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.