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A man carries a dead child to Al-Aqsa Hospital after the attack in Nuseirat. Alamy Stock Photo
Gaza

'It's apocalyptic': A doctor's experience of treating people after Israel's attack on Saturday

Chris Hook, a doctor with MSF, was in Nasser Hospital on Saturday and saw the results of the bombardment first-hand.

“THE LATEST MASSACRES in Gaza illustrate the complete dehumanisation of Palestinians.” 

That’s the assessment of international medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) following the Israeli assault last Saturday that led to the retrieval of four hostages. 

Gaza’s Ministry of Health reported 274 people were killed and hundreds more wounded during the attack in Nuseirat refugee camp and Deir al Balah that morning.

In a statement, MSF called on Israel to “immediately halt these massacres”, saying it can no longer accept statements saying the Israeli military (IDF) is taking “all precautions”

“This is just propaganda,” the statement said. 

These attacks, MSF said, are the latest in “a broad litany of atrocities” that show what kind of war Israel is fighting.

“Catch-all phrases like ‘war is ugly’ act as blinders to the fact that children too young to walk are being dismembered, eviscerated and killed.”

gaza-gaza-palestine-9th-june-2024-the-effects-of-the-destruction-caused-by-the-heavy-israeli-bombing-on-the-nuseirat-camp-while-a-special-force-affiliated-with-the-israeli-army-infiltrated-deep-i The destruction caused by the heavy Israeli bombing on the Nuseirat camp. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

 

Mass casualty event

On Saturday morning at around 11.30am, Al-Aqsa Hospital received 420 wounded and 190 dead Palestinians, with many children among the casualties. On the same day in Nasser Hospital, 70 severely injured people arrived following the Israeli assault.

MSF said those admitted “bore the hallmarks of intense kinetic strikes”, including dismemberment, severe trauma, burns and open fractures.

Dr Chris Hook, an English doctor with MSF, was in Nasser Hospital that day and saw the results of the bombardment first-hand.

Hook left Gaza just days after the attack and has moved to work with a charity in Kenya. He spoke to The Journal about his guilt over leaving colleagues behind, unfair portrayals of the Gaza Ministry of Health, and how rumours and accusations surrounding Saturday’s attacks have further endangered the lives of aid workers. 

On Saturday morning, Hook sent a voice message to his MSF colleagues to say there had been a “mass casualty event” and that around 50 badly injured patients had already arrived at Nasser Hospital. 

“The ICU is now full already and more patients are arriving,” he said in the voice note, adding that hospital staff were having to ration painkillers like morphine and ketamine. 

At that stage, the scale of what had happened was not yet clear but Hook said that based on messages coming in from elsewhere in the area, it was clear that something terrible had taken place.

One experienced MSF doctor described the scenes at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza, which also received the dead and injured, as “apocalyptic”, while another said: “This is what a massacre looks like”. 

In such a chaotic situation, “all you can really do is face whatever is happening right next to you and try and deal with that,” said Hook.

the-gaza-strip-and-surroundings-political-map-gaza-self-governing-palestinian-territory-narrow-piece-of-land-bordered-by-israel-and-egypt Map of the Gaza Strip in Palestine. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

 

Outside looking in

For Hook, being away from Gaza comes with a mix of feelings.

While he has left behind the dangerous environment, he can’t help but feel some level of guilt for leaving behind his friends and colleagues, whom he describes as “inspirational people”.  

He also finds himself frustrated by the lack of information about what’s going on in Gaza and with some of the rhetoric and media coverage of his fellow healthcare workers there.

One common refrain in media coverage that irks him is reference to the “Hamas-run” Gaza Ministry of Health, as well as the public questioning of death tolls the ministry releases.

“These are just normal people who happen to have picked a career in healthcare.”

“These are not fighters. They’re not affiliated to Hamas. They don’t support Hamas. They’re just people.

“It’s like saying that I am a representative of the Conservative government in the UK because I work for the National Health Service. It’s obvious nonsense.

“It’s a very specific thing to this particular conflict as an attempt to try and say that we don’t truly believe it.”

deir-al-balah-palestinian-territories-08th-june-2024-injured-palestinians-arrive-at-al-aqsa-martyrs-hospital-for-treatment-following-simultaneous-israeli-attacks-on-nuseirat-refugee-camp-al-burei A boy lies on the floor of Al Aqsa Hospital after the Israeli assault. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He is full of admiration for the doctors and hospital staff in Gaza, who keep turning up for work every day without the promise of pay.

“There’s no money for them anymore. They come to work every day to try and help their own people. It’s quite inspiring. It’s quite a privilege to see and be a part of.

“I always wonder, and it makes me think deep down, what our own country, what the NHS in England or [HSE] in Ireland, or wherever, would look like in a similar situation.

“If we were put in this situation, how many people would come to work in these conditions, which are often truly intolerable and psychologically damaging?” he asked.

“And yet, they keep turning up.”

Death tolls

From the early stages of the conflict, senior Israeli officials and US President Joe Biden have sought to cast doubt on the death tolls recorded by the Gaza Ministry of Health. 

Hook said that whether the figures are perfectly accurate or not doesn’t exclude the fact that hundreds of civilians died on Saturday, or that tens of thousands have been killed since October. 

“I can guarantee you, without a doubt, that 70 severely injured patients arrived in Khan Younis at Nasser Hospital on that day. I saw it for myself. I treated loads of them, they’re resting in our wards.”

He said qualifying death toll reports in headlines with the words “Hamas says” is “absolutely outrageous”, when there is clear evidence of many civilian deaths and major injuries.

The figure from Saturday, he said, will surely change in the coming days. 

“People will still be buried beneath rubble, people have been shot and are lingering on with wounds that will fester, and they’ll die of infection in a few days or a few weeks. So whatever the real number, does it matter?”

He said that when an experienced MSF doctor describes scenes at Al Aqsa Hospital as apocalyptic, “questioning whether there are 50 extra deaths or not is neither here nor there”.

“It’s too many and it needs to stop.”

The lack of aid 

Despite persistent Israeli claims of aid flowing freely into the besieged territory, Hook said MSF’s last delivery of supplies was a month ago.

“We see these IDF statements saying that, almost as though it’s in cooperation with MSF, they are facilitating the humanitarian supply on the ground. And that’s not the reality of what we’re seeing.”

His comments were echoed by Unicef spokesperson James Elder today, who posted on social media about trying for 13 hours to get an aid truck through, before it was eventually turned back. 

Restrictions on the entry of supplies have led to an informal barter economy between the various humanitarian organisations working in Gaza, Hook explained.  

Adding to the danger that aid workers find themselves in have been rumours and accusations about how the Israeli forces gained entry to the Nuseirat refugee camp on Saturday morning.

The Palestinian Red Crescent has accused Israel of sending soldiers into the area in an aid truck, which is a war crime. 

All of the uncertainty has led to rumours and speculation. Hook said there have been posts on social media claiming that the United States’ floating pier was involved in facilitating the incursion.

The UN World Food Programme suspended all aid deliveries through the pier citing concerns for the safety of its staff

The Pentagon has acknowledged there was IDF activity near the pier, but denied it was used in the operation; The New York Times reported the US had provided intel for the raid.

Whether these claims are true or not does not matter, said Hook. 

Either way, it will mean civilians are more wary of what appear to be aid trucks and those driving the real ones will be more at risk. 

Hook said MSF staff did not see IDF soldiers emerge from aid delivery trucks on Saturday, but the very idea of it puts them in greater danger.

In spite of all of this, Hook says he still wants to go back and work in Gaza, mostly because he sees it as a “privilege” to work alongside his Palestinian colleagues trying to help their own people.

“It’s not entirely without its own rewards to be there and feel a part of that, and work with those people and be inspired by what they can give.”

Need more information on what is happening in Israel and Palestine? Check out our new FactCheck Knowledge Bank for essential reads and guides to navigating the news online.

 

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