MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
‘There is no safe place in Gaza’ — humanitarian groups, hospitals overwhelmed as death toll nears 10,000
The death toll in the besieged Gaza Strip on Sunday neared 10,000 as the Israel-Hamas war entered its fifth week. Humanitarian organisations say their volunteers are ‘terrified, overwhelmed and exhausted’ while working around the clock to save lives.
“Being able to conduct your humanitarian role while you are extremely worried about your children who lack every single basic humanitarian need, is just [so overwhelming]. My colleagues, for 28 days, have worked tirelessly, around the clock, to try and save people’s lives, but they are absolutely terrified, overwhelmed and exhausted.”
This is according to Nebal Farsakh, from the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), who spoke to Daily Maverick on Friday, 3 November, about the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the organisation’s response. The PRCS is the lead emergency medical service provider in Gaza and runs al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City.
Farsakh said her colleagues were in a state of “constant fear and panic that they might lose their families because bombardments are taking place nearly every single minute”.
Eighteen PRCS volunteers had been injured since 7 October and four killed. Four PRCS ambulances were out of service because of Israeli airstrikes, while three had to cease operations because they ran out of petrol.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub
“[PRCS volunteers] know that every time they go out they might lose their lives too, but they are still working with determination, trying to do their best to save other people’s lives,” Farsakh said.
By Sunday, health authorities in Gaza said more than 9,500 Palestinians — including at least 3,900 children and 2,400 women — had been killed in Gaza as Israel continued its campaign of retaliatory air strikes. More than 24,000 people have been injured in the war.
Hamas killed more than 1,400 people during its attacks in southern Israel on 7 October and took about 240 people hostage.
Farsakh spoke to Daily Maverick about the situation at al-Quds Hospital, in the Tel al-Hawa area of Gaza City.
The hospital has about 140 beds, but Farsakh said it currently had around 500 patients, including about 100 who had been wounded in aerial attacks. About 400 outpatients seek treatment at the hospital every day.
Additionally, Farsakh said, 14,000 people — mostly women and children — were sheltering at the hospital. The only rooms that did not have displaced persons in them were the intensive care unit and the operating rooms.
“All hospitals now in Gaza have transformed to not only a place for wounded and injured people, they have become a place of shelter for thousands of civilians who are internally displaced.
“People are [being treated] on the ground in the hospital corridors. There is [an] extreme shortage of medical supplies and medicine; many kinds are literally missing,” she said, adding that doctors had to perform some surgeries without anaesthetic and morphine.
“Many hospitals [are] relying on backup generators [because of lack of fuel]. Without electricity, those hospitals will shut down, [and] will not be able to continue providing their medical services, plus, many patients who are [critically injured], connected to life-support machines or oxygen, or even babies in incubators will lose their lives,” she said.
“The situation is absolutely catastrophic and dire.”
Farsakh said the area surrounding the hospital had been under intense bombardment for days and most of the nearby buildings had been destroyed. This made it difficult for ambulances and first responders to get to and transport injured people.
Currently, there is heavy artillery shelling, airstrikes, and powerful explosions in the vicinity of Al-Quds Hospital and the PRCS HQ. The intensity of the bombardment is causing the building to shake, and emergency response teams are unable to leave due to the severity of the… pic.twitter.com/BA57xOVOxP
— PRCS (@PalestineRCS) November 5, 2023
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that it had verified 102 attacks on health services in the Gaza Strip since 7 October, causing 504 deaths and 459 injuries.
“Attacks on healthcare are a violation of international humanitarian law,” said the WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus at a press conference on Thursday, 2 November.
Since 7 October, WHO has documented 102 attacks on health care in the Gaza Strip.
Attacks have resulted in 504 fatalities, 459 injuries, damage to 39 facilities and affected 31 ambulances.
Over half of health attacks and over a half of hospitals damaged were in Gaza City.… pic.twitter.com/tcxgfcdUln
— WHO in occupied Palestinian territory (@WHOoPt) November 5, 2023
Fourteen out of 23 hospitals in the Gaza Strip were non-functional, he said, adding that functionality was affected by a lack of food, clean water and fuel to power generators.
“As health needs soar, our ability to meet those needs is plummeting,” Ghebreyesus said.
“We are running out of words to describe the horror unfolding in Gaza. The situation on the ground is indescribable. Hospitals crammed with the injured lying in corridors; morgues overflowing; doctors performing surgery without anaesthesia; thousands of people seeking shelter from the bombardment; families crammed into overcrowded schools, desperate for food and water; toilets overflowing and the risk of disease outbreaks spreading; and everywhere, fear, death, destruction, loss.”
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Israel’s bombardment of Gaza had intensified in the north where many civilians remain trapped and unable to evacuate, Al Jazeera reported. “Hundreds of thousands of people are unable to evacuate [from the north],” Farsakh said.
“It’s not safe; there are bombardments that are taking place all over and it is continuous, so there’s no safe road to travel from the north to the south. Plus there is no transportation, there is complete destruction of the roads and the infrastructure, there is no fuel as well. So, it is an impossible mission to evacuate yourself.”
The other challenge, Farsakh said, was that aid was not getting from the south to the north of the Gaza Strip, where many hospitals were in a “dire situation”.
“Most of the hospitals in the north have not gotten aid into them, and the situation is absolutely dire. People are getting treated in the hospital corridors because there is no capacity — all hospitals are overwhelmed.”
‘Getting worse day by day’
Gift of the Givers’ project manager in Palestine, Hanin Barghouti, on Sunday said, “The situation in Gaza is getting worse day by day. It’s a genocide and ethnic cleansing and if this situation continues … there will be no one alive left.
“Israel is trying to convince the world that they are fighting Hamas … but they are not doing that. Most of the people who have been killed in Gaza are women and children. Civilians are being targeted. What’s happening in Gaza is ethnic cleansing, not a war.
“There is no safe place in Gaza.”
Barghouti said the Gift of the Givers team in Gaza had been working to provide people with essential supplies. The team had focused on helping wounded people with first aid and medical assistance, as well as helping displaced families and distributing water, food and basic necessities. However, Barghouti said, it had become increasingly difficult to source rapidly depleting supplies.
“As a humanitarian organisation working in Gaza, the team is doing their best to provide what is available. Food supplies are running low, fuel is almost [depleted and] water is really hard to get, so it’s really hard as a humanitarian organisation, to work with such minimal supplies,” Barghouti told Daily Maverick.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘The basic necessities of human life are cut off’ — Gaza residents face gigantic humanitarian crisis
She said the near-total communication blackouts in Gaza imposed by Israel added to the obstacles faced by aid workers.
“The people in the south cannot communicate with the people in the north or the people in Gaza City. The internet is intermittent in the south and really hard to get. A lot of people are unable to communicate and reach their families — they don’t even know if their families are alive or not.
“The team is doing their best to work — trying their best — despite all these obstacles,” she said.
Gift of the Givers’ founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said the organisation was preparing to send medical teams and supplies from South Africa, but was still engaging with Egyptian authorities and officials from South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco). The discussions, he said, were sounding “very favourable”.
He said he may send a coordinating team to Egypt next week to organise the purchasing, loading and warehousing of supplies, but the Egyptian embassy had said it was still too early to send in medical teams.
Gift of the Givers expected to send about 100 trauma specialists to Gaza “the day the opportunity arises”.
The Palestine Red Crescent is also taking donations, which can be made here. DM