Thursday, June 28, 2012

First Hand Account: Letter From Ashkelon - Conditions in Barzilai Hospital


21st June 2012
Rhoda Goodman
Lea Malul
Forwarded to me from Golda

I often wonder how people in New York would feel if residents of New Jersey were lobbing rockets into their city every day?  Well, going on our experience here in Ashkelon, they wouldn’t like it very much.  Last night at 2 o’clock the siren sounded and, woken from sleep, we rushed into the ‘safe’ room in our house.  The challenge is that most of Ashkelon’s population do not have such facilities and have to make their way to communal shelters.  A small problem being that we only have about 20 seconds after the siren sounds before the missiles land.  No time really, none at all.

During the middle of the night there were four rockets and, thank the Lord, they were shot down by the Iron Dome Israeli defense system.  We counted the explosions before we crawled back to sleep.  In all, more than 150 missiles have been fired at Ashkelon from Gaza in the last two days.  Two days when the people of Ashkelon have once again been thoroughly traumatized, the children particularly, and even our pets show signs of strain.

Particularly difficult is being outside the home.  To some extent, you feel protected in the safe room.  However, in the past, a missile pierced the roof of one of Ashkelon’s main malls, seriously injuring a doctor and the patient she was treating in her surgery on the top floor of the mall.  Given circumstances such as these, we are not entirely at ease even within our designated ‘safe’ areas.  On the other hand, driving around the city is a whole other story.  When the traffic lights turn red you will them to change.  Who wants to be stuck at a traffic light when the siren wails?  What do you do?  You feel an idiot lying down in the middle of the road, but lying down is what you should do.  Driving along, you are constantly looking for south facing walls.  Why south facing?  Well, Gaza is situated 6 miles to the south of Ashkelon and, in the event of a rocket attack, you would want to find such a wall to crouch behind.

Our children are now on holiday but they cannot go out.  They cannot go to the beach to play or visit friends or go to the mall.  They hear only sirens and explosions.  Barzilai, Ashkelon’s local hospital, serves over  .  Even whilst our doctors are treating injured and traumatized civilians and military personnel in our emergency room, they too are anxious about the safety of their own families.  Ashkelon is not a big city and the missiles that are fired at us indiscriminately fall on residential areas, on schools and, yes, on our hospital too.  For this reason Barzilai is rapidly completing a program of fortification of many of the vulnerable areas of the hospital, such as the maternity delivery suite and the children’s wards.  Leading up to and during the war three and a half years ago, 80% of the hospital was closed down because of the bombardment.  At a time when the local population desperately needed Barzilai, the hospital could not function because the safety of patients was compromised.

However, despite the numerous rockets that have landed in the grounds of Barzilai hospital since Israel vacated Gaza in 2007, Barzilai’s physicians treat everyone who comes to the hospital for help.  Unknown and unacknowledged outside of Israel and strange as it may sound, many of the doctors who work in Israeli hospitals are Palestinians and, among their patients, are Palestinians too.  This situation is replicated at Barzilai where, amongst the patients we treat, are Palestinians who are unable to be adequately cared for in Gaza.  Yes, we even treat the very people who are launching rockets at us.  

We just want to live in peace with our Palestinian neighbours.  We are not politicans,  just ordinary people going about their lives trying to make a living and have some good times with family and friends before we die.  We would just like to die later rather than sooner.

Rhoda Goodman with Lea Malul
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