It is 48 years ago since I last felt the pain. Woke up then and woke up now in the middle of the night. Had just got my own room. When the pain came I went in to mom and dad and lay down between them. My mother woke up while my father continued sleeping as usual.
I was suffering from an ordinary children’s disease, an ear infection. Most people get it at some point during their childhood. All my four siblings at some point felt the burning pain. I often felt it. It began with a slight aching pain, the ear swelling up, the pain occupying half my head and forcing its way to my palate. Despite my pain my mother was calm. She gave me an aspirin. I cried intensively, feeling incredibly sorry for myself. But my mother calmed me and promised that I would soon feel better. “Tomorrow we will go to the nurse and then the pain will go away,” said mother. I was calmed and soon feel asleep against my mother’s shoulder, seven years old.
And now, as the pain returns 48 years later, it is my mother’s composure that I remember. My mother knew that there was help to get, knew that the help would come as soon as breakfast had been eaten and my father had gone to work.
In the morning, after breakfast, we went to Nurse Appelmo who examined me and referred us to Doctor Westroth. The doctor had his clinic in Värnamo, 12 km away. We went there with the bus. The doctor saw me before lunch. He examined me with his large black magnifying glass which looked like a flashlight. Doctor Westroth told my mother, “It does not look good, but go and get the medicine and the boy will soon feel better.” And my mother was the whole time filled with a sense of calm when we went to the pharmacy and bought the pills. Before we took the bus back home we celebrated at a coffee shop.
Now the pain has returned. I live in Jerusalem and go to St. Joseph’s hospital. Doctor G receives me. Examines me with his big black magnifying glass and says, “Oh dear, this does not look good.” He picks up the nasty suction apparatus. It hurts. I don’t scream but it’s difficult to lay still. Doctor G prescribes four different kinds of medicines, two pills, an ointment and ear drops. “Come back tomorrow,” says Doctor G, “and we’ll clean out the ear once more.”
I have five children who are all grown up. They all got ear infections at some point. Sara got it more often than the rest. She was a so-called “ear child.” She was operated at Sahlgrenska hospital four times. Each time she had anasthesia and the doctor put in a small red tube that drained the fluid behind the ear drum. The doctor looked at me and Sara after the operations and said, “Now you’ll soon get better.” That is how it’s done in a democracy; one ensures that a child soon gets better. On the way out, before we left the department at the hospital, Sara got to pick a sticker from a little bowl.
When I am examined by Doctor G and get the necessary help, I begin to think about how it’s over there, in Gaza. The place that I could recently visit. I ask Doctor G how you solve the pain with ear infections. Doctor G looks at me dejected and exclaims, “We are talking about thousands of children who are in pain. They cry themselves through the night. They fall asleep from exhaustion.” There are just moms and dads and neighbors in despair. They know that there is no help to found, they know that when the sun breaks through the clouds, they are still missing the necessary. That’s how it is under occupation when you are living in a ghetto behind walls, in war.
Despite constant air raids, Nayla fell asleep early but soon woke up by Fatima, her youngest daughter, crying, her ears hurts and it’s the seventh night. Soon her daughter keeps the whole family awake. The neighbors wake up. The whole family walks around as if in a daze, in the dark, frightened, in a cold room, everyone wanting to leave, to get away from all the screaming and the bombs.
And the calm, my mother’s composure, that I got as a child, Nayla is unable to give. Fatima looks at her mother, does not understand what is happening. Fatima asks for help, but there is no help. Fatima cries, Nayla cries. In the end, everyone cries. The family falls asleep from utter exhaustion. But the calm only lasts for a short while. Soon the bombs fall and everyone wakes up, soon you can hear the screams and the calls for help.
Dawn arrives, but there is no help to get. Nayla is in terrible pain. The ones who have created hell, who created the refugee camp, the ghetto, who built the wall, who closed the gates, they continue to not take responsibility. The pharmacies are almost empty. The hospital is to dangerous to go since the bombs keep falling.
To occupy was easy but to take the consequences and provide the most basic rights for the occupied, that was not possible, they did not want to do that.
BBC and CNN report hour after hour about the numbers of dead, the numbers of wounded. The numbers have now become so high that the international community must act. Not even the USA uses its veto against a new resolution.
While we count the dead and the wounded I cannot stop thinking about the thousands of children with ear infections. So small in the big drama, so common and ordinary. How does one deal with the pain, night after night? At the same time, I think I begin to understand what happens within all of these children. Begin to understand what the pain creates, what all the sleepless nights lead to.
I have very strong memories of the sense of calm. My mother’s and my father’s calm. My father never needed to wake up when my pain struck. They had total faith and confidence in knowing that there was always help to get, because they believed in a system. Believed in the democratic system. Knew that the ones in power will use it in favor of the good.
When the children in the Gaza Strip go out into their lives, big enough to cross the street on their own, they probably do not have my sense of calm and safety. They do not have the same faith in the society, in international rules, in diplomacy, in the police, in the military. No one has been able to tell them that tomorrow everything will become better. What they will remember and what they will talk about is all of these bombs, the high gray wall and the pain in mother’s desperate eyes, filled with tears and sadness.
MATS SVENSSON, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.