Take Me with You
A year with Gaza’s wounded
The joke involves a magic pocket or suitcase, one large enough, secret enough, to conceal a person and ferry them past everything that keeps a Palestinian from Gaza locked in: the bureaucracy; suspicious intelligence officers; wall and fence; body scanners; biometric permit controls. “Take me with you,” the joker jokes, and you offer the small bag you’re carrying over your shoulder. Weak laughter follows. You walk away and meet someone else, another joker saying the same words, the joke as thin as the line that separates irony from unrealizable wish: “Take me with you.”
In Gaza, where two million people are more or less trapped, the joke takes on the air of a mantra, a joyless and unanswered invocation to those few who are free to come and go. It was repeated to me countless times in the Gazan clinics of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), where I worked as a communications manager in 2018 and 2019, our facilities overflowing with people shot by the Israeli army during the weekly protests that took place from March 2018 until the end of 2019 at the fence that separates Israel and Gaza. In dozens of formal interviews and in many more informal conversations, I gained some insight into the profound desperation that pushed people to take part in these demonstrations. Their reasons varied wildly, some citing political commitment, others speaking of boredom, despair, or curiosity. But these motives all shared a common root: the isolation imposed upon Gazans by the toxic confluence of the Israeli blockade, Palestinian political intransigence, and Egyptian restrictions. There is almost no other place in the world in which your existence is as tightly constrained within the space where you were born.
The protests, known as the Great March of Return, began as an initiative by some Gazan activists who hoped to draw attention to the situation in Gaza and the right of return for the Palestinian refugees who make up the majority of the population there. Israel has built a barrier along every inch of the line that separates it from Gaza: in some places a towering concrete wall, in others a chain-link fence with rolls of barbed wire along its face. Some protesters envisioned an actual physical return across this barrier to their ancestral lands, but for others the protests were more symbolic, with speeches and cultural events held some distance back from the fence. The idea was quickly coopted by Hamas, the Palestinian faction that governs Gaza, who provided much of the logistical support for the protests, such as setting up protest camps and providing buses to take protesters from their neighborhoods to the fence. From the start, the number of casualties was shockingly high. On March 30, 2018, the day of the first protest, in which seventeen thousand Palestinians demonstrated, the Israeli army shot and injured more than seven hundred and killed sixteen. By the time I arrived in Gaza, in July 2018, the demonstrations had settled into a routine of attrition, with only a core group of between five and ten thousand mostly young men showing up at the fence on an average Friday. (The peak of the protests saw forty thousand attend.) The demonstrations finally petered out in the latter half of 2019.
The protests were used as a tool to pressure Israel to loosen the blockade, and Hamas controlled their intensity, calling from the mosques and on social media for participation when they wanted more people. Their security forces sometimes let people approach the fence and sometimes kept them back. Some of the youth threw stones and small explosive devices at the Israeli troops, but most of the protesters were peaceful. Israel has been criticized by human rights groups and the UN for using live fire at the demonstrations: during the protests, more than seventy-nine hundred Palestinians were shot and injured, according to the World Health Organization; according to the UN, 213 were killed.
To understand the protests, one must look beyond the grand narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which alone are insufficient to explain what is going on. There are other stories, stories about how, amid the smoke, bullets, and barbed wire, the protesters of Gaza forged an identity for themselves, found friendship, and temporarily escaped the suffocating boredom of life in a place where there is no future and that is almost impossible to leave.
“We were going every Friday,” Ruslan told me, in a story typical of the dozens I heard. He was 24. “I wanted to be with my friends. We went to the mosque together and then went to the protests. It was making us happy. We enjoyed it.”
For Ruslan, this camaraderie and fierce disregard for consequences came to an abrupt end on the day he and his friends decided to try to enter Israel. “Ihab had been shot in the heart, so another guy and I went to take him from inside the fence. Then others came to help us. The Israelis shot me, but I could still walk. Then, two minutes later, when I was carrying Ihab, they shot me again,” he said. Ihab was killed. Ruslan’s injuries were severe: his leg became infected and the first course of antibiotics failed. When I last saw him, his future was uncertain.
Through the stories of people like Ruslan, I began to understand the extremity of life in Gaza, where a crippling Israeli blockade has brought the enclave to the edge of collapse, and where Palestinian political infighting has given many Gazans the impression that not even their own politicians care about them. Meanwhile, Egypt has all but cut off the only other escape route, with bribes now the sole means of securing a quick and easy exit from Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
A whole generation has grown up with restrictions on their lives defined by Israel, yet many have never seen an Israeli.Tweet
It is against this background of extremity that people went to the fence knowing they were likely to be shot by the Israeli army, even expecting it. “I wanted to die,” 19-year-old Firas said while smiling, his eyes bright. He was shot in May 2018, but we were speaking in February 2019, outside a clinic in the Middle Area, a jumbled district of refugee camps and farms between Gaza City and Khan Younis. A cold wind was blowing through the courtyard where we sat. “Why would I go? I wanted to die.” Firas often wore a white Fila sweatshirt and a baseball cap. He told me he loves to sing and dance. He was known as “the Fox” on account of his agility during the protests, he boasted. When I met him, he liked to post selfies to Instagram using a filter that gave him the ears of a bear. His feed was full of these lighthearted pictures interspersed with images in which he lies bloodied in a hospital bed. “We are all sad, frustrated, and exhausted,” he said. “We can’t find work or get an education. There’s no hope, only depression.”
Before his injury, Firas spent his time learning dances from YouTube and doing a bit of parkour, emulating the life he saw other people living online. “We were trying to find a place where we could do what people do in other countries. But we couldn’t. We don’t have the possibility to do as they do; the life that they have is not the one that we have.” Despite his injuries, Firas still went to the fence every Friday.
There are two broad demographics in Gaza. The first consists of the older generation, the people who saw how things were before the blockade. After Israel initially occupied the territory, in 1967, Gazans were relatively free to move around. Many even took jobs inside Israel. They ran businesses in Hebron, in the West Bank; drove tourists to Akka, the picturesque port city; lived above supermarkets in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv. They still remember bar mitzvahs, barbecues, Hebrew. But in the early 2000s, as the violence of the Second Intifada spiraled, Israel revoked most of the work permits for Gazans. Once Hamas came to power, in 2007, Israel stopped issuing them altogether. It was at this moment that the blockade began in earnest. The injustices that took place in the preceding fifty years were many, but the older generation remains bitterly nostalgic for that era—angry and disappointed about the things they lost or were forced to leave behind.
The people in the second demographic are those who have never known anything but the blockade. For them, life has the sense of being predefined, an endless round of wars and escalations. It is these young people who made up most of the protests’ wounded—people like Firas. Seeking escape from Gaza’s various authorities and the conservative society that forbade him the life he dreamed of, Firas instead found himself ever more hemmed in. He did not die when he was shot but, like thousands of others, suffered a devastating leg wound; the World Health Organization says that 80 percent of those shot by the Israeli army during the protests were shot in the lower limbs.
Their injuries were horrific. I saw hundreds of legs with huge open wounds, the flesh gouged out, the bone inside shattered into nothingness. These injuries are incredibly complicated to treat. After immediate surgeries to stop the person from bleeding to death, the wound needs surgical cleaning to remove all the shrapnel, the bits of bone, the dirt. Ideally this would be repeated a few times until the surgeons are sure all foreign bodies have been removed. Then the process of closing the wound can begin. In Gaza, where so many of the wounds are so big, this often involves separating a muscle that is still whole into two parts, then dragging one part into the wound and sewing it in, so that the living flesh can fuse with the muscle left around the bullet hole and fill it. This can then be covered with a skin graft. Only once the wound is closed and healed (and so long as it has not become infected) can you begin to think about trying to fix the bone with reconstructive surgery.
The set of techniques used in these surgeries requires a very high level of skill, as well as access to well-equipped medical facilities. Qualified doctors and suitable hospitals exist nearby in Israel, including at Barzilai Medical Center, six miles or so north of the fence at which so many Palestinians have been shot. But such facilities are in short supply in Gaza, where the health system has been crippled by three wars, twelve years of the Israeli blockade, and the feuding of rival Palestinian authorities. Drugs run low and staff go unpaid. Despite this, doctors and nurses do their best to provide care, but the cure for many of the wounded simply does not exist in Gaza. Instead they spend endless hours in waiting rooms and clinics, suffering the pain of having dressings changed every day, the dragging ache of metal in bone, the horror of seeing pus leak from infected legs, the slow ebb of the will to go on.
“When I was injured, they said I needed seven months to get better. Now it’s been ten months, and I still need another operation, and after that another year to recover,” Firas told me in February 2019. In June, he said that he was fed up with waiting for care that would not come, and that he had lost hope of ever being permitted to enter Israel for treatment. He said he planned to go to Egypt for the surgery, despite concerns about the hospitals there. We exchanged some messages on WhatsApp when he arrived, but then my texts stopped being delivered. I have not heard from him since.
Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, amidst the violence of the Second Intifada and a moribund peace process. Ever since, the country has exercised power over the tiny enclave by remote control, using drone surveillance and air strikes, bureaucratic decisions made in distant offices. The Israeli army enforces a thousand-foot-wide exclusion zone on the Gaza side of the fence, frequently shooting at farmers, shepherds, and others it judges to have come too close. A whole generation has grown up with restrictions on their lives defined by Israel, yet many have never seen an Israeli. When the protests started, the chance to transgress could prove irresistible.
“For a long time, I wanted to go to the fence, just to see it,” said Musaab, describing the magnetism of this thing that was so close yet so forbidden. Musaab was shot on the first day of the protests. His curiosity eventually landed him in the doctor’s office in MSF’s Khan Younis clinic four months later, sitting on a chair with his crutches beside him, his mangled foot in front. He was 19 and still a student. “At first I was close to the fence, and then I went back a bit to eat and pray,” he told me. “When I returned, I was about fifty meters away. I wasn’t throwing stones; I was just sitting down when I got shot.” The bullet struck his right foot and damaged it so badly that he underwent a partial amputation, leaving him scared for the future. He wondered whether he would be able to walk again. “If I could go back in time, I would never have gone to the fence,” he said.
Politics drove certain protesters to the fence. Some people told me that they went to the demonstrations for the sake of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, located in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. Others mentioned the refugees’ right to return, unsurprising in a place where most are descendants of people who fled or were expelled in 1948 from their homes. People spoke of wanting to end the occupation. Those who threw stones were willing to admit as much.
But for many more of the wounded, it seemed that some accident of fate had brought them to the fence, rather than a concerted desire to take part in the demonstrations—people like Taha, 26, who was shot on September 28, 2018. “I went to watch from far away,” he told me in February 2019. “My cousin was close to the fence; he was throwing stones from a slingshot. I went closer because I wanted to bring him back. I was scared for him.” While making his way to the front, Taha saw his cousin get shot in the leg. “My cousin—he’s my friend, my brother. So this made me angry. I started to burn tires. One tire, two tires. Then, when I went to bring the third tire, I was shot.” Taha said that he had not planned to take an active role in the protests and had not expected to get shot. “Twice before I had been to watch from far away,” he said. “I didn’t go close to the fence. I was just watching to release boredom.”
Now Taha, once a fisherman, found himself unable to work, his leg destroyed by a bullet. In the past his father had owned a coffee shop, but it had burned down, leaving the family deep in debt. “I was going to sea to look after my family. I’m the oldest. After my injury, I can’t do that anymore.” He is one of many who in the wake of their injuries went from impoverished to destitute.
At first glance, Gaza looks like many other low-income Middle Eastern cities. A dense expanse of concrete extends from the checkpoint down to the sea, where the narrow streets give way to a grid of tower blocks and hotels. Despite twelve years of economic freefall, due to the blockade and the three wars that have punctuated the period, the city maintains an air of normality. There are restaurants, ranging from cheap, popular places serving shawarma or barbecue to the manicured haunts of the rich. Families promenade by the beach in the evenings. Grocery store shelves are well stocked with international brands of food. “We used to be unable to buy these things because they weren’t available,” one Gazan colleague observed. “Now they are available, but no one can afford to buy them.”
But Gaza is breaking down. Poverty defines life for all but a few with good jobs or the connections required to maintain a functioning business. There is very little—if any—of the money left from the days when the checkpoints were open and tens of thousands were able to work in Israel. In 2017, the salaries paid to Palestinian Authority civil servants, which for years had been keeping the economy afloat, were drastically cut. Half of the workforce in Gaza is unemployed; this figure jumps to nearly 70 percent for young people, according to the World Bank.
“I wanted to die,” he answered, simply. “I thought it would help my family, that they’d get money.”Tweet
“My father lives with another wife,” Murad, 26, explained to me in April 2019, “so I live with my mother in one room.” His family’s shack is on the shabby edge of Gaza City, the toilet separated from the eating, sleeping, and living areas by only a thin curtain. There is no kitchen, just a small gas stove, but after Murad’s injury there was little to cook. Before Murad was shot on May 14, 2018, he used to make 20 NIS, or $5.80, a day as a self-taught electrician. He has not worked since his injury, and the aid he receives from the authorities isn’t enough to keep him and his mother afloat. The help offered to him by his family has been scant. “I can only afford to buy biscuits,” he said. “Last night we just ate stale bread for dinner. We have nothing. We’ve not had gas for a month.”
When I asked Murad how all this had affected him, he burst into tears, sobbing in front of me. As I put down my notebook and moved to give him a hug, I began to have some sense of the tremendous misery that filled the bare rooms throughout Gaza where the injured lay and grappled with their fate. When many of the injured first turned up in the clinic, they arrived wearing a sly, cocky smile, as though they had been admitted to an elite club. Many preserved this air in the waiting room as the months went by, shouting and bantering with their friends, playing cat and mouse with the clinic guards who tried to keep them from smoking inside. But behind the treatment room door, their faces drooped ever downward. Tired eyes sought answers from doctors who stood by treatment beds where the injured lay, their tracksuit trousers down to reveal a failed skin graft’s yellow mess or the pus leaking from the pins of an external fixator drilled into a rotting bone. I can’t sleep at night, the pain is too bad . . . Electricity, from hip to toe . . . The pills do nothing. These are things I heard time and again as summer’s humidity turned to winter’s cold, and winter’s cold turned to summer’s humidity again, whole seasons filled with pain and few answers.
Some people returned to the fence even after their first wound. Their suffering was so acute, their despair so overwhelming, that a bullet ripping through flesh, a bone shattering, a metal cage screwed into a leg was not enough to stop them from going back. One day I sat with Hassan, a patient famous among other patients for being injured multiple times. His two eyes were different colors—one brown, one blue—and there was something in them that made it uncomfortable to hold his gaze. Not menace, but something that did not bear prolonged contemplation. He showed me his scars. He said he had been wounded on six different occasions. I asked him why he kept going back to the fence. “I wanted to die,” he answered, simply. “I thought it would help my family, that they’d get money.” (The families of the dead receive $3,000 from Hamas. Those wounded receive a smaller amount.) He had a wife and a small daughter to provide for; they needed money for food and diapers. At the time we spoke, in February 2019, he was deep in debt to the local shop where he routinely purchased provisions on credit. I asked him if he still wanted to die. “No,” he said. “Now I think differently.”
Um Bilal also went back to the fence after being wounded. She cut a striking figure in the clinic in her niqab, and the traditional black-and-white-check scarf tied around the external fixator screwed into her arm. She was doubly unusual for the wounded because she was older—56—and a woman. In Gaza, boys and men are generally freer to move around because they are exempt from expectations of modesty in dress, comportment, and social relations placed upon the average woman and girl. While women did take part in the protests, they did so in much smaller numbers than men. But among the few women who were shot, I was struck by how they were much more likely than the men to articulate their reasons for participating in the language of the Palestinian struggle. “I was going to the fence every Friday,” Um Bilal told me, “because of our country, because of Palestine. I wanted to remove the siege on Gaza, to achieve a good life.” Perhaps it was because of their professed political commitment that these women were for a time allowed to circumvent societal expectations and go to the fence.
“The right of return,” Marwa said, eyes flashing, when I asked why she had gone. “The right of return is our right; we have a country. It’s our country and we want it.” She was 28, a homemaker from Rafah, and had been shot in April 2018. She said she had gotten within fifteen feet of the fence, that it had been her first time near it. After being shot, she was forced to return to her parents’ house because she was no longer able to look after her children and her husband was irritated by her incapacity. “My mother is looking after me, and she is nearly 70 years old. My husband doesn’t stop telling me to come home and look after the children, but I need to feel better before I can go back.” He would allow her to see their children only occasionally, an arrangement that was causing her obvious pain.
While the wounded men can find camaraderie and companionship with one another, Marwa ended up isolated. She had met only one other injured woman, when they overlapped at the hospital for a while. “I feel alone, and I feel that all the people are looking at me, which makes me embarrassed.” Her reaction was to isolate herself further, sitting apart from the other women in the waiting area. They had brought their children in to treat household injuries, like burns, and Marwa did not feel she could talk with them.
While Um Bilal and Hassan eventually stopped going to the protests, some people never changed their minds. Mohammed, a 20-year-old, was treated for a gunshot wound in 2018, and was one of the lucky ones who recovered completely. He was shot again in mid-March 2019 and came back to the clinic. When he did not turn up for an appointment on March 30, the one-year anniversary of the protests, the staff called his phone. His family answered: Mohammed had gone to the demonstrations the night before and was killed.
The word for fence in Arabic is siaj, the word for wall jidar. But no one calls the Gaza barrier by either of these terms. Instead everyone calls it silik, or the wire. As someone raised in the British educational system, I find it hard not to look at the youth who crowd the clinics with their destroyed limbs and think about a previous generation’s futile charges at the wire, when it was used to fortify the trenches during World War I. But while various factions within Gaza encouraged the protests, there was no conscription, no men with guns waiting to shoot the young Gazans down if they refused an order, no artillery to cover their advances. These are people who went to the fence again and again, without weapons, to face being maimed or killed. In the end, whether they went out of political commitment, boredom, hunger for excitement, or suicidal intent, the fact that they continued to show up long after it was clear that the protests were not going to deliver any meaningful changes speaks to the deep misery that they shared.
With thousands of patients, it was not possible to know everyone, to follow every story, but there were many faces that became familiar, faces I could pick out of the crowd of young guys wearing tracksuits, hair gelled up, legs encased in metal. These were patients whose progress, or lack of it, I knew intimately, whose requests for loans and pleas to intercede with European visa authorities I learned how to dodge. But I was not able to keep their stories from following me into the hours I was not in the clinics, or the days when I was back in Jerusalem. It felt like whiplash, crossing from Gaza into Israel every couple of weeks, one morning stuck behind a donkey cart in the lanes of Jabalia refugee camp, the next, sitting on Jerusalem’s air-conditioned light rail, paying exorbitant prices at restaurants while thinking about Murad and his mother eating stale bread.
Of course, I had the option of escaping whatever mental burden I carried. For the wounded there was no way out. Rami, who was 40, told me that his psychology had completely changed after he was wounded, that he could no longer bear his children or his wife. He wanted to be alone. “All us wounded suffer from psychological conditions,” he said. “We understand one another instinctively, since we share the same condition. But when we deal with healthy people, our thoughts are totally different.” Rami and the other wounded went from being isolated from the rest of the world to being isolated even from other Gazans. They are members of a brotherhood forged of pain and trauma.
It takes a little more than an hour to drive from the north of Gaza right down to the south. In Beit Hanoun, one of Gaza’s northernmost cities, green fields overtake the sandy ground, the dunes rolling away past the fence and into Israel. Head south along the main road, Salah al-Din, and soon you will find yourself in Gaza City. Eventually the houses give way to the fruit orchards of the Middle Area, white surveillance balloons marking the fence, just out of sight over a rise. In the south the desert begins to win out over the grass, and here the skyline is dominated by date palms that bear their bright red crop in September. Remarkably, for such a small place, it is noticeably warmer in the south.
That journey—about twenty-five miles—traces the distance between the two points at which it is theoretically possible for Palestinians to leave Gaza. For those who have lost hope of finding treatment for their injuries inside Gaza, these two crossings make up their only options. The Rafah crossing to Egypt has been mostly closed since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2013, although the situation has been somewhat better over the past year. But even if the terminal is open, you cannot simply turn up and cross. There are lists of people ordered by the urgency of their need and the amount of time that they have been waiting. It is commonly understood that in order to move yourself up the list, you can pay an amount that fluctuates depending on demand. Those in a rush, and who can afford it, can pay extra for “VIP service” said to ensure passage to Cairo without having to stop at any of the additional Egyptian checkpoints. (In the insurgency-ridden Sinai, Palestinian travelers tell frequent tales of being stopped—and worse—for long periods by the army and intelligence.) These barriers to crossing aside, Egypt remains in other ways less than ideal: many in Gaza do not trust the Egyptian public health system, and most cannot afford private care.
To enter into Israel, you need to cross the imposing Erez checkpoint, a mostly empty faux airport terminal whose approach from Gaza is overlooked by gun towers and staggered by a series of security checks and metal turnstiles. But to even get as far as the checkpoint, you need to be one of the lucky few whose request for coordination to Israel has been approved by the military and security services. According to the World Health Organization, a mere 17 percent of permit applications for people injured in the demonstrations were approved as of the end of December 2019, with 28 percent denied outright and 55 percent delayed. Permit requests are often denied for inscrutable reasons. This is a rate of approval far lower than the average for all permit applications, which is 64 percent. (You also need to pass through Hamas and Palestinian Authority checkpoints, and if you are traveling onward to Jordan, you need permission from them as well.)
Iyad, who was 22 when we spoke, was granted permission to travel for surgery at an MSF hospital in Amman, Jordan, the first time he had ever left Palestine. “When the news came to me, I didn’t believe it,” he said. “I thought it was a cruel joke.” The experience turned out to be so overwhelming that at first he was able to take very little joy from it. “When I left the Palestinian crossing and entered the Israeli side, I felt shock, not happiness. Even once I had been in Jordan for two or three days, I was still in a state of shock. I had to be convinced I wasn’t dreaming.” Eventually, he felt lonely. “I was away three months. There was no one with me. I felt alone. I was sad and bored and I missed my family. In moments like that, I’d cry.”
Yet his appetite for travel had been whetted, and he wanted to see more of the world. Before his trip, he told me, he had never given much thought to the possibility of emigrating. But this had since changed. “There are lots of people here who want to leave the country—even those who are not injured—to work and bring money. To see life outside,” Iyad said. Even though his own journey was for health reasons, it turned out to be a happy one. “I got treatment, and I also met many people. Great people. I think that this journey will make it much easier for me to travel again in the future.”
Iyad was a musician. People called him “the Joker” for his ability to pick up any instrument and play it. He was shot the evening of May 14, 2018, on his way to work. Unable to resist the temptation of taking a look at the protests, he went, despite the instructions of his boss, who had warned him to stay away. I asked him what he wished for when he got better. “To be able to buy the instruments that I want to play but at the moment can’t afford,” he said. But Iyad was not close to getting better. Despite the rare opportunity he’d had to be treated outside Gaza, he was stuck in a medical quagmire of missing bone and ongoing infection, with no clear path to recovery more than a year after his injury.
That was the point at which I left him. In November 2019, my contract done, I exited Gaza for the last time. On Instagram I posted the clichéd shot of the long wire tunnel that leads up to the checkpoint and wrote a long message to all the people I had met and might well never see again. I went home and struggled with the sense of being in two places at once, walking down a street in Edinburgh but picturing the clinics and what was happening there at that precise moment, so well did I know their daily routine. Soon after returning, I woke up one morning to read the news of Israel’s assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander. The killing triggered a few days of fighting, and I read Facebook posts about the bombings. I went to Italy on holiday and got drunk and called friends to tell them I felt upset by what I had seen and yet felt that I had absolutely no right to—after all, it wasn’t a war exactly, so I couldn’t be traumatized, and now I was here, in Bologna, surrounded by red bricks and Aperol spritzes. I had left. I did not feel that I had a right to be miserable when I was so much better off than all those I had left behind.
Every morning in Gaza City as the sun came up, the children would throng the road outside the MSF house before they started school at half past seven down the street. A teacher got on the PA system and made announcements, then handed the microphone over to a child. The young student harangued classmates with words indecipherable from a distance. Around the time I made it down to the kitchen for breakfast, the national anthem would be playing. By then, the coffee man had set out his stall on the corner, under the gaze of a fighter killed in the 2014 war whose likeness was emblazoned on a billboard in front of a mosque. The buzz of an Israeli drone, now finished with its dawn patrol, began fading into the background. When the hour approached eight o’clock, the watchman opened the door of the MSF clinic across the street, waiting for the first staff to arrive. As the staff came, they passed around cardboard cups of grainy coffee, elaborate morning wishes in Arabic rolling off tongues, skin clapping off skin amid showy handshakes.
After eight, the first of the cars arrived. The wounded awkwardly hoisted their legs, held straight by metal, out around the seats in the cramped interior of the car, grabbed crutches, and filed into the waiting room. They found a seat and waited for their names to be called, first for their wounds to be dressed, and then for physiotherapy. They might also have seen the pain consultant, hoping for a pill that would prove more effective than the ones that had not let them find sleep the night before. Or maybe they would see the surgeon, who was there to decide who of the injured would next go under the knife, whose wound needed cleaning, whose wound needed closing, whose bone gap they were still not able to fill.
The wounded were students, farmers, unemployed sons of unemployed fathers; troublemakers, shy kids, dreamers. They were the depressed, the bored, the brave. They wanted to emigrate to Turkey, to Europe; they wanted to stay in Gaza; they wanted to reclaim their ancestral lands. They were all taken by the idea of the fence, of the edge of their world, and went there to throw stones, to watch, to live for a moment the dream that something could change. Nothing did.