Wounded from Gaza battle find shelter in an East Jerusalem hospital

In the Makassed hospital blood bank, a photograph of the late Yasser Arafat donating blood hangs on the wall. Visiting donors, including Jewish Israelis, see this picture before rolling up their sleeves to give blood.
In the Makassed hospital blood bank, a photograph of the late Yasser Arafat donating blood hangs on the wall. Visiting donors, including Jewish Israelis, see this picture before rolling up their sleeves to give blood. MCT

Ashraf Aman, 34, had gone to a bank in the Gaza Strip town of Tal el Hawa to cash his paycheck when an Israeli missile hurtled to the ground nearby, sending shrapnel through his left shoulder and knocking him unconscious.

Now he lies in a bed in Makassed hospital in Jerusalem, one of dozens of wounded Gaza residents who’ve been referred here by overwhelmed doctors at Gaza City’s Shifa hospital. Aman, a messenger with a pregnant wife and six children, has been told he should expect to be hospitalized for four weeks. His home in the Shajaiya section of Gaza has been destroyed _ his wife and children are staying with his brother _ and his father, Nabil Aman, spends the nights on a mattress on the floor next to his son’s bed.

“I just want to go home and see my wife and the kids,” Aman said.

Jerusalem’s Makassed Islamic Charitable Society Hospital is the largest Palestinian medical facility in Arab East Jerusalem, and it is now the primary address for many patients who can’t be treated in the Gaza Strip. A day at Makassed shows the brutality of the civilian casualties in Gaza. It also displays moments of grace where both Israeli Jews and Palestinian volunteers meet among the patients.

Before the Israeli military operation in Gaza, Makassed director Rafiq Husseini said, his hospital was caring for 35 patients from Gaza suffering from chronic or complex ailments. Now that figure has nearly doubled, and Gaza residents occupy a quarter of his hospital’s 250 beds. Their injuries range from skull fractures to spinal cord damage and trauma to the limbs, kidneys and lungs.

“When you have 10,000 injuries in Gaza, no hospital system can cope with these numbers,” Husseini said. In addition to accepting injuries from Gaza, Husseini said he has sent a surgeon and six nurses to work in Gaza’s Shifa hospital. He has also had an increase in emergency cases because of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, mainly triggered by anger over the war in Gaza. At least 17 people have been killed in West Bank unrest.

“We’re running out of everything almost,” Husseini said. “When you have all emergency cases you have to rush them immediately to theater, you have to deal with them in intensive care, there is no waiting and there is no way to plan.”

Husseini said he is in close contact with colleagues at Shifa hospital. Asked about reports that Hamas set up a command center beneath the hospital, Husseini said he thought they were “rubbish” and that neither he nor the visiting doctors from Makassed have seen evidence of the claim. If it were true, however, it would be unacceptable. “To use a hospital as headquarters for . . . a militant group is immoral, and therefore I hope there is no such thing,” he said.

Khaled Abu Mrahil, 6, fractured his skull when the building he was in in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City collapsed two weeks ago during an Israeli strike. He has emerged from a coma but he barely speaks. His mother, Nehad, left Khaled’s three brothers and four sisters in Gaza to join her young son. At night she sleeps on a foldout couch in his room.

Other companions of patients sleep on mattresses in the hospital hallway. Israeli authorities grant patients and their companions a day-permit to leave Gaza to travel to Makassed; after that, they must stay on the hospital grounds. Husseini says it’s difficult to care for the needs of both the patients and their companions; he hopes to provide mobile homes outside the hospital to ease congestion.

Televisions on stairway landings play news nonstop. On Tuesday, one screen showed Hamas spokesmen claiming a victory in Beit Hanoun.

Volunteers visited the hospital, bearing gifts, flowers, balloons and food. One of those was Mustafa, a man who asked to use a pseudonym for fear his visit here would affect his pending request to live permanently in Israel.

Eight years ago, Mustafa was driving through Gaza with his family when an Israeli missile hit a militant in a passing car. The shrapnel killed Mustafa’s wife, mother, son and brother, he said. One of Mustafa’s two surviving children was paralyzed, and he has been in Israel ever since providing care.

Mustafa came to visit his brother-in-law, and brought plastic bags full of fresh hummus, Falafel and pita bread. Walking through Makassed’s wards, Mustafa said the scene brought back terrible memories.

“It is returning me to what happened eight years ago,” he said. “My heart is aching over what’s happening. . . . I thought my child would be an example for all the world to stop these wars, and just to live life.”

Operation Protective Edge, as the Israelis call the military campaign in Gaza, has broad support in Israel, according to public opinion surveys. One poll taken in July by the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan Jerusalem research center, showed more than 90 percent of Israelis supported the operation, which Israel says was intended to stop Hamas from firing rockets at Israel and to destroy a network of tunnels Hamas has used to send fighters into Israel.

Still, the bloodshed _ nearly 1,900 Palestinians dead, at least 9,000 wounded, plus the 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel who died _ has produced some dissenters. For them, Makassed has been a place to act on their frustrations.

Naama Preis came to the hospital to donate blood, her fist clenched as red fluid streamed from her arm into a medical pouch. Above her was a grainy photocopied photograph of the late Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, doing the same thing. Preis, 29, said she drove to Makassed from Tel Aviv after she read about the Gazan patients there. Makassed sent 150 units of blood to Gaza on Sunday, and Preis was contributing to a second delivery.

“It’s important for me to meet Palestinians, and to talk to them, to let them know that I maybe think differently,” she said. “And to give myself hope.”

Areej Masswadeh, a trainer in the blood bank, snapped a photo of Preis.

“I just find it weird,” she said. “I see this for the first time. That Jewish people come and give their blood to us.”

For Nabil Aman, even sleeping on a mattress on the hospital floor near his son reminds him of better days. He speaks Hebrew from years of working on Israeli construction sites near Tel Aviv – but he has not worked in Israel since 2004. Now he’s waiting for his son to recover, both because he is Ashraf Aman’s father and because Ashraf is the main breadwinner for 17 people, including his parents.

Talking with visitors at the hospital, Jewish and Palestinian, is a breath of fresh air for Nabil Aman, who never leaves the hospital grounds.

“I go downstairs to the garden and I smoke a cigarette,” he said. “I can’t leave. His arm is in so much pain all the time. He can’t sleep at night from the pain.”