Doctors provide first aid to wounded Palestinians

Doctors provide first aid to Palestinians injured by an Israeli attack in Deir al Balah, Gaza on January 6, 2024.

(Photo: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

'We Are Alive, But We Are Not OK': Gaza Doctors Detail Horrific Toll of Israeli Assault

"Our suffering is being live-streamed, but the world watches in silence. We have been failed."

Healthcare workers in the Gaza Strip have witnessed firsthand the appalling toll of Israel's war, treating badly wounded patients and amputating limbs without anesthesia, delivering babies condemned to starvation by the Israeli blockade, and enduring repeated attacks on overwhelmed medical facilities.

Such horrors have had devastating physical and psychological consequences for doctors living and volunteering in Gaza, including hundreds of staffers for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders.

On Friday, MSF published unnerving testimony from several members of its staff, including Dr. Ruba Suliman, who works at the Indonesian Field Hospital in Rafah, an overcrowded city in southern Gaza that Israeli forces are preparing to invade.

"There is constant noise from the drones, which never leave us. Sometimes it's really hard to sleep," said Suliman, whose family was displaced by Israel's assault. "I have this moral obligation to help people around me and I have this other obligation to save my kids."

"We are alive, but we are not OK," she said. "We are tired. Everybody here is devastated."

MSF also published a video Friday featuring an interview with Dr. Audrey McMahon, a psychiatrist who recently returned from Palestine.

The video begins with screenshots of a series of text messages McMahon received from an unnamed colleague in Gaza.

"I feel lost," the messages read. "I don't have a home. My home and my city were destroyed... Our suffering is being live-streamed, but the world watches in silence. We have been failed."

McMahon said that while doctors are "trained to see blood" and other things that "would be hard to see for most people," what they've witnessed over the past six months "is extremely distressing and disturbing for any human being who would see it."

"They've been seeing people coming missing one or many limbs, dismembered children, and women and men in acute extreme pain," said McMahon. "In the beginning we had no more supplies, and so some amputations were done without any painkillers or sedation, which is beyond imaginable."

"Some doctors, some medical staff, received their own people—their own family or extended family," she continued. "Having to witness that and treat your own people adds another layer of something potentially very, very traumatic."

More than 480 healthcare workers are among the more than 34,000 people who have been killed by Israel's military assault, which has almost completely destroyed Gaza's healthcare system—a major war crime. Not a single hospital in the territory is fully functional, and mass graves were recently discovered at two of the enclave's largest medical complexes, both of which Israeli forces reduced to ruin.

In a briefing to the United Nations earlier this year, MSF secretary-general Christopher Lockyear said that "there is no health system to speak of left in Gaza."

"Israel's military has dismantled hospital after hospital," said Lockyear. "What remains is so little in the face of such carnage."

Amparo Villasmil, an MSF psychologist who worked in Gaza in February and March, said Friday that "when we say that there is no safe place in Gaza today, we are not just talking about the shelling."

"There isn't even a safe place in people's minds," said Villasmil. "They live in a state of constant alert. They can't sleep, they think that at any moment they are going to die; that if they fall asleep, they won't be able to react quickly and run away, or protect their family."

Villasmil described finding a fellow psychologist in Gaza "leaning his head on his knees" and "on the verge of tears," telling her "how exhausted he was."

"He asked me what he was supposed to do, where he should go, and when this war would stop," said Villasmil. "I had no answers to give him."

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