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Gaza's descent into darkness

Message Chris Gelken

Since when did the shooting death of a two-week old baby not make headline news? 

Imagine the absolute horror of seeing, of feeling your child die in your arms from an easily preventable disease.

The necessary drugs are just a few kilometers away, but for all that, they might as well be on the moon.  

Alternatively, make a mental detachment from your comfortable reality and transport yourself to a grubby hospital waiting room. As you lie there on the floor clutching the bloodied and broken body of your wife or husband, you are being told by doctors, “Sorry, we have no beds. We have no equipment, we have no drugs.”  

And with grim finality, “There is nothing we can do.”

Hold that mental image and wait for your loved one to die.  

Imagine being the doctor, who day after day has to tell mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters the news they had been dreading. Day after grinding day.  

Many would run. Many of Iraq’s doctors did. But for whatever reason best known to themselves, many don’t hang up their soiled scrubs at the end of a grueling shift and just walk away.  

They are back the next day, and the next, fighting a hopeless situation.

In fact, bringing what little hope still remains in the debris strewn streets and flyblown hospital waiting rooms of the impoverished Gaza Strip.  

Doctor Mehdad Abbas of the Gaza Shifa Hospital, and Director of Crisis Management at the Ministry of Health in Gaza is one of those who have stayed.  

The doctor took ten minutes from his busy schedule, still wearing his scrubs, and spoke to PressTV’s Middle East Today.  

I first asked him about the conditions in his hospital, and how they compared to other hospitals in the Gaza Strip. 

Looking drawn and exhausted, he still managed to respond in a strong and clear voice.  

“We have some twelve hospitals throughout the Gaza Strip and the cases we have received were so serious. In fact we filled our intensive care beds and had to add an additional seven beds, so 19 intensive care beds were full by yesterday morning,” he said.  

That would be the first full day of the massive Israeli assault on Northern Gaza.  

“We were then able to shift some of our cases to Egypt. We received more than 350 wounded cases, and the majority of them were children and women. We are also speaking about some 125 who’ve lost their lives during this aggression of the Israelis over the last few days in Jabalya, the northern province of the Gaza Strip,” he said. 

Without prompting, he confirmed the reports we’d been receiving that the majority of the victims were women and children, many of them killed inside their own homes by the rockets and bombs of jet fighters and helicopter gunships.  

“We have never seen such injuries before,” he said, “You know when the F-16 shell hits the top of the house, we have crush injuries, we have explosive injuries involving the majority parts of the body, nothing is safe. We have seen head trauma as well as chest and abdomen and extremities at the same time in a single patient. These patients faced a high risk of dying, and this explains why we lost more than 125 cases in these two or three days.” 

As our camera panned around the primitive emergency and intensive care unit, pausing to focus on human bodies, barely recognizable as young children, with wires and pipes attached to their faces, arms and bodies, I asked the doctor, “If you could get anything right now, what would be the most important thing you would wish for?” 

Without hesitating and with his voice rising he told us, “The most urgently needed thing is to press the Israeli government to stop killing the Palestinian children, this is the first thing needed.”  

And end the siege, he said, at once.

“We need medicine, we need food, we need freedom, this is the most needed thing inside Palestine.”  

As for medical supplies, the doctor said the hospitals in Gaza needed more ventilators and monitors in order to be able to cope with the frequent sudden rush of badly injured trauma victims. 

“If the Israelis keep up the attacks that are killing our patients, I need more ventilators and monitors so we can receive and save more victims,” he said.  

He told of children being brought to the hospital with terrible injuries, but finding there were no empty beds, no equipment.  

“We are losing those patients inside our hospitals,” Doctor Abbas said, “for that reason I am appealing now for medical supplies – in particular more ventilators and monitors to receive more cases into intensive care.”  

The doctor said it saddened him that everyone in the international community, even those who were trying to make efforts to stop the aggression against the civilians in Gaza, can easily see that nothing is changing on the ground in Gaza.

That the only noticeable change is that things have gotten worse, much worse.  

“The Israelis,” he said, “are very interested in the blood of our children and they are not stopping.”  

In fact, the Israelis had just announced a halt to the massive air and ground assault. Not for humanitarian concerns, but in order not to offend US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was currently visiting the region.  

The doctor reacted, “Two days, is that what they are saying in the Israeli media? And after that they are launching their ground and air assaults again.”  

The extended Israeli embargo, justifiably described as a siege, has had a profound impact on the effectiveness of Gaza’s hospitals and health care clinics.  

 “Yesterday we lost many cases in the intensive care unit simply because we did not have vacant beds to receive them,” the doctor explained, “So we were forced to discharge them prematurely from the intensive care units to the general wards, and that was very bad of course. We lost many cases.”  

Slightly distracted for a moment, the doctor collected himself and began to complain about the lack of spare parts.  

“I have said this in many reports. We do not have enough spare parts to fix the equipment. The Israelis are not allowing the spare parts to come because they claim they can be used for military purposes.”  

One positive development was the opening of the border between Gaza and Egypt to allow the most seriously injured patients to be taken into Sinai for treatment.  

“They received some 36 cases the first day, and yesterday they received some 19 cases out of the intensive care,” he said, “But we could not send those who were suffering from cancer, or kidney patients, or those with eye problems or cardiac diseases. We were not able to send them.”  

Doctor Abbas said the Egyptian borders must be opened right now for all the patients without any sort of discrimination. 

“Those with cardiac disease, cancer, or kidney problems,” the doctor said, “we will lose them. They will be martyrs. They are just counting the days to die here in Gaza unless they receive treatment.”  

Coming to the end of our short interview, Doctor Abbas tried to sound positive, upbeat.  

“And if the Israelis do stop killing the children, it will be more or less stable in Gaza in the coming few days. That is unless they change their mind and start a new operation.”  

Unknown to Doctor Abbas, the Israelis had already changed their minds.  

As he was winding up the interview and preparing to go back to his patients, a column of Israeli armored vehicles supported by troops was moving into Southern Gaza to attack the home of a suspected member of the Islamic Jihad.  

The images of the aftermath of that attack were not long arriving in our press center.  

We soon had the story into the system, and sitting in front of the camera I pushed the foot pedal controlling the tele-prompter system and began to read: “Israel launched a fresh incursion into the Gaza Strip this evening where ground troops supported by armored vehicles shot and killed a two-week old baby and wounded several other Palestinians.”  

Bland, unemotional, and to the point.

But the pictures told a different story.  

Tiny, wrapped in bloodied blankets, the child was carried into the hospital, closely followed by a group of agitated cameramen.  

The hole in the side of the baby’s head was about the size of a British 50 pence coin.

Dark, deep and bloody.  

A column of tanks, a company of soldiers.  

And a two-week old baby with a huge round hole inthe side of its ruined head. 

It looks like Doctor Abbas won’t be getting his two day respite after all.   

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Chris Gelken Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

British journalist currently based in Tehran, Iran.
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