In the movie Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino plays a highly strung football coach. In a key scene, he gives a speech about how “life is a game of inches” and how when “you add up all those inches that’s gonna make the difference between livin’ and dyin’”.
For Pacino, the rousing words are a figure of speech. For the people of Gaza – particularly its doctors, nurses and medical staff – these words are a matter of fact. A single step, a single decision, can mean the difference between life and death. After 48 days of war, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a truce for four days. But given the immense devastation of their civilian infrastructure, particularly the hospitals, this “respite” will be nothing of the sort for the people of Gaza.
Take the case of Dr Yousef Mahdi, a doctor in al-Mahdi maternity hospital in Gaza City, northern Gaza. I know the family and have spoken to his sister on the phone. On 12 November, in between the long, intense hours in this private maternity hospital he decided to take a break. He stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. Suddenly, the hospital was hit by a missile. Dr Mahdi was wounded but he survived.
Inside the hospital were his brothers, also doctors, Basel and Raed, along with their family and many patients. There would also have been many displaced people, who seek refuge in hospitals. Dr Mahdi looked for survivors. All the corpses in the rubble were unrecognisable. Dozens of family members, patients and staff lay beneath the rubble. Finding no one alive, his sister told me, he sat on the ruins in complete shock and waited for the dawn to come.
Let me say their names. Dr Basel Mahdi, Dr Raed Mahdi and his wife Iman, together with their seven adult and young children: Samira, a dentist and soon-to-be bride; Yousef, who had just finished his master’s degree; Ahmad, a medical school student; and Amer, Abderrahmane, Mohamed and Mira, all schoolchildren. [Continue reading…]