Take some kittens, put them in a box, and jump on the box (en)


Vittorio Arrigoni, Gaza, January 9, 2009

Take some kittens, some tender little moggies in a box », said Jamal, a surgeon at the Al Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital, while a nurse actually placed a couple of blood-stained cardboard boxes in front of us. « Seal up the box, then jump on it with all your weight and might, until you feel their little bones crunching, and you hear the last muffled little mew. » I stared at the boxes in astonishment, and the doctor continued: « Try to imagine what would happen after such images were circulated. The righteous outrage of public opinion, the complaints of the animal rights organisations… » The doctors went on in this vein, and I was unable to take my eyes off those boxes, sitting at our feet. « Israel trapped hundreds of civilians inside a school as if in a box, including many children, and then crushed them with all the might of its bombs. What were the world’s reactions? Almost nothing. We would have been better off as animals rather than Palestinians, we would have been more protected. »

At this point the doctor leans towards one of the boxes, and takes its lid off in front of me. Inside it are the amputated limbs, legs and arms, some from the knee down, others with the entire femur attached, amputated from the injured at the Al Fakhura United Nations school in Jabalia, which resulted in more than fifity casualties. Pretending to be taking an urgent call, I took my leave of Jamal, actually rushing to the bathroom to bend over and throw up.

A little earlier I’d been involved in a conversation with Dr. Abdel, an ophtalmologist, regarding the rumours that the Israeli Army had been showering us with non-conventional weapons, forbidden by the Geneva Convention, such as cluster bombs and white phosphorous. The very same that the Tsahal Army used in the last Lebanese war, as well as the US air force in Falluja, still violating international norms. In front of Al Auda hospital we witnessed and filmed white phosphorous bombs being used about five hundred metres from where we were, too far to be absolutely certain there were any civilians underneath the Israeli Apaches, but so terribly close to us all the same.

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 forbids white phosphorous being used directly as a war weapon in civilian areas, allowing it only as a smoke screen or for lighting. There’s no doubt that using this weapon in Gaza, a strip of land concentrating the highest population rate in the world, is a crime all on its own. Doctor Abdel told me that at Al Shifa hospital they don’t have the medical and military competence to say for sure whether the wounds they examined on certain corpses were indeed provoked by white phosphorous bullets.

But on his word, in twenty years on the job he had never seen casualties like those now being carried into the ward. He told me about the traumas to the skull, with the fractures to the vomer bone, the jaw, the cheekbones, tear duct, nasal and palatine bones showed signs of the collision of an immense force against the victim’s face. What he finds inexplicable is the total lack of eyeballs, which ought to leave a trace somewhere within the skull even in case of such a violent impact. Instead, we see Palestinian corpses coming into the hospitals without eyes at all, as if someone had removed them surgically before handing them over to the coroner.

Israel has let us know that we’ve been granted a daily 3-hour truce, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM. These statements from the Israeli military summit are considered by the people of Gaza as having the same reliability as the Hamas leaders’ declarations that they’ve just provoked a massacre of enemy soldiers. Just to be clear on this point, the soldiers of Tel Aviv’s worse enemy are the very same who fight under the Star of David. Yesterday a war ship off the coast of Gaza’s port picked out a large group of alleged guerrilla fighters from the Palestinian Resistance, moving as a united front around Jabalia. They shot their cannons at them. But as it turned out, they were their own fellow soldiers, with the shooting resulting in three being killed and about twenty injured. No one here believes in the truces that Israel declares, and as it happens, today at 2:00 PM Rafah was under attack by the Israeli helicopters. There was also yet another massacre of children in Jabalia: three little sisters aged 2, 4 and 6 from the Abed Rabbu family were slaughtered. Just half an hour earlier in Jabalia, once again the  Red Crescent hospital’s ambulances were under attack. Eva and Alberto, my ISM colleagues were on board that ambulance and managed to film everything, passing those videos and photos on to all the major media.

Hassan was kneecapped, fresh from mourning the death of his friend Araf, a paramedic who was killed two days ago as he came in aid of the injured in Gaza City. They had stopped to pick up the body of a man languishing in agony in the middle of the road, when they were under fire by about ten shots from an Israeli sniper. One bullet hit Hassan in the knee and the ambulance was filled with holes. We’re now at a death toll of 688, in addition to 3,070 injured, 158 dead children and countless missing. Only yesterday, we counted 83 dead, 80 of which were civilians. Thankfully, the death toll on the Israeli side is still only at 4.

Travelling towards Al Quds hospital, where I’ll be working all night on the ambulances, as I raced along on board one of the very few fearless taxis left, zig-zagging to avoid the bombs, on the corner of one street I saw a group of dirty street urchins with tattered clothes, looking exactly like the « sciuscià » kids of the Italian afterwar period. They threw stones towards the sky with slingshots, at far away and unapproachable enemy who was toying with their lives. This is a crazy metaphor, which could serve as a snapshot of the absurdity of this time and place.

Stay human

Vittorio Arrigoni


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Une Réponse to “Take some kittens, put them in a box, and jump on the box (en)”

  1. comiteinlisible Says:

    Guerrilla Radio, blog de Vittorio Arrigoni (it) :

    In Gaza, Hippocrates is Dead
    (article published in the italian newspaper Il Manifesto: http://www.ilmanifesto.it/il-manifesto/ricerca-nel-manifesto/vedi/nocache/1/numero/20090110/pagina/01/pezzo/239085/?tx_manigiornale_pi1%5BshowStringa%5D=IPPOCRATE%2B&cHash=72f9953f36)

    In Gaza, a firing squad put Hippocrates up against a wall, aimed and fired. The absurd declarations of an Israeli secret services’ spokesman, according to which the army was given the green light in firing at ambulances because they allegedly carried terrorists, is an illustration of the value that Israel assigns to human life these days – the lives of their enemies, that is. It’s worth revisiting what’s stated in the Hippocratic Oath, which every doctor swears upon before starting to practice the profession.

    The following passages are especially worthy of note: « I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity. I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity. The health and life of my patient will be my first consideration. I will cure all patients with the same diligence and commitment. I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics, or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient. »

    Seven doctors and voluntary nurses have been killed from the start of the bombing campaign, and about ten ambulances were shot at by the Israeli artillery. The survivors are shaking with fear, but refuse to take a step back. The crimson flashes of the ambulances are the only bursts of light in the dark streets of Gaza, bar the flashes that precede an explosion. Regarding these crimes, the last report comes from Pierre Wettach, chief of the Red Cross in Gaza. His ambulances had access to the spot of a massacre, in Zaiton, East of Gaza City, only 24 hours after the Israeli attack.

    The rescue-workers state they found themselves faced by a blood-curdling scenario. « In one of the houses four small children were found near the body of their dead mother. They were too weak to stand on their feet. We also found an adult survivor, and he too was also too weak to stand up. About 12 corpses were found lying on the mattresses. » The witnesses to this umpteenth massacre describe how the Israeli soldiers, after getting into the neighbourhood, gathered the numerous members of the Al Samouni family in one building and then proceeded to repeatedly bomb it. My ISM partners and I have been driving around in the Half Red Moon ambulances for days, suffering many attacks and losing a dear friend, Arafa, struck by a howitzer shot from a cannon. A further three paramedics, all friends, are presently inpatients at the hospitals they worked in until a few days ago. Our duty on the ambulances is to pick up the injured, not carry guerrilla fighters. When we find a man lying in the street in a pool of his own blood, we don’t have the time to check his papers or ask him whether he roots for Hamas or Fatah. Most seriously injured can’t talk, much like the dead. A few days ago, while picking up a badly wounded patient, another man with light injuries tried to hop onto the ambulance. We pushed him out, just to make it clear to whoever’s watching from up above that we don’t serve as a taxi to usher members of the resistance around. We only take on the most fatally wounded – of which there’s always a plentiful supply, thanks to Israel.

    Last night at Al Qudas hospital in Gaza City, 17-year-old Miriam was carried in, with full-blown labour pains. Her father and sister-in-law, both dead, had passed through the hospital in the morning, both victims of indiscriminate bombing. Miriam gave birth to a gorgeous baby during the night, not aware of the fact that while she lay in the delivery room, her young husband had arrived in the morgue one floor below her.

    In the end, even the United Nations realised that here in Gaza, we’re all in the same boat, all moving targets for the snipers. The death toll is now at 789 dead, 3,300 wounded (410 in critical conditions), 230 children killed and countless missing. The death toll on the Israeli side has thankfully stopped at 4. John Ging, chief of UNRWA (UN agency for the rights of Palestinian Refugees) has stated that the UN announced they shall suspend their humanitarian activities in the Gaza Strip. I bumped into Ging in the Ramattan press office and saw him shake his finger with disdain at Israel before the cameras. The UN stopped its work in Gaza after two of its operators were killed yesterday, ironically during the three-hour truce that Israel had announced and as usual, had failed to comply with. « The civilians in Gaza have three hours a day at their disposal in which to survive, the Israeli soldiers have the remaining 21 in which to try and exterminate them », I heard Ging state two steps away from me.

    Yasmine, the wife of one of the many journalists waiting in line at the Erez pass, wrote to me from Jerusalem. Israel won’t grant these journalists a pass to let them in and film or describe the immense unnatural catastrophe that has befallen us in the last thirteen days. These were her words:  » The day before yesterday I went to have a look at Gaza from the outside. The world’s journalists are all huddled on a small sandy hill a few km from the border. Innumerable cameras are pointed towards us. Planes circle us overhead – you can hear them but you can’t see them. They seem like illusions, like something in your head until you see the black smoke rising from the horizon, in Gaza. The hill has also become a tourist site for the Israelis in the area. With their large binoculars and cameras, they come and watch the bombings live. »

    While I write this piece of correspondence in a mad rush, a bomb is dropped onto the building next to the one I’m in now. The windowpanes shake, my ears ache, I look out the window and see that the building gathering the major Arabic media agencies has been struck. It’s one of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, the Al Jaawhara building. A camera crew is permanently stationed on the roof, I can now see them all bending around on the ground, waving their arms and asking for help as they’re covered by a black cloud of smoke.
    Paramedics and journalists, the most heroic occupations in this corner of the world. At the Al Shifa hospital yesterday I paid Tamim a visit – he’s a journalist who survived an air raid. He explained how he thinks that Israel is adopting the same identical terrorist techniques as Al-Qaeda, bombing a building, waiting for the journalists and ambulances to arrive and then dropping another bomb to finish the latter two off as well. In his view that’s why there’ve been so many casualties among the journalists and paramedics. As he said this, the nurses around his bed all nodded in agreement. Tamim smilingly showed me his two stubs for legs. He was happy he was still around to tell the story, while his colleague, Mohammed, had died with a camera in his hand when the second explosion had proved fatal. In the meantime I asked about the bomb that was just dropped on the building next door, where two journalists, both Palestinian, one from Libyan TV and the other from Dubai TV, were injured. This is a harsh new reminder that this massacre must in no way be described or recorded. All that’s left for me to hope is that among the Israeli military summit no one reads Il Manifesto, or habitually visits my blog.

    Stay human

    Vittorio Arrigoni

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