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July 18, 2012 1:05 pm

Switched at Birth in Gaza?

avatar by Elder of Ziyon

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IDF soldier checking a car at a road block near Jabalia during the first intifada. Photo: wiki commons.

A reader emailed me about a CBC radio program (originally from Radio Netherlands, link here) he heard recently about Ahmed Masoud, a British writer and playwright who was born in Gaza.

During the program, Masoud told this story that he had written for The Guardian last year:

I had a very happy childhood in a very large family, with five sisters and six brothers. I’m right in the middle, which is a good place to be. But we lived in one of the worst places on Earth – the Gaza Strip in Palestine – and when I was six, in 1987, the first intifada started.

…Despite everything going on outside I had a happy childhood. But all this changed when I was 17.

One day I came home from school and turned on the TV. There was a programme about Palestinian refugees and how their families were fragmented because of the troubles, and it talked about how children and babies were mixed up in hospitals.

I looked at my mother and she was electrified – her mouth was open, her eyes were staring and she looked like a ghost. I knew there was something she wasn’t telling me. My dad, too, was staring at the screen. I could see that behind his glasses there was a tear coming down. I hadn’t seen my dad cry before, and to see his tears falling down his cheek was terrifying to me.

Then he wiped his eyes and held my hand, and my mum’s hand, and he started telling the story about what happened when I was born.

At the time, the hospital was being raided and I was evacuated to a special care unit before my mum had even seen me. My dad heard news that the hospital was being bombed and went straight there. When he arrived he was told the room and cot number where he could find me. He ran as fast as he could, but when he got there, he found not one but two babies in the cot. He didn’t know which one was his – the one on the left or the one on the right. There was no time to make a decision. He had to take one. He wondered whether the number they had given him was a mistake, but when he looked around all the other cots were crammed with babies too. And he had to make that decision. So he picked me up. Even now, if you ask him, he can’t answer why he picked me and not the other baby.

He went back to my mum and she wrapped me up, and they ran with me through the streets back home. He didn’t say anything to her until they got home. My mum just put me to her breast and began to feed me. That bond, that love, that motherly feeling was there. The more she looked at me and fed me, the more she was sure I was her son.

Wow…what a story! It is custom made for reader (and listener) sympathy. You can almost feel the heat from the explosions and smell the gunpowder, as you picture Masoud’s father desperately trying to save his baby’s life from the heartless Israeli air raid at the maternity ward, and the parents’ desperate race through the streets of Gaza – with the still recovering mother forced to flee on foot, no doubt barefooted, dodging the falling bombs and debris while tenderly protecting her newborn baby.

Only one problem: Israel didn’t bomb any hospitals in Gaza when Masoud was born. It didn’t have air raids until the second intifada.

This story happened six years before the first intifada, when tens of thousands of Gazans were peacefully commuting to and working in Israel. Hamas didn’t exist. Thousands of Israelis lived in Gaza. More from Israel would go there weekly to buy goods cheaper than they were within the Green Line. Arabs with the proper means would travel to Israel to be treated in hospitals there.

Masoud’s birthday is August 27, and I cannot find any possible actions by Israel in Gaza in 1981 or 1982 around that date. Israel was fighting in Lebanon, not Gaza, and the very few protests there were met with riot control methods, not airplanes. (In 1981, there was one highly unusual mass protest in Gaza where one protester was killed, and that was in December. Most of the protests at the time were from the PLO in the West Bank.)

This story is fiction.

Now, it is entirely possible that Masoud’s father is the one who made up the story, perhaps because poor procedures in the Gaza hospital caused a possible mix-up. After all, he admits that there were two children in the same bassinet.

Or possibly Masoud himself, who has received awards for his autobiographical fiction and who co-wrote a dramatic and seemingly highly exaggerated BBC radio play about how he escaped Gaza during Cast Lead, just made it up.

What is not at all surprising is that the media would swallow such a story without the least modicum of fact-checking.

This article originally appeared on the Elder of Zion blog.

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