2 Boys, 2 Sides, 2 Beds in an Israeli Hospital Ward
TEL HASHOMER, Israel — Two small boys lay sedated in a hospital ward in this Tel Aviv suburb on Tuesday, unaware of each other or of the growing commotion around them.
One was Osher Twito, 8, an Israeli boy from the town of Sderot, who was seriously wounded Saturday by shrapnel from a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza. The other was Yakoub Natil, almost 7, a Palestinian who was brought here three weeks ago from Gaza City after he was badly hurt by shrapnel from an Israeli Air Force strike on Jan. 18.
Sderot is less than two miles from the Gaza border, making it a prime target for the crude and inaccurate rockets that have killed 13 Israelis over the past seven years. Now Osher and Yakoub lie in booths across from each other a few paces apart in the pediatric intensive care department of the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.
Here, the conflict’s pain has been compressed into an improbable intimacy. There is pathos. “The Palestinian boy on one side, Osher on the other — it’s something that gets to your heart,” said Prof. Gideon Paret, the director of the department.
But there is anger and repudiation as well, and the proximity of the two boys has not brought reconciliation. Osher’s parents, Iris and Rafi Twito, are outraged at the thought of comparing the boys’ cases. They refuse to allow them to be photographed together.
“The Palestinians aim to hurt our sons and rejoice at their injuries,” they said in a statement issued Tuesday, “while neither we, nor our army, intended to hurt them.”
The statement, relayed through a hospital spokeswoman, continued: “The State of Israel took the decision to treat the boy,” meaning Yakoub. “That is its right. We protest the fact that he is lying here by our son and his brother.” Osher’s older brother Rami, 19, is being treated in another wing of the same hospital.
Many major hospitals in Israel regularly treat Palestinians and are no strangers to such mixed feelings or incongruous scenes. Here at Sheba, the anomalies are cast in sharper relief.
This was a military hospital from 1948, when Israel fought its war of independence, until 1953. It has since operated as a civilian hospital that works in special cooperation with the Army, treating many of its soldiers and charged with educating its medical corps.
“It’s like a theater of the absurd,” said Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the chief executive officer and director of the hospital. “You have army doctors in white gowns alongside Palestinian doctors who are being trained, at the same time treating Israeli casualties of terrorist attacks and Palestinians who may have been hurt in army actions.”
Yakoub was hurt when Israel bombed an empty, half-ruined Palestinian Interior Ministry building that had been used by Hamas. He was at a wedding party with his family next door. The army said that it had meant to hit the ministry building and that the raid was a response to days of increased rocket fire, mostly aimed at Sderot.
Osher and Rami were hit in the street. They had gone out to buy a birthday present for their father when the rocket crashed down.
Yakoub’s grandmother, Amira Natil, 52, was at the boy’s bedside on Tuesday. She and Yakoub came here with Israeli permission three days after the airstrike from the more basic hospital Al Shifa in Gaza City. “Thank Allah, the lord of the universe,” Mrs. Natil said, kissing her hand and placing it on her brow in a gesture of religious reverence.
Mrs. Natil had not met Osher’s parents and was speaking shortly before they issued their statement, unaware of its contents. About the Israeli boy, she said: “They are children. Haram,” using an Arabic word that denotes something shameful, forbidden or taboo.
The story of the Twito brothers has particularly moved Israelis, in large part because of their youth. Osher, described by his family as a keen soccer player, has had his left leg amputated from the knee down. The doctors are still battling to save his right leg. Rami suffered damage to his legs, too. Both boys were transferred to Sheba on Sunday from Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, a city north of Gaza that has come under rocket fire.
Yakoub was wounded in both legs and his spine. He suffered renal failure but is said by the hospital staff to be getting better. “This is the best day he’s had,” his grandmother said.
It is not clear who will pay for Yakoub’s treatment. “To date we are treating him without any financial commitment from the Palestinian authorities or anyone else,” said Ulrike Haen, a spokeswoman for Sheba.
In similar cases, she said, money has come from the Israeli Ministry of Defense; or from the Peres Center for Peace, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 by Shimon Peres, the current president of Israel; or from the Palestinian Authority, with supplements from the hospital.
Since Hamas took control of Gaza last June after a brief but bloody factional war, the issue of Gaza residents’ access to medical treatment in Israel has become increasingly charged. Israel refuses all dealings with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, and has recently blockaded the area in response to the intensified rocket fire.
In an article published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Tuesday, Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to the Hamas government in Gaza, wrote that “30 people have died in the last month for lack of medical care brought on by the embargo.”
According to recent statistics from the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration, more than 7,000 permits were issued for Palestinian patients from Gaza in 2007, along with nearly 8,000 permits for their escorts, representing a 50 percent increase over 2006. Shadi Yassin, a spokesman for the Coordination and Liaison Administration, said Tuesday that medical patients were still leaving Gaza every day to receive treatment in Israel.
But Yakoub is the exception, not the rule. “We know of others who can’t get out and die there,” said Professor Rotstein of Sheba’s pediatric intensive care department. “It is so complicated now.”