On Both Sides of the Border, Wounded Bodies and Minds

A wounded Palestinian boy is carried into Shifa Hospital after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City.
A wounded Palestinian boy is carried into Shifa Hospital after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. (By Fadi Adwan -- Getty Images)
By Sudarsan Raghavan and Reyham Abdel Kareem
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 2, 2009

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 cities on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border on Thursday, Israelis and Palestinians coped with the vicissitudes of war. In Beersheba, Israelis hunkered down as rockets that they never imagined would reach their desert oasis crashed around them. 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.

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