Friday, January 02, 2009

It was 10 a.m. at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Reyham Abdel Kareem
Washington Post | January 2, 2009; A10

BEERSHEBA, Israel, Jan. 1 -- It was 10 a.m. at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, and Jabber Howez feared telling the truth.

Since Saturday, he had lied to his 23-year-old sister, Mirvat. Their father, brother and sister had not survived an Israeli airstrike. Now, coaxed by a psychiatrist, Jabber looked at his brown-haired sibling as she lay in bed with a bruised face.

"Where is Father? Where is Fadiya? Where is Mohammed?" she asked.

"Listen, Sister. Remember how we talked about fate, how we talked about heaven?" Jabber, 26, replied nervously. "I have good news for you."

His hands shook.

"Their souls are with God now. You should be happy." Mirvat crumbled into tears.

...In Gaza City, amid continuing Israeli airstrikes, Palestinians struggled not just with a deepening humanitarian crisis but also with the conflict's emerging psychological scars.

"We have tens of cases like this, but there are still many more out there," said Yayha Awad, one of the psychiatrists helping the Howez family. "We can't reach most of the families who were bombed because of the insecurity." A day earlier, his team had treated a 7-year-old girl who became mute after an airstrike, he said.

Mirvat grabbed her brother's arm.

"Where are you, Father? Who will play with Ahmed?" she screamed at no one in particular.

She was referring to their 6-year-old brother, Ahmed. He had Down syndrome and had been transported to an Israeli hospital for surgery to remove shrapnel from his brain. Mirvat herself was recovering from abdominal wounds. On Saturday, the family had been inside their house when a missile struck nearby.

As he clutched his sister, Jabber, too, began to cry.

His ordeal was not over. Hassan al-Khawaja, another psychiatrist, told Jabber that he also needed to inform his mother of their loss. He was now the eldest male in the family. It was his responsibility. The trauma, Khawaja said, would only get worse if she didn't learn the truth. So they went to her side at another hospital. It was 11 a.m.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Nadia Howez, 50, cried. "This was your responsibility." She struggled to breathe. A nurse plied her with oxygen and then gave her an injection. She calmed down and fell asleep.

Two hours later, she woke up screaming and blaming Jabber. At 2 p.m., he was driving back to see his sister. He broke down crying, shaking uncontrollably. Khawaja took him to his clinic, where his staff gave him orange juice and a sandwich. One staffer hugged him. "You should be strong," Khawaja said. "You are now the strongest member of the family."

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