I was just a child in one of the best boarding Catholic schools in Beirut. I did not know I was different from the others at my school till that day. I did not know I was Palestinian or even a Muslim because I had always attended mass and nobody at our home practiced any kind of Islamic behavior. (Up till then I had never even seen a Koran). All I knew about the Palestinian camps was that they were for poor people and we were never allowed to go there or mix with “them”.
Then on ‘that day’ my father (RIP) yanked me out of school. I had never seen him so angry & yet so calm. He took me to the American Hospital in Beirut and told to grab some rubbish bags and go to the next ambulance to “help” There was a frenzy of activity at the hospital. It seemed like everybody was screaming orders, old men & women, staff and non-staff were crying as well. There was utter hysteria and chaos and I became scared & asked my dad if we could leave. He told me I needed to help and to just “follow orders”. In my whole life up till then my dad always taught me to question everything and NEVER to follow blindly, but something about the way he spoke to me then made it clear that there was no discussion to be had.
There were four of us in that ambulance. The driver was driving as fast as he could and the ambulance seemed to be going quicker than the quickest roller coaster I had ever ridden on. The four adults in the ambulance cursed and cried and prayed and yelled and then they were silent before starting to yell again. They switched from one state to the other very quickly. They talked about things I did not understand. My knowledge of Arabic was poor anyway but they were using a terminology that I had no experience of. ‘Zionists… Kata’eb…Israelis…Palestinians. We finally arrived at the slummiest place I had ever seen and there was so much quiet. The so-called houses, the poor, almost non-existent roads and there was so much activity that it was impossible for the ambulance to go any further so we had to get out.
I was given a green vest to wear and told to carry the rubbish bags and follow Khaled and stay close to him. We were being yelled at for being so late and I wondered what we had “missed”. That was when the smell began to hit me and then I saw the bodies and then the blood. Khaled took my hand and we kept going. I wanted to go back to the ambulance but I couldn’t. Khaled had a grip on my arm and he was taking us further and further into the camp. Except for other people running past and others carrying bodies, there was an eerie silence over everything. Finally we got to a place where the bodies were actually making noises. Khaled let go of my arm. He told me to start picking up limbs and stuffing them into the rubbish bags; arms in one bag, hands in another, feet in another. The smell was horrible; the smell of burning meat and there was blood all over the ground and all over the walls.
I froze when I saw a girl my own age lying on the ground. Then I started walking towards her, just to ask her what happened and if she needed any help. Her eyes were open but before I said anything I knew she was dead. I had never seen a dead person before, not even seen a dead animal before. I just stood there, frozen, unable to move until Khaled screamed at me to get started NOW!
There were a lot of limbs to be picked up but I did not want to do it. What I wanted was to understand. Surely these could not be real people. Surely this was not real blood? But the whimpering sound I could hear all the time was real. The moans of pain were real, just like the cries for help. I looked around to find Khaled and when I saw him I froze again. He was with another man called Omar and they were piling bodies on top of each other on the flimsy stretcher they were using. But then they would take a body off and replace it with another and I couldn’t understand why they were doing this. They were filling the stretcher then running back to the ambulance and dumping the bodies they had chosen inside and then coming back for more. I realized then I had better move myself. Finally I realized they were changing the bodies to give priority to those who stood a better chance of surviving and that’s when I knew this was a really bad situation; to leave some people behind even though they also needed help.
My head hurt and my stomach turned and then I threw up. All of this really was real! These were real people; this was not some bad gory movie that I was in. Khaled yelled at me as he ran by me to get started helping or they would leave me behind. Instinctively I looked around for a bathroom to wash my mouth. (To this day I can still taste my own vomit that I couldn’t wash away.) I got up and started gathering the pieces of people and doing what I’d been told; trying to separate the limbs. But I quickly realized there was no time for all that and I was determined I wasn’t going to be left behind! Not here in this awful place! Not with these dying, mutilated people! And so I picked up limbs. Most were still warm, some had flies on them, some I could not recognize as limbs. I just stuffed them it into the trash bag.
The smell was getting worse and worse and now I had blood on my clean, pretty school uniform. Would Mother D. yell at me when I got back to school I thought? I stopped thinking about that just to focus as hard as I could on not breathing. But the smell was inside me and it did not matter if I inhaled or not; it was all over me! I filled up two trash bags and headed back to the ambulance. It was full of bodies piled on each other, just like behind me in the camp. The same smell, the same blood everywhere. I put the bags in on top of the bodies and went back three more times and filled more rubbish bags. Then I climbed into the ambulance and we headed back to the hospital. This time the sounds in the vehicle were not the cries and screams of anger. There were no sounds except the whimpering and the screams were of terror and pain.
When we got to the hospital I was directed to a room and told to dump everything I had collected and then get ready to go back to the camp on the next ambulance that was returning. So I did. There were mountains of limbs on the floor of the hospital room and people were doing ‘triage’ to see what they could salvage! I suddenly understood they were they were going to try to put the limbs I had collected back on the people we had carried. It seemed ridiculous and I almost laughed. How???
I did as I was told and I went back. I tried to go as quickly as I could and I began to understand that those people were MY people and that I was a Palestinian and I heard and I learned the words “Allah wa Akbar!” I felt relief as I screamed these words as well when I got back to the camp. These words helped me drown out the other voices I could hear and shouting them somehow made me move faster. Don’t ask me why. The rest is just history, my Palestinian history. I will never forget and I will never forgive. I am a Palestinian who will do everything I can to make sure that nobody else forgets. I am a human being unworthy of being called so if my life is not given to ensure that my people have not died in vain. And those who did this will pay. All this was the beginning of my journey as a Palestinian and a Moslem. It was the end of my innocence and childhood. We will never forget and I know I will never forgive.
afterword by Maik _
i was sent this story and asked to post it anonymously
i have edited it for readability buit i have changed nothing
i am honoured to have been asked to share in this way
thank you sister
Dear Maik, I will never forget you.. God bless your soul.