Hope, fear and anger. Three emotions coursing through the veins of the injured Palestinian children evacuated for their treatment in the UAE.
These children were part of the second flight of the sick and injured from Gaza that the UAE has promised to host as part of its humanitarian efforts.
I went as part of the Khaleej Times team on a mission that saw a flight from Abu Dhabi land at Al Arish International Airport and evacuate the children in an efficient operation that lasted less than 15 hours.
The children were hopeful of a better future in Abu Dhabi, yet the kids were fearful that they would never see their families again and they were angry that everything that they had considered theirs was being snatched away from them.
Who could blame them? Little Hadid had been caught in a missile blast and undergone four surgeries in a short span of time. With multiple fractures and injuries, he sobbed every time he was moved even though the doctors had administered morphine. It made me think of the several operations being conducted in Palestine without anaesthesia.
What touched my heart the most was how Hadid’s father scooped him up with the gentleness of handling a baby and carried him across the plane because he could not walk. Neither war nor its horrors had dented the tenderness he had for his son. Upon being loaded onto the ambulance, he flinched when the stretcher jolted ever so lightly. How many horrors has his 14-year-old self seen, heard and felt that quick movements make him so uncomfortable? I don’t know. I wiped away a tear at the thought of my own daughter of the same age who happily skipped to school earlier in the day.
However, what gave me hope was the over two dozen medical volunteers, who turned up for the mission- some on their days off. Emirati nurse Hind Alghafri had to convince her family to let her go. “They were understandable worried about me,” she said. “I told them that as a medical professional it was my duty to volunteer. It was the least I could do.” Similarly Indian male nurse Amanullah left his wife alone in Abu Dhabi to embark on the one-day journey. “How can anyone with a little bit of humanity not volunteer for this?” he asked.
On Sunday night, at 9pm, I got the clearance to be on the Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi International airport to Al Arish airport in Egypt to bring the group of children to the UAE. Reporting at the VIP Terminal of Abu Dhabi airport at 11am, we were ushered into the lounge.
After waiting for all the medical equipment to be scanned and loaded into the plane, the aircraft took off on schedule at 3pm UAE time. The 3-hour-15-minute flight took slightly longer as we hovered in the air waiting for permits.
Upon landing there, we had to wait several hours before the patients were transported in ambulances to the tarmac. When we were allowed out of the plane at roughly 9.40pm local time, the wind was chilly with temperatures below 15ºC. As we waited, it began drizzling and pulled our blankets closer around us. It made me think of the thousands of Palestinians living in camps with minimal facilities in this harsh winter.
The medical team worked tirelessly to ensure the patients were fit enough to travel and then helped load them onto the plane. Within minutes of the last patient being brought on to the plane, the cabin crew announced that if passengers did not return to their seats immediately and a mandatory head count was conducted, the plane would not be able to leave at is allocated time, which could cause a 7-hour delay. Everyone scrambled to sit down, and three crew members did multiple head counts.
During the return journey, I saw many heartwarming scenes. One of the media persons sat beside Mohammed Anwar who had suffered a spinal injury and told him stories till he laughed. Nurse Hind walked around the plane to find a headset for his cousin Mohammed to watch movies.
A cabin crew member chatted with one patient and her mother, sharing stories from her own home country. Apart from the customary meals, they searched around the pantry and brought out chocolates and brownies to share with the children. “They have suffered so much already,” said one stewardess. “This is the only thing we can do to make them smile a little.”
While the trip brought about several emotions in me, the one overriding feeling was of relief.
Relief that I was able to be part of a contingent that brought home at least a few of the children to the UAE to give them a better shot at life. While I watched the kids being whisked off to various hospitals around the city, I said a little prayer for the rulers of this country and beautiful people who contribute to make their vision a reality.
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