of more than 4,000 destroyed houses and 20,000 buildings.

    Ninety percent of the cases in Shifa’s ICU are civilian, and of these half are women and children, says Dr. Fawzi.

    During the six-month ceasefire that began Jun. 19, Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinians, many of them members of resistance groups. Thirty-eight 38 fishermen and farmers were abducted.


  • Christopher Jones

    I have one simple question: What on earth have the Arab/Israel impasse and Israel’s military strategy towards the Palestinians got a jot to do with the practice of medicine?