A cut from memoirs of “Surrounded by Fire”

Memoirs of Palestinian physician from Tel al-Zaatar

Selected by Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan

2023-12-6


July 12

Water … water … water… the word "water" was said by everyone. The water was almost running out and every five or six people got only one cup of water. Everyone was thirsty and wished they could drink the entire contents of a cup of water by themselves.

Whenever the fuel oil was delivered to us, we started the water engine and drew as much water as possible from the well. The well water was tasteless. But anyway, there was water, water... that day I decided to visit the hospital in the daylight. I chose a way to reach the hospital. Mamdouh was also with me. Suddenly we found ourselves in a new area. Among the ruined houses, the bullets of enemy snipers rained down on me. I took shelter behind a ruined and collapsed wall. Mamdouh managed to find a safe way. He pointed at me with his hand and I ran towards him and we started moving towards the hospital together.

A part of the hospital was used as a shelter by the people. The atmosphere was suffocating. Especially on the basement floor, people were sitting on all the stairs and I could hardly find a way to pass through them. I went to my room; where I had put the medicines. My room was a safe place. We took some medicines with us and chose another route to return. With my own eyes, I could see enemy cannons and tanks scattered around the camp. It was a horrible scene. The area we had been deployed recently was an area with the length of one kilometer and width of five hundred meters. The most important scene of the battle was the "Al Borj al-Ali" front.

The enemy was making every effort to advance. But they faced the stubborn resistance of our forces, and the trenches and sandbags that supported the buildings. Enemy snipers were stationed on top of the tall buildings that surrounded Tal Zaatar, and as soon as they saw someone, they hunted him. That night, our resistant fighters attacked the enemy's positions and succeeded in destroying some buildings where the snipers were stationed with bombs, and thus we got rid of the snipers to some extent.

 

July 13

The meaning of life had lost its nature in the camp. It didn't have former meaning and conception. Many conceptions had been changed. Money did not worth at all. The feeling of unity and solidarity among the people was excellent. The Families shared flour and canned food among themselves. Our life had turned into a very primitive life. We used firewood to cook food and boil water and other purposes. When we ran out of firewood, we used the doors and windows of the destroyed houses. People used all their efforts at night to bring the doors and windows of ruined and collapsed houses.

Our first and most important problem was water. We were really suffering from lack of water. The agony of dehydration was really unbearable. Especially, when you run out of medicine and wound disinfectants.

What remained was just water and salt. Therefore, we asked the wounded who came to us for wound dressing to bring a bottle of water with them to use in dressing the wound.

It was 10 pm. The large shadow of the candle flame had fallen on the black wall. One of the fighters, who was seventeen years old, came to me. He was very worried and angry. His comrade was injured. He was bleeding severely and urgently needed blood. But there was no blood. We could not store the blood bags. We didn't have a refrigerator or electricity, which if we had one, we could use it. The weather was also hot. But a few moments later, some men from the camp came to donate their blood and thus, our fighter was saved from certain death.[1]

 

July 23

In the morning, a telegram was sent to us; in the sense that the World Red Cross delegation will enter the camp soon. We prepared ourselves. The Red Cross delegation was supposed to enter the camp on behalf of George Matti. One of us should also wait in front of the camp entrance with a white coat and hat and a flag with the Red Crescent logo, so that the delegation can enter the camp. We chose Mahmoud to carry out such a mission. I prepared a white cloth and drew a red crescent design on it with mercurochrome. Next, I went to the radio room to get information about the Red Cross delegation's route. We contacted the central operation room and this call was maintained. We were informed that the delegation passed through the gate of "Al-Mut'haf" at 10 am. We waited and again it took long. And it was time to declare truce so that the Red Cross delegation could enter the camp. The bombing had stopped. But the enemy snipers continued their work. It was almost four o'clock in the afternoon when the watch department informed us that a blue car with a Red Cross flag was moving towards the camp entrance.

Salman (military commander), Dr. Abdul Aziz and I set out. But I was crawling on the ground due to the intensity of the enemy snipers' fire. The attack was mostly carried out from "Al-Mir" and "Deir al-Ra'i al-Saleh" hills. We had arranged to meet the Red Cross delegation at the hospital office. We entered the room. The same room where was once full of joy and happiness. Now it had become a warehouse of mortar shells, rockets and bullets. You could see the dust of sorrow from its door and wall.

As we were waiting, we saw that three people with a large flag (World Red Crescent flag) in their hands, were walking toward the camp. They had left horrible scenes behind and passed over the dismembered corpses that were scattered here and there. They had reached us no matter how hard it was. They offered cigarettes. We had forgotten the taste of cigarettes for a long time.

Those three people were: a woman who was the head of the Red Cross delegation in Lebanon; the second one was a doctor who was also accompanied by a female nurse. I talked to them in English about the situation in the camp.

Suddenly, while we were talking through wires radio, the head of the delegation was informed of a news which upon hearing it, her face changed.

She got up and said: "I'm sorry, we have to leave here." They informed me that the enemy will bombard the camp." And she added: "Our visit to the camp today is an important issue. We've seen the situation here and we've figured out what it's like, and we've figured out how to reach you and who to contact, and that's very important". The delegation returned the way it came.

We warned the people that the truce was over and the bombing would begin. The moment the Red Cross delegation left the camp, a barrage of mortars and rockets poured into the camp from all sides. Our meeting with the Red Cross delegation was important. In the last one month, we had no contact with anyone from the outside world. But we expected that at least the delegation would take the wounded with them. But they told us that the delegation had only one identification mission. We also talked with them about the internal situation of the camp. Transferring the wounded to a hospital in the west of Beirut would have helped us to take care of others. But the delegation told us that such a thing was not possible. After a quick meeting and short-term communication with the outside world, we came back to our inner world the camp; the world of siege, thirst, danger and bombing and...[2]

 

[1] Source: Eraqi, Yousef, Encircled by Fire, Memoirs of Palestinian physician from Tel al-Zaatar, 1st edition, 1372 (1993), The Art Center of Islamic Propaganda Organization, p. 64

[2] Ibid. P. 74



 
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