Gaza's doctors and nurses work in impossible conditions putting everyone's well-being above their own. Studies show that medical workers from Gaza require care, that they may never get.
Sniper fire flew across the field, Palestinians in Gaza, one after the other were killed or injured while they protested. Hundreds of protesters ended up in nearby hospitals with injuries that doctors haven’t seen since the 2014 war.
Doctors Without Borders provided support in local hospitals but the overflow of victims got so overwhelming; the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sent two surgical teams into Gaza to help.
At the time ICRC Director, Robert Mardini said, “more than 13,000 Palestinians have been wounded, including more than 3,600 by live ammunition, some multiple times, for an estimated total of nearly 5,400 limb injuries.”
Palestinians called their six-week protest the Great March of Return, demanding to go back to land taken by the Israelis in 1948. Burning tires and massive gatherings, Gaza residents protested at the closed border with Israel. But then Israeli forces attacked.
According to the most recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, well over a hundred Palestinians were killed and hundreds more injured - since the end of March.
HRW has called for an investigation saying, the “killings..highlight the need for the International Criminal Court to open a formal investigation into the situation in Palestine. Third countries should impose targeted sanctions against officials responsible for ongoing serious human rights violations.”
The United Nations Security Council – drafted and approved a resolution, last week, condemning Israel for the attacks on the Palestinians – and 120 countries joined the measure after Turkey and Algeria presented it on behalf of other majority Arab and Muslim countries. The resolution also rejected the United States bid to blame Hamas. The US vetoed the last UNSC measure calling for an investigation on the attacks.
The US supplies the Israeli military with nearly 4 billion dollars a year in funding and recently recognized Jerusalem as a united capital under the Israeli government by moving its Embassy from Tel Aviv – which has magnified their disregard for Palestinians and weakens any chance of a peace process.
But beyond the protests, the caring doctors treating patients are often left with their own trauma.
On June 1, sniper fire killed 21-year old medic, Razan al Najar while she was running to an injured protester. Like Najar doctors and nurses ventured out to the frontlines to administer medical attention to victims being shot. They went out in white coats, hoping to be identified as medical assistance. Thousands attended Najar’s funeral in a rallying cry against Israel’s extreme attacks.
According to international law, targeting medical personnel is considered a war crime. The Israeli military released a statement saying, a “small number of bullets were fired...and that no shots were deliberately or directly aimed towards her.”
But it’s not enough. The international community is often paralysed by the United States’ veto power and unbridled support of the Netanyahu government, which often blames Hamas for its military force against the Gaza strip.
While Hamas has played a role in rocket attacks across the barricaded border, no evidence has yet shown that Hamas incited violence among the protesters.
At the end of the day it’s the doctors who face the worst challenges with increasing responsibility in trying to manage the number of patients coming through the trauma wards.
Back in 2014, during the 50-day war, doctors served around the clock in surgery. Back then they often reported feeling depressed when they went home to their families. It wasn’t just saving the patient’s life they worried about; it was the grief-stricken families desperate for answers.
Gaza doctors are more than medical support for their community. They’ve become psychological strength – for families and within the chaos, and the only hope for survival, even when their own mental health deteriorates.
One doctor, at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, told me he would sit in a room alone and stare at the wall – and avoid his family unable to make sense of the mess.
A study by The Islamic University of Gaza – showed that over 69 percent of Gaza nurses, in particular, exhibited signs of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) and that intervention programs were needed.
Last month, Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, a representative from Doctors Without Borders reported the injuries from the protests were similar to 2014, explaining, “our teams carried out more than 30 surgical interventions today, sometimes on two or three patients in the same operating theatre, and even in the corridors. This bloodbath is the continuation of the Israeli army’s policy during the last seven weeks: shooting with live ammunition at demonstrators, on the assumption that anyone approaching the separation fence is a legitimate target. Most of the wounded will be condemned to suffer lifelong injuries.”
And with so much carnage, the hospitals struggled to obtain a sufficient supply of medicine, equipment, and the capacity to treat more serious injuries and staff to keep people in the hospital for more than a few days, all the while dealing with electricity outages.
Some doctors have used their iPads to communicate with doctors in Lebanon just to learn how to do procedures they’ve never done before on injuries they’ve never seen before.
The doctors feel the setbacks and it can play on their psyche, making it personally challenging to do their job everyday and being away from their own families.
The Palestinians are recovering from a brutal onslaught for demanding their freedom, and Gaza’s doctors are the hope and the heroes they have. But the doctors’ own healing may have to wait.
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