Monday, August 20, 2007

"It was nothing like Lebanon, I'm sure. But it was the scariest thing in the world."

July 4

Left: Katie (left; picture taken last time I was in Israel)

The IDF killed a 15-year-old boy last night in Hawooze, a village that may as well be part of Hebron. He apparently had a plastic toy gun the soldiers thought was a real gun, so they killed him for the crime of being armed. Note that this boy didn’t attack anybody or even point his toy gun at anybody; he just had it with him. B’tselem wrote a detailed and disturbing report specifically about Israeli use of firearms called “Trigger Happy”, it’s available at:

[Update from August 19: Compare how the only democracy in the Middle East disarms a 15-year-old boy armed with a toy pistol to how the Satanic-death-loving-cult-of-suicide-bombing-promoting terrorist organization Hamas disarms an adult with an assault rifle:,9171,1649291,00.html]

The power was out this morning at Musa’s house and at the PMRS office; the electricity seemed to be out in all of Hebron when I got into the city. It was back on by the time we came back to the PMRS office.

I talked to Dr. Nisreen again this morning, before we went on the clinic. Somehow we started talking about how beautiful the old city is and how much more beautiful it used to be. She told me she has never once been to pray at the Ibrihim Mosque (recall that she’s also never been to the al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem; this is a deeply religious woman). Imagine living and working a twenty minute walk from the burial site of Abraham, Sara and the other Abrahamic patriarchs and matriarchs – some of the most famous people in all of human history – and not being allowed to simply go pray in the mosque built over their tombs.

We took the mobile clinic to two villages today, first to al-Bira, and then to Beit Mersem. It was the same deal as before: malnourished children, malnourished adults, preventable disease, chronic diseases, ob/gyn issues, etc.

We stayed in al-Bira for about two hours, saw quite a few people, and then went on to Beit Mersem, about a ten minute drive. We set up in a building that looks like it was built to be a small clinic; they had a scale, so I weighed myself and realized I’ve lost almost ten pounds in the past six weeks. The building and village are on top of a hill, and are very near the wall Israel is building in the West Bank. We heard constant gunfire from the moment we arrived until we left.

On the way back I talked to Dr. Nisreen a little more. We drove past a sunflower field/farm and I asked her what the sunflowers are grown for; she said the seeds are harvested and sold locally. From talking to her before I knew she had worked in al-Alia hospital as the head of the pediatrics ward (no small feat for a woman with a child anywhere, let alone here), so I asked her if she prefers working in pediatrics or in ob/gyn. She said she loves both, but she prefers ob/gyn, and that since there’s a shortage of female ob/gyns in Palestine she is in high demand. She plans on taking a job at al-Mukassed hospital in Jerusalem when an opening becomes available; how she’ll be able to work in Jerusalem I have no idea, but she said there are ways. Hopefully she’ll have her Italian passport by then (she’s married to a Palestinian with Italian citizenship).

I had mentioned that morning that my mom would love to see Jerusalem, but that she didn’t get to the last time she came here, so Dr. Nisreen asked me what my parents do. When I told her my dad is a retired ob/gyn and she became excited, and asked if I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Dilemma: the answer is no, and I don’t mind telling her that at all. But, I thought to myself, when I say “no” she’ll ask why, and the real reason is because I don’t want my appreciation for women destroyed. I wouldn’t mind telling most people that, but when you have a deeply religious woman whose demeanor is that of a princess, you wonder whether or not that’s appropriate.

“Umm, not really, to be honest,” I said. “I don’t think I would like gynecology very much.”

“Because you think it’s disgusting?” she asked, that being the response I’m sure she most often gets from people.

“Oh no, not at all. I almost passed out in Africa the first time I saw a blood draw” – a brief look of shock passed over her face; growing up with blood and death, I guess she never had that problem – but after that it was fine. I think everything in medicine is a little bit disgusting, but when you get used to it, then you’re okay.”

She laughed a little and nodded in agreement. “Why then?”

“Well, I think…it’s…I’m afraid it would…maybe…ruin my…uh…appreciation…for…uh…for women.”

“Ah ha!” she said, with a big smile. “Yes, I can understand that. I would not want to be a urologist!” I was relieved, and once again reassured that, despite what we’re raised to believe, these people are just like everyone else.

When we got back to the office I took my stuff and headed to the Jerusalem service, about a ten minute walk. We had the same hassle at the tunnel checkpoint as before. When we got to Jerusalem I went to the central bus station and took the bus to Haifa. The last person to get on was an Orthodox Jewish man. There were no seats left that weren’t next to women, so he sat in the middle of the isle for the entire ride to Haifa.

I got to Haifa and found Katie’s apartment, it’s only a few blocks from where I used to stay when I lived in Haifa. I got to use a real shower again, which was absolutely wonderful. She and her live-in boyfriend, Ameer (a Palestinian living in Israel), and I stayed up talking.

Katie told me she was watching the news closely to figure out when Israel was going to attack Lebanon again; that way she could make sure she wasn’t in Haifa that month. She planned to go back to Britain and to take Ameer with her until the war was over. She told me about how during the 2006 war, when Hezbollah rockets were hitting Haifa, she and Ameer were near some of the areas hit; she said she’s never heard or felt anything so loud and frightening in her life as one of the rockets that hit the corner store a block or two down from their apartment. She said she thought the explosion must have been in the apartment next door. “It was nothing like Lebanon, I’m sure” she said, “but it was the scariest thing in the world.” (Read in a pleasant British accent.)