AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 11/2008

Born in Israel: Palestinian Twins Under Rocket Fire from Gaza

By in Ashkelon

When a Palestinian woman gave birth to twins in an Israeli hospital she experienced what it is like to be the target of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

One of the Palestinian twins from the Gaza Strip attended by an Israeli nurse.
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One of the Palestinian twins from the Gaza Strip attended by an Israeli nurse.

The humming noise in the sky over Beit Lahia grows slowly louder. It sounds as if the buzzing of a hornet were being amplified by loud speakers in a football stadium. Residents of the Gaza Strip call them "Sannana," or the humming ones, the small unmanned drones that the Israelis use to scan the border region for rocket commandos -- and then to liquidate them with precisely targeted missiles.

Ashraf Shafii has climbed onto the roof his house and is looking across strawberry fields toward the border wall. The smoke-belching towers of the power plant in the Israeli city of Ashkelon jut into the sky along the horizon. His wife is over there in Ashkelon today.

Shafii, a 34-year-old lab technician at the Islamic University of Gaza, glances at his six-year-old daughter. "We were so desperate to have more children," he says. For years, he waited in vain for his wife to bear a son. When she turned 30, the couple decided to get fertility treatment.

Iman Shafii finally became pregnant. During an ultrasound examination, doctors discovered four small embryos. The first died in the fifth month of pregnancy and the second died a few weeks later. Shafii was admitted to the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, but the condition of the two remaining embryos became increasingly fragile. "You have to go to Israel," the doctor told her.

Because Israel refuses to engage in any contact with the authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza, patients turn to private brokers who submit their entry applications to the Palestinian Authority of moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. But it can be a lengthy process.

The Shafiis were lucky. Iman was permitted to enter Israel after only 24 hours. She took a taxi to a spot near the Eres border crossing, and then she was pushed in a wheelchair across the last 500 meters of bumpy ground. She reached the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon just in time. She gave birth on Feb. 25, by Caesarean section, to a girl, Bayan, and to the couple's long-awaited son, Faisal.

Graphic: Maximum Range of Palestinian Rockets
DER SPIEGEL

Graphic: Maximum Range of Palestinian Rockets

Iman Shafii, 32, wearing a headscarf and oval glasses, and speaking in a soft voice, sits on a chair between two incubators. Today is the first day she is permitted to hold her babies in her arms. A nurse brings out the boy first, then the girl. As the tears well up in her eyes, Shafii kisses her children on their foreheads. "If the children had stayed in Gaza, they would not have survived," she says.

Her only impression of Israel has been the one she gets on Palestinian television, which usually shows tanks and soldiers, and celebrates attacks, like the recent shooting inside a Talmud school in Jerusalem, as acts of heroism. But now a doctor wearing a yarmulke walks into the room, says "Shalom" and asks her in English how she is feeling.

Dr. Shmuel Zangen, the director of the hospital's neonatal unit, doesn't care who he treats. "As a doctor, I enjoy the privilege of not having to think about it," he says. "It certainly is odd that we take care of Palestinian children while they shoot at us. It's the sort of thing that only happens in the Middle East."

'Not a Just War'

In the past, Shafii saw the Israelis exclusively as perpetrators, but in Ashkelon she is encountering, for the first time, victims of the acts of terror committed by her own people. One of them is nine-year-old Yossi, who is sitting in a wheelchair. A steel frame holds his left shoulder together. It was fractured by shrapnel from a rocket that landed in the city of Sderot. "The people in Sderot are suffering just as we are in Gaza," she says.

There was a sharp increase in the Palestinian rocket attacks after Israel cleared the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in September 2005. The Israeli military counted 2,305 hits last year, and there have already been 1,146 in the first two months of this year. Until now, almost all of the missiles have been Qassam rockets, which are made in the Gaza Strip and have a range of about 12 kilometers (seven miles).

But the breaching of the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt by Hamas in January made it possible to bring in Russian and Iranian rockets with longer ranges. This means that cities considered safe in the past are now threatened. One of them is Ashkelon. On the second day after the birth of Bayan and Faisal, a Soviet-made "Grad" rocket landed on the hospital grounds. "I heard it hit, 200 meters away from me," says Shafii. The neonatal unit was moved to a bunker the next day. "The groups that are firing the rockets are not fighting a just war," says the Palestinian mother, adding that they are not abiding by what the Prophet Muhammad said: that wars may only be waged between soldiers, but not against civilians.

The buzzing drone in the sky over Beit Lahia has flown away to the south. The sound of an Israeli missile striking its target can be heard a short time later. Within a few minutes, there are reports that a member of the group Islamic Jihad was killed.

Ashraf Shafii describes how young, masked men repeatedly set up their rocket launchers under the cover of houses in Beit Lahia. "They shoot at Israeli civilians, which is completely unacceptable," says Shafii. "And they put us Palestinian civilians in grave danger, because the Israelis shoot back."

Why doesn't he object? "They are armed," says Shafii, "and they shoot at anyone who gets in their way."

The father is holding the first photos of his newborn twins in his hands. He is worried about the rockets being fired at Ashkelon. He says that he would never have believed it possible that he could be indebted to the Israelis for anything. "What a confusing situation," he says.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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DER SPIEGEL 11/2008
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