Humanitarian situation in Gaza: Now people are begging for water

Humanitarian situation in Gaza: Now people are begging for water

Sean Casey is an experienced crisis manager for the World Health Organization, but what he is currently doing in the north of the Gaza Strip experienced, is beyond anything he has ever seen before, he says. “No matter who I talk to, everywhere I go, people are hungry. Adults, children. It’s unbearable,” Casey said in a Thursday Online press conference the WHO. Casey has coordinated medical aid after earthquakes, typhoons or during Ebola outbreaks, and now he leads a WHO team trying to get some medical supplies to almost destroyed hospitals such as Shifa and Al-Ahli-Arabi. Along the way, Casey says, desperate people would stop their convoy and keep asking for food.

There are still ten doctors and ten nurses in the Al-Ahli-Arabi Hospital. Casey describes how a doctor led him past bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting and into a church on the grounds of the clinic, which houses around 80 patients. Supply is no longer possible and operations have practically ceased. “The hospital is currently more of a hospice than a clinic,” says Casey. He saw seriously injured people who, when they saw a doctor, didn’t ask for medical help, but simply asked for a drink of water. A woman wanted to speak to him, but was so dehydrated that she could no longer speak. Many people die because there is a lack of antibiotics or simply clean water to clean their wounds.

Casey’s descriptions are only a sample of the conditions in the northern Gaza Strip, but they correspond to the information provided by other organizations: the UN children’s fund Unicef wrote This week, in the southern Gaza Strip, children had an average of only one to two liters of water available per day – in total, i.e. for drinking, cooking or washing. This is less than the minimum amount of three liters necessary for survival. According to one current UN report Half a million people in the Gaza Strip are affected by famine.

Food and clean drinking water are scarce. Here, people line up at a food distribution in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, on December 20th. © Hatem Ali/​AP/​dpa

Exemplary case of Kamal Adwan Hospital

Medical care has also almost completely collapsed: According to the WHO, only nine hospitals are currently partially functional, all of them in the south of the Gaza Strip. Hospitals and ambulances are repeatedly attacked – the WHO documented this in 203 cases in the first two months of the war. It is often unclear who the fire came from.

The case of the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip is exemplary. The World Health Organization accuses the Israeli army of “effective destruction” of the hospital, which led to the deaths of at least eight patients, including a nine-year-old child. Israel rejects the criticism. In consultation with the medical staff, a humanitarian window was left open to evacuate most of the hospital. Thousands of civilians have been evacuated from there, says the commander of an Israeli brigade in one Video. His troops were also shot at by terrorists coming from Kamal Adwan Hospital.

Another video released by the Israeli army shows Israeli soldiers finding weapons in hospital incubators. The images cannot be independently verified. A another video of the armed forces shows the questioning of the clinic director, who states that the hospital of of Hamas had been used. He himself was recruited by Hamas as a brigadier general in 2010.

In an interview with ZEIT ONLINE, Lara Dovifat from Doctors Without Borders ruled out that her employees in the Gaza Strip had seen weapons caches in hospitals. In November, two employees of her organization were killed in an attack on the Al-Awda hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip. The two were on the third and fourth floors of the hospital during the attack to care for patients. According to Lara Dovifat, medical staff were not warned about the attack. In December, Médecins Sans Frontières was also ordered by the Israeli military to evacuate two health centers that primarily treated children under five years of age with burns. “We had to leave patients with worms in their wounds,” says Lara Dovifat.

Doctors treat a wounded child at Nasser Hospital on December 17. © Stringer/​AFP/​Getty Images

Israel: Doctors involved in Hamas terror

A similar picture emerges in the Shifa Hospital, the largest medical complex in the Gaza Strip before the war. For weeks, the Israeli military has repeatedly reported that it had found Hamas weapons there and, at the end of November, presented international journalists with tunnels on the site, including those allegedly used by Hamas a reporter from ZEIT.

Given the situation, one question arises: Why did the Israeli military manage to show journalists the complex back in November, but still failed to supply the hospital with medical supplies? ZEIT ONLINE asked the Israeli military press office this question in writing. There is no concrete answer to the question. “The evidence that Hamas is exploiting hospitals and medical facilities for terrorist purposes is overwhelming and irrefutable,” the military spokesmen wrote.

There is a “direct involvement of medical personnel, including doctors, in Hamas’s terrorist activities.” The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attempts to provide this information on its homepage with numerous images, videos and other material to prove. The situation of the civilian population in the south is also becoming increasingly dramatic. Many people fled there at the request of the Israeli military.

Juliette Touma is a spokeswoman for UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency for Palestine refugees in the Middle East, and she spoke to ZEIT ONLINE this week. Almost 1.4 of the 1.9 million people displaced within the territory are currently seeking refuge in the 155 UNRWA facilities, for example in schools. “Our teams report that because of the lack of supplies, they are sometimes unable to give a family of seven or eight more than a bottle of water and a can of tuna for a whole day,” Touma says by phone from her office in Jordan. Because of the winter, people urgently needed blankets, shelter and warm clothing.

Many houses are destroyed. There is a lack of shelter, food and warm clothing. © Mohammed Abed/​AFP/​Getty Images

Currently, a maximum of 100 trucks with relief supplies arrive in the Gaza Strip per day, usually significantly fewer. Before the war there were 500 and the supplies to compensate for the undersupply had long since been used up. UNRWA facilities are also around 180 times been shot at, 136 employees died, says Touma. In some cases it is known for certain that these were Israeli air strikes, but in most cases it is unclear where the fire came from.

International criticism of Israel’s actions is becoming increasingly louder. Even US President Joe Biden, Israel’s closest ally, warned last week that the country was losing international support as a result of the “indiscriminate” bombing of the Gaza Strip. More than 20,000 people have been killed since the war began, according to the health authority controlled by the terrorist organization Hamas. In past conflicts, these numbers have proven to be reliable and differ little from the UN or Israel’s numbers, writes the specialist magazine The Lancet. However, it is not known how many of those killed were Hamas terrorists. Nobody doubts that thousands of children are among the dead.

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