France is reportedly ready to join such an effort and is also working on a related crisis--in Iraq, where it plans delivery of first aid equipment "in the coming hours," according to the office of Francois Hollande. The French president has "reaffirmed the will of France to stand by the side of civilian victims of continued attacks" in Iraq, and his spokesmen said that "France will do the same thing for Gaza."
"The European Union is called upon to also take necessary measures with great urgency to respond to immediate humanitarian needs," the spokesman added.
Hundreds of EU citizens, with their specialized skills in fields of pediatric medicine and child psychology, are reportedly ready to help the children of Gaza. Two fully stocked and staffed American medical ships, the USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort, could contribute greatly to the effort. Each ship's hospital is a full floating medical treatment facility, containing 12 fully equipped operating rooms, a 1,000-bed patient capacity, digital radiological services, medical laboratory, pharmacy, optometry lab, and intensive care ward; each also has a dental clinic with full services, CT scanner, and two oxygen-producing plants.
Helicopter landing decks are available as well, for patient transports, and the ships also have side ports that could take on patients from Gaza fishing boats and other crafts at sea. In addition to these two mammoth-sized medical vessels, dozens of other US Navy ships also have hospitals on board. For example, in one year, the medical department of the USS George Washington handled over 15,000 out-patient visits, drew almost 27,000 lab samples, filled almost 10,000 prescriptions, took about 2,300 x-rays, and performed 65 surgical operations--and nearly 100 other US ships are capable of doing the same.
Just one example with respect to capacity is illustrative. In April of this year, the USNS Comfort--a converted 70,000-ton tanker--sailed from Norfolk, Virginia carrying 900 doctors, nurses, and engineers, including staff from the U.S. military, civilian agencies, non-government charities, and even foreign navies. The ship is designed to be deployed quickly for four month intensive full service medical assistance; yet similar capacities obtain in certain other US ships and in foreign navies as well. All of these resources must be put to immediate use to save Gaza's children.
Looking at the longer term, the Pentagon should seriously consider ordering a sufficient number of catamaran transports and shallow-draft littoral ships to fill out the flotilla, vessels capable of delivering aid by sea via the relatively shallow Gaza coastline. The success of breaking the siege of Gaza will likely give impetus to a UN Security Council decision to construct a seaport for Gaza, perhaps with a shipping channel to Cyprus.
Similarly, the UK hospital ship, RFA Argus, designated as a 'Primary Casualty Receiving Ship,' is moored in Falmouth, England, and is also uniquely designed for this type of humanitarian crisis; and it, too, is reportedly ready to sail once given the green light by Downing Street.
Five Hospital ships are urgently needed along Gaza's shoreline at the following locations: opposite Jabaliya and North Gaza, Gaza City, Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah.
Although attacking a hospital ship is clearly a war crime, the Israeli pattern of targeting medical facilities in Gaza is well known, and threats from the settler movement and the right wing Likud Party to "sink any ship that enters Gaza waters if judged to be aiding the terrorists" must be taken seriously. Yet one imagines the occupation regime would have to think carefully about sinking another US Navy vessel as it did in 1967 with the repeated bombing of the USS Liberty.
Instead of recycling raw combat power, the White House can best meet the demands of a war-weary American public through an emphasis on missions such as those the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are designed for. Poll after US public opinion poll reveal that Americans believe their humanitarian values are best reflected when our navy is tailored for delivering humanitarian aid to places like Gaza, and not by delivering munitions to occupying colonial regimes.