7 a.m. Day 5. The commander awakens, bathed in sweat, his throat raw from a long night of chain-smoking.
He sees the empty corner where the portable air-conditioner stood and gutturally curses the strident nurse who keeps taking it back to the children’s ward. Rolling out his prayer mat he feels the thud of a missile in the street, three floors above his head. Sounds like one of their own. He frets about these misfires hitting today’s Israeli shipment through the Erez Crossing. His third wife’s Teva medication is due in today.
Now desperate for some sunlight and fresh air he cracks open the door and barks a command to summon his driver and fetch the kids. His minders clear the way upstairs and through the yellowed corridors of Gaza’s main hospital. His dark glasses dim the pitiful scene of gurneys parked end-to-end and the blur of their heaving cargo, but he cannot block out the sounds of pain and wretchedness which follow him out into the entrance lobby.
Beyond the glass entrance doors what used to be a street is now a bombsite, the buildings opposite in a grotesque repose of charred concrete and exposed steels, with shop signs hanging only by their electric wires. The kids are already out in the street, admiring the commander’s shining SUV. It started out as a brand new UN vehicle, but was quickly stolen and re-sprayed in a Hamas rocket foundry.
At the sound of a clap and a “Yallah!” the kids rush to the entrance and form a scrum around the emerging commander. As they escort him to the car, he looks up at the unseen drone he knows is watching his every step. He smiles at the thought that he is this morning’s star attraction for the enemy’s best and brightest all glued to their screens in a Tel Aviv bunker.
The scrum of kids reaches the open rear door, the commander steps in and three of the boys jump into the tailgate. The rest step back before the SUV races off in a cloud of fresh debris.
An ambulance of the Red Crescent pulls up sharply into the empty space. Two veiled women step out of the back, and call to the remaining kids to gather round. The hospital doors swish open and two men in green gowns wheel a covered trolley out to the ambulance. There is a jangling of metal beneath the tarp, sounding like oxygen cylinders but they are not. Two more trolleys follow and, once loaded into the ambulance, the women order three of the youngsters to pile in before slapping the doors shut. The ambulance makes off towards the forward rocket launching site, siren blaring.
Meanwhile the commander has arrived outside his home. More kids are waiting at what’s left of a kerbside. He looks up at his building to the figures peering over the roof parapet. There are well over 50 of them up there, mainly women and children, in their second week of sleeping nights on mattresses to keep his family safe.
As he is escorted towards the embrace of his wives, the commander looks up again at the unseen drone in the sky. He is smiling again.
His rockets may soon be spent and his men killed or captured. But his most powerful weapon will never run out.
The humanity of his enemy, Israel.