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Children of the conflict: Innocence interrupted by war

By Sara Sidner, CNN
updated 6:36 AM EST, Mon November 26, 2012
  • Yosef, 4, and Bisan, 8, were both injured in Israel-Gaza conflict
  • Yosef is from Israel; Bisan is from Gaza
  • Both are being cared for in same Israeli hospital
  • "Medicine has nothing to do with politics," one mother says

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

Tel Aviv (CNN) -- Four-year-old Yosef lies in a hospital bed with curiosity gleaming in his eyes as he listens to a family friend tell him the age-old story of Jonah and the whale.

The young boy is surprisingly bright-eyed after the traumatic ordeal he's endured as a result of the latest outbreak of warfare between Gaza and Israel.

He and his parents were staying in an apartment in Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel when a rocket sailed over from Gaza and slammed into it, leaving a gaping hole in the building.

The blast sheered off several of Yosef's tiny fingers, badly wounded his father, and killed his mother, Mina Scharf, one of the first to die on the Israeli side of the border.

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Yosef, 4, lost his mother in the conflict.
Yosef, 4, lost his mother in the conflict.

Yosef learned about his mother from his father, Shmuel, who is recovering in the same hospital.

"He was saying, 'My mother is not here; she's with God.' He knows it will be a hard time," his grandmother, Chaya Sarah Scharf, said.

Hard is putting it mildly. Doctors at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer hospital re-attached four of his fingers, but in the end they had to re-amputate two of them.

A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26. A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26.
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"He lives in the South and there are rockets all the time in that area. Hamas doesn't even think about where the rockets are going," his grandmother said.

While nurses attended to Yosef in Room 12, one room away nurses were attending to on another child with nearly identical wounds from the most recent chapter of this conflict. What sets them apart is that the second child is from Gaza.

Eight-year-old Bisan al-Aghram lost three fingers when the war came to her home.

"I heard the sound of a missile that hit. I didn't even have time to ask what happened and then the second one (hit)," said her mother, Soad al-Aghram.

When the dust cleared, she could see the bones of her child¹s fingers in small pieces on the floor.

The girl was taken to Gaza's al-Shifa hospital, but it was too crowded and couldn't give her the best care. So the family asked Israel for permission to cross the border.

Initially, her mother was terrified at the prospect of people considered an enemy in her country handling her wounded daughter.

"It¹s a strange situation and it's my first time entering Israel. I was afraid, but they treat me and my daughter in a very nice way, and I understand that medicine has nothing to do with politics," al-Aghram said.

That's the philosophy the hospital tries to adhere to -- no matter what.

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"All the tension is blocked outside of the hospital here. There is an island of sanity in the stormy water of the Middle East. Here we actually treat people. We don't actually look from where they are, what they do and what they did before coming here, and what they are going to do after leaving us," said Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Sheba Medical Center.

The same doctor is treating the two children of conflict who both lost fingers from rocket blasts.

"It will affect her life from now on, and his life from now on, in choice of profession ... or in choice of future partners for life, everything. And this kind of injury, although it seems minor, it's affecting the person for life," hand surgeon Dr. Batia Yaffe said.

Yaffe has worked in this Tel Aviv hospital nearly her entire career. She has treated everyone from soldiers to suicide bombers and the civilians in between.

"I come to think about what is it about this piece of land that everybody is fighting about it all the time. This is what comes to my mind: whether this is our lot for eternity from now on. Always have injuries on both sides, always fighting -- what's the point?" she asks.

If there is a point, it is lost on a 4-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl from either side of the Israel-Gaza border who just want to be children, but whose innocence has been interrupted by a war they had nothing to do with.

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