Attacks on Al Wafa hospital: When moral capacity is absent, what then?

by Julie Webb-Pullman

Al Wafa Hospital

Al Wafa Hospital

Four Israeli missiles smashed into Al Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital at 2am Friday, in what can only be described as a barbaric war crime. Israel calls it ‘roof knocking.’ It is usually the precursor to a major attack that destroys the building and all within it.

The 14 patients who remain in the facility are all high-dependency, and unable to be transferred elsewhere. Many are intubated, a quarter are comatose, most are fully or partially paralysed and unable to mobilise. They range in age from 13 years to over 80, and about half are in their 20’s and 30’s.

None of them are militants, resistance fighters, or terrorists. They are all, each and every one of them, civilians. Their injuries were sustained through illness (meningitis, stroke during childbirth) or accident (electrocution, drowning, traffic accident).

They cannot even lift a spoon, let alone a gun.

Yet they are the deliberate target of Israeli rockets and missiles, fired from drones and tanks.

Yusra Abu Mousa has been in a coma for 16 years

Yusra Abu Mousa has been in a coma for 16 years

The first four missiles hit 2am on Friday morning, knocking a huge chunk off the lift-shaft and roof of the four-floor facility and damaging water tanks on the roof, flooding the top floor with 13cm of water. The staff had wisely taken the precaution of moving the medical stores from that floor to another stockroom as soon as hostilities broke out. The male patients for whom the fourth floor was home had to be relocated to the corridors, for their comparative safety – a safety whose illusory nature was emphasized at 7pm, when another missile slammed into the fourth floor, blasting a hole in the outside wall, blowing the fire-door off its hinges, and shattering the windows in wards and corridors alike. The ‘roof knock’ had become a ‘door knock,’ presumably because the residents had not left.

Bed-ridden, intubated, tracheotomied, catherised, comatose or all of the above, these patients have absolutely no capacity to run and hide, to flee the falling rubble, to even attempt to save their own lives.

They are the most vulnerable, the most dependent persons imaginable – their only protection the dedicated staff who continue to care for them despite not being paid for the last three months, a piece of paper called the Geneva Convention, and the even-less tangible moral capacity of the Israeli warmongers.

The latter two are remarkable only by their ineffectiveness and absence, respectively.

Following the first four strikes, and fearing the worst, Al Wafa Executive Director Basman Alashi called on internationals in Gaza in a desperate bid to save the facility and the fragile lives within it.

Eight people from seven countries answered his call and went to Al Wafa to document the situation there, and provide a ‘human shield’ against further Israeli attacks.

As one of the eight, I can confirm that the only lethal weapons we have seen are the remains of two Israeli missiles – one fired by a tank and the other from a drone, retrieved from amongst the rubble.

I can also confirm the sheer terror felt by those patients with consciousness. Itaf, an intubated woman shaking uncontrollably, moaning with fear, clinging to anyone who comes within reach – a state she has been in since the first rocket hit at 2am, the staff told us.

Itaf Kali still terrified hours later

Itaf Kali still terrified hours later

The powerlessness felt by Aya, paralysed by meningitis, unable to move but conscious and able to speak her horror.

Aya, able to feel terror but not to flee

Aya, able to feel terror but not to flee

One can only imagine the terror and powerlessness of Yusra Abu Mousa, a 23 year old woman who was in a car accident aged nine, and has been in a coma ever since – Yusra, who can hear but cannot speak, can feel but cannot express a thing, can breathe but cannot move, who can only wait for whatever comes next, unable to prevent it, protect herself or even to scream her fear out loud.

Of Mohammed the brilliant lab chemist, electrocuted by a surge when the power came back on unexpectedly as he was fixing a sign, whose tracheotomy tube would prevent him from screaming even if he could.

Of little Mohammed, the 13 year old who was pulled from the water after 15 minutes of drowning, still comatose but beginning to show small responses after 50 days.

All of them trapped in their bodies, trapped in a hospital that has become a bulls-eye for Israel in the prison called Gaza.

But we have seen one powerful weapon – the humanity of the staff, family members and patients, whose commitment and resilience resounds more forcefully and continuously than any Israeli bomb.

Today’s events have demonstrated that we cannot rely on the humanity of the Israeli occupation – any country that deliberately bombs a facility full of people without the capacity to move has shown it has none.

We can only rely on the humanity of the international community, and hope that it will prevail to end the impunity enjoyed by the rogue state of Israel in its criminal rampage through Gaza in an exercise of unparalleled savagery against the most vulnerable sector of society.

The eight internationals are standing up for Al Wafa, and for humanity – will you stand with them?

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