Israeli artillery flares illuminate the sky over Gaza City following an air strike earlier this month. Photo: AFP
By Lazar Berman
JERUSALEM, Israel – Three times since arriving in Israel for life-saving heart surgery on his baby boy, Kheiri from Kurdistan had to scurry for shelter at the charity hosting him in Jerusalem, as Hamas rockets flew overhead.
The Kurd from Shengal and his year-old son Wassam are among some of the Kurdish families staying at the Shevet Achim NGO, which brings ailing children from Kurdistan and other parts of the world for heart surgery at Israel’s world-class hospitals, at no cost to the families.
The few Kurdish parents and children there had not counted on getting caught in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
“Thank God, the missiles fell far from here,” said Kheiri, who is unafraid of the blare of the air raid sirens. “This is nothing compared to Iraq. I’ve been bombed many times,” said Kheiri, a Yezidi Kurd working as a policeman back home.
The Shevet Achim building, where staff share living quarters with visiting families, does not have its own bomb shelter. But its old stone structure appears solid enough to withstand a Hamas rocket hit.
When air raid sirens go off in Jerusalem, the Shevet staff hurries families into the stairway, the safest place in the building because it has no windows that can shatter by incoming rockets.
The mothers or fathers have 90 seconds at most to get out of bed, wake their ailing children, and rush them to the stairwell.
Hami, from Dohuk, is in Jerusalem with her 12-year-old son, Daoud. He too is battling a heart problem, and has had a series of operations over the last four months.
Like Kheiri, she professed no fear at the sirens and rockets.
“Whatever God wants,” she said. “There is also war back home.” She is so unconcerned that that she does not even head for the shelter when sirens go off, saying “I trust in God.”
But Sirwa, who arrived from Chamchamal about a month ago with her three-year-old son, Aram, is terrified of the sirens.
“I’m always the first to go down,” she confessed, getting laughter from the other mothers. “But when I am with everyone, I am not afraid.”
Josh Miles, a Shevet employee and son of its founder, has been responsible for getting staff and the families to safety during sirens.
“The mothers have been pretty calm,” he said. “Some of the staff was actually more nervous.”
What is more, Miles’ wife was in labor during the first rocket barrage fired at Jerusalem. “We were counting contractions, and I was directing the staff through texts,” he quipped.
Miles said that families from Kurdistan are still coming, despite the fighting.
The charity sponsors children from Syria, Jordan and Gaza for surgery in Israel.
Miles said it was harder to get families from Gaza to the hospitals, because of the fighting.
Two Gazan families were too afraid to travel through the northern Gaza Strip, which has seen the heaviest fighting, to reach the Erez Crossing into Israel. Another two families were prevented from entering Israel by Hamas.
One of Shevet’s Palestinian staffers, a Christian man who asked not to be named, said that for Gazans trying to get into Israel it was much harder to get through Hamas checkpoints than through Israeli ones.
Despite the fighting and the dangers to their lives, Kheiri has no regrets about coming to Israel. And he confessed to being very impressed by his experience in Israel.
“In the hospital, how people act? It doesn’t matter what religion you are. People here have freedom, the Jews give freedom,” he gushed.
Kheiri said he wished he could move his family to Jerusalem and leave Iraq’s problems behind.