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“No Wounded, Only Martyrs”: Night Shift Stories from a Nurse in the West Bank

A Palestinian nurse working in Nablus details his experience working the night shift in a hospital following the bombing of the Balata Refugee Camp.

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Balata Refugee camp in the West Bank, Palestine following a bombing in November 2023.

As the night of November 18, 2023 unfolded, I settled into the quiet embrace of a night shift, burdened by the weariness induced by countless videos and reports detailing the strife in Gaza and the West Bank. Rather than seeking refuge in distraction, my intent was to summon the strength and determination that lingered within. Grasping a book, I sought solace within its pages.

The illusion of tranquility in the night is particularly deceptive in Palestine, where moments of calm carry an undercurrent of fear, and stillness holds an ominous weight. At the stroke of 2 AM, the resonating explosion shattered the silence in Nablus, signaling an attack on a house in the Balata refugee camp.

With urgency, the emergency department sprang into action to accommodate the anticipated influx of wounded. The distant wails of ambulance sirens prompted me to urgently request a colleague from another department to cover my position in the ward. There was an undeniable pull to join my colleagues in the emergency department.

As ambulances raced towards the hospital, carrying the weight of hundreds of lives, my colleagues and I stood poised, ready for the imminent casualties. Yet, to our horror, there were no wounded — only martyrs. Helplessness washed over us as we beheld the aftermath of violence; some had been entirely consumed by flames, while others lay in pieces.

Caught in a state of shock, I grappled to find a course of action. Fighting tears, I closed my eyes in an attempt to stifle a scream of frustration echoing within my chest. Amidst the chaos, the anguished voice of a mother pierced through, proclaiming, “My son, my beloved, you are a martyr. Go to your Lord, to paradise, to the light. Farewell, my beloved.”

Her voice softened into a hum, creating a surreal moment where all other sounds faded away. In the midst of her mourning, she sang, “Farewell, O musk… Farewell, with every free bird soaring… Farewell, my dear one. Farewell, my companion in my paths.”

For a fleeting moment, the instinct to embrace and console her surged within me. Yet, as she bid farewell to her son, her voice rang out with strength and conviction, addressing us all, “You are all my children, the children of Palestine. My son has gone to paradise. Sing and hold your heads high, sons of Palestine. This is not the first martyr, nor will it be the last. If one martyr falls, ten others will be born. Praise be to Allah. To Allah belongs what He takes, and to Allah belongs what He gives.”

In the face of profound tragedy, I pondered the existence of a genuine capacity for endurance. If such a capacity did indeed exist, how could one measure its scale? Perhaps it should be calibrated from zero to Palestinian endurance. While uncertain about its metrics, one undeniable truth persisted: the Palestinian people epitomized the zenith of strength and endurance.

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