Gaza City – For more than ten days, Palestinian doctors at the main al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip have been working 24 hours a day to save lives during the Israeli army’s relentless bombing of the besieged enclave.
At least 230 people, including 65 children, have been killed since Israel began bombing the Gaza Strip on May 10th. More than 1,500 have been injured.
The murder this week of two senior doctors – Ayman Abu al-Ouf, head of internal medicine at al-Shifa Hospital and psychiatric neurologist Mooein Ahmad al-Aloul: gave a psychological blow to doctors who were already working under immense pressure and faced serious shortage of medical resources due to multiple wars and 14-year lock.
Al Jazeera spoke with al-Shifa doctors about what it means, physically and emotionally, to work in the midst of a furious conflict. His interviews are then edited for brevity and clarity.
Sarah El-Saqqa, 33, general surgery
“During the current climb, I’ve been working under pressure for about 13 hours a day; I come to the hospital at 7:30 pm and leave at 8 or 8:30 the next day.
“This is stressful and exhausting … being away from family in the midst of all the bombing is worrisome. I’m afraid some of my relatives are part of the people we receive at the hospital.
“These are very difficult cases, which we only see in wars. We don’t know what kind of weapons are used, but the goal is to kill, not terrorize, or cause injury. Most cases received at the hospital are people who have been murdered or have serious injuries.
“The death of Dr. Ayman Abu al-Auf was one of the most difficult things to hear. He taught me in college and then I became his colleague in the hospital’s internal medicine department, which he headed.
“What is happening in the Gaza Strip is a war crime and genocide, and international human rights organizations must intervene to stop this war and not allow it to happen again.”
Hani al-Shanti, 42, vascular specialist consultant
“In this war, the number of people killed is higher than the number of seriously injured. In the 2014 war, when the Shati camp was attacked, there were many wounded and we had to spend several days in the operating room to save lives. I’m not a military expert, but this time the main goal seems to be killing people. Because of this, we have had fewer surgeries to save lives.
“At the hospital we feel safe, but my anxiety for my wife, children and relatives is high. At home, this feeling is even more intense because the bombing is in your surroundings, near you. I live in a state of emergency at home and in the hospital.
“The sound of the bombing during this war is terrifying; the sound itself has caused injuries and there have been deaths from heart attacks due to the sound of missiles and not from direct injuries.
“We suffer from lack of sleep, in the hospital or at home. This causes chronic insomnia and depression. In addition, the war has begun to affect services such as water, electricity and waste, as well as the spread of COVID-19, leaving the healthcare sector on the brink of collapse.
“The martyrdom of my colleague Ayman Abu al-Auf and his family was devastating. Only her son survived the attack but is in intensive care. He is unaware of his deaths and has been asking every day about his father and family; we told him they are in the operating room.
“The world has oppressed the Gaza Strip. We will continue in crises and wars for several reasons: Israelis break their promises and international donors do not keep their promises to rebuild or lift the siege.
“I wish Gaza could live in peace. I wish I could live in an independent country, to live with dignity.”
In the midst of Awad, 48, a specialist in vascular surgery
“The doctors are here 24 hours a day. We start the day by examining the injured to see if there have been any complications or if medical intervention or surgery is needed.
“The need for vascular surgery during this war is not the same as before Great protest of the Return March when Israeli snipers fired to incapacitate Palestinians, especially those under 18 years of age. This time, most of the people taken to the hospital are already dead.
“There are explosions like nothing we had experienced before. This has affected the psychological state of our children. Our children have not seen a beautiful day in over 15 years.
“I think about my family at home all day, but when I go to the hospital I forget the anxiety because God protects them.
“There is a shortage of medical materials and devices. We have experience that is not available in neighboring countries. When medical delegations arrive, they are amazed at what we are doing in the industry.
“An international stand is required. We are a defenseless people and our means and arsenal are weak, unlike the Israelis. I have another nationality, I am Russian and I voted for President Vladimir Putin. I want to ask for your support from us, Russian citizens, to stop this escalation and the massacres. My wife is also Russian, has witnessed three Israeli wars in Gaza and can cope with the current situation better than I can.
“I fear that future generations of Palestinians will be disfigured by the weapons and bombs that Israel uses. We do not have laboratories to examine them, but this issue will become apparent in the coming years. Cancers are abundant and this is the result of the that they used in previous wars ”.
Muhammad Ibrahim al-Ron, 40, consulting surgeon and head of the general surgery department
“It simply came to our notice then. The family needs you and the hospital needs you, but you can’t be in two places at once. At the hospital, he works divided into three teams that work 24 hours and rest 24 hours. But we also get in during breaks.
“The enemy is focused on killing innocent civilians. Most of the cases that occur due to home bombing are children and women. These are military tactics, perhaps the enemy is trying to defeat people psychologically and kill the fear of sows among people and destabilize them. This is the reality I am seeing.
“Overall morale in the Gaza Strip is high in response [the events in] Jerusalem. But there is also fear because they are bombing civilians, so the movement of people and their displacement are not the same as before.
“The war has hit the heart of Gaza, the economy, businesses, the press, the towers, civilians and others.
“The health sector suffers as a result of the blockade. There have been good times and bad times throughout, but it has gotten worse during the coronavirus crisis. We do not have the equipment. We work with primitive devices and need a lot of medical equipment, training and maintenance of diagnostic and therapeutic devices.
“The 15 years of the blockade correspond to 150 years of medical progress taking place outside the Gaza Strip. What is required now is a just solution to the Palestinian question, so that we can live like the others. “
Abdul Hadi Mohammad Abu Shahla, 37, doctor of vascular surgery
“Since this war started, we arrive at the hospital at 7 in the morning and work 24 hours and then take a day off to rest. We receive cases that need medical intervention, specializing in vascular surgery. But we also help in other specialties, such as general surgery and thoracic surgery.
“We are dealing with cases across the Gaza Strip. One of the most difficult situations was when an 11-year-old boy came to us with shrapnel lodged in the aorta and hepatic artery. [supplying the liver]. We used a synthetic artery patch to repair the artery and the operation was successful. But the boy died two days later from head and chest injuries.
“The nights I have at home with my family at home reassure me and the nights I work in the hospital … it is difficult to balance between caring for the injured and thinking about my family and checking them out.
“But we still have energy and the teams are ready to continue working despite the shortage of medical supplies, which is severe in times of wars and crises.
“I want the war to stop, as most cases are martyrs.”