...A doctor in the hospitals of Gaza under fire
By Jihad Abdel-Alim Al-Farra
Paperback: 170 pages
Publisher: Danish Islamic Council, Copenhagen: 2009
Reviewed by Salah Issa (Quds Press)
This is an exceptional book, by any standards. Its words convey a profound human experience packed with emotional force, touching the conscience enough to make the reader cry again and again.
Published in Copenhagen, the author takes the reader initially to Scandinavia, where he lives and works as a surgeon in a hospital accident and emergency department. It was there during the long winter nights of January 2009 that the Israeli shelling of Gaza affected Dr. Al-Farra and moved him to the core. So much so that he realized that his sense of humanitarian and moral duty, professional commitment and religious beliefs, all made it imperative for him to go to the besieged Gaza Strip, even as it was being pummelled by the Israeli war machine.
The book chronicles the considerable efforts made by Dr. Al-Farra – who is of Syrian origin, but living in Copenhagen - including making contact with humanitarian organizations, such as the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, in order to fulfil what he reveals was a promise he made to himself, to tend to the wounded people of the Palestinian land called the Gaza Strip.
The process was not easy, and he had to pursue other options, such as the Palestinian Doctors’ Assembly in Europe and the Arab Medical Union, which eventually got him to Gaza, despite numerous difficulties and obstacles in his way.
The author explains in detail what he faced working voluntarily in the Ahli Arab Hospital, Shifa Hospital and Wafa Hospital on the front line between the resistance and the invading army during those horrendous three weeks in January. Working round the clock, he moved from hospital to hospital to perform emergency surgery under extreme pressure, in facilities stretched to their absolute limit and beyond. Gaza, remember, had at the time of the bombardment and invasion been under siege for two years, and by January 2009 stocks of medical supplies were at their lowest levels.
The injuries the author encountered included those caused by munitions banned by the international community but used by the Israelis. Reading about his experiences we also begin to feel the awful pain of the wounded and, finally, to get a sense of the dignity, pride and patience of the elderly, mothers and their children, as well as the Palestinian community’s young men who shrugged off their injuries as best they could. Hence the title of the book: “the land of pride.”
The reader is taken on a journey with the author, so that we share what it must have been like struggling in Gaza under siege, with the noise of Israel’s bombs delivered around the clock by sea, land and air. The unmanned drones surveying the land below provided the victims of this brutal assault with some degree of warning that worse was on its way. Dr. Al-Farra notes with some pride that the poorly-armed resistance stood up to one of the most powerful armies in the world.
The author’s personal narrative is enhanced by images taken in the field and several documentary articles, lending it a special character. The publisher – the Danish Islamic Council – is to be commended, but it would be nice to have a translation in English to give the important message a wider readership; the original is published in Arabic.