Gaza City – For more than 10 days, Palestinian doctors at al-Shifa’s main hospital on the Strip have worked tirelessly to save lives from the Israeli army’s relentless bombing of the besieged enclave.
At least 230 people, including 65 children, have been killed since the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip began on May 10. More than 1,500 have been injured.
This week’s murder of two old doctors -Ayman Abu al-Ouf, head of internal medicine at al-Shifa hospital, and psychiatric neurologist Mooein Ahmad al-Aloul-gave further psychological scourge to physicians who were already working under intense pressure and faced with a severe shortage of medical resources due to numerous wars and a 14 years of obstruction.
Al Jazeera spoke to al-Shifa doctors about what it means, physically and emotionally, to work in the midst of a fierce conflict. Their interviews below are edited for weight and clarity.
Sarah El-Saqqa, 33, general surgery
“Growing up now, I work under pressure about 13 hours a day – I go to the hospital at 7:30 pm and leave at 8 or 8:30 the next day.
“It was stressful and exhausting that no family in the midst of all the bombing was worried. I was afraid that one of my family members might be with the people we received at the hospital.
“They are very difficult cases, the ones we just want to see in wars. We don’t know what different weapons are used but the target is meant to kill, not to terrorize or cause damage. Most of the cases received in hospital people who have been killed or have critical injuries.
“The death of Dr Ayman Abu al-Auf was one of the hardest things to hear. He taught me at the university and later I became his partner in the internal medicine department of the hospital, which he headed.
“What happened in the Gaza Strip is a war crime and a crime of genocide, and international human rights organizations must intervene to stop the war and not allow it to happen again.”
Hani al-Shanti, 42, consultant vascular specialist
“In this war, the number of casualties was much higher than those seriously injured. In the war in 2014, when the Shati camp was hit, there was a lot of damage and we had to spend many days in the operating room to rescue the life.I am not a military expert but at this hour, the main purpose is like killing people.That is why we have very few surgical operations to save lives.
“At the hospital, we felt safe, but I had a lot of worries about my wife, children and family members. At home, this feeling was even worse because the bombing was all around you, close to you. Living I was in a state of emergency at home and in the hospital.
“The sound of bombing during this war was terrible; the sound itself caused injuries, and there were deaths from heart attacks due to the sound of missiles and not from direct damage.
“We suffer from lack of sleep, in the hospital or at home. It causes chronic insomnia and depression. Also, the war began to affect services such as water, electricity and waste, in addition to the spread of COVID-19, leaving the health sector on the verge of collapse.
“The martyrdom of my colleague Ayman Abu al-Auf and his family was devastating. Only his son survived the attack but was in intensive care. He was unaware of their deaths and was constantly questioning daily about his father and his family – we told him they were in the surgical ward.
“The world is oppressing the Gaza Strip. We will remain in crises and wars for many reasons: Israelis have broken promises and international donors will not keep their promises to build or increase the siege.
“I want Gaza to live in peace. I want to be able to live in an independent country, to live with dignity.”
Among Awad, 48, specializes in vascular surgery
“Doctors are here all the time. We started the day by examining the injured to see if there were any complications or there was a need for medical intervention or surgery.
“The demand for vascular surgery during this war was not the same as before Large protests in March of the Return when Israeli snipers were shot to prevent Palestinians, especially those under the age of 18. By this time, most of the people taken to the hospital were already dead.
“There have been explosions that have never been experienced before. This affects the psychological state of our children. Our kids haven’t seen a beautiful day in over 15 years.
“I thought about my family at home all day, but when I got to the hospital I forgot to worry because God was protecting them.
There is a shortage of medical materials and devices. We have skills that are not available in neighboring countries. When medical delegations come, they are amazed at what we are doing in the sector.
“We need an international stance. We are a defenseless people and our media and arsenal are weak, unlike Israel. I hold another nationality, I am Russian and I voted for President Vladimir Putin.I want to ask for his support for us, citizens of Russia, to stop this escalation and the massacres.My wife is also a Russian, she witnessed three Israeli wars in Gaza, and can cope now situation much better than mine.
“I fear that future generations of Palestinians will not be moved by the appearance of the weapons and bombs used by Israel. We do not have laboratories to test this, but this thing could be seen in the coming years. Cancers are many and it is a result of what they have used in previous wars. ”
Muhammad Ibrahim al-Ron, 40, consultant surgeon and head of the general operations department
“In this war, it’s hard. The family needs you and you need the hospital, but you can’t go to two places at the same time. At the hospital, work is divided into three teams who work 24 hours a day and rest 24 hours a day. But we also went during recess.
“The enemy is focused on killing innocent civilians. Most of the cases have come as a result of the bombing of homes children and women. These are military tactics, perhaps the enemy is trying to defeat people psychologically, and killed the spread of fear among the people and there was no hope in them.This is the reality that I have seen.
“The overall morale in the Gaza Strip is high in response to [the events in] Jerusalem. But there is also fear because they are bombing civilians, so the movement of people and their displacement is not the same as before.
“The war has struck the heart of Gaza, the economy, companies, the press, the tower, civilians and more.
“The health sector is suffering as a result of the blockade. There have been good times and bad weather throughout but it has worsened during the coronavirus crisis. We don’t have equipment. We work with primitive devices and need it. we have extensive medical equipment, training and maintenance of diagnostic and therapeutic devices.
“The 15-year blockade is equivalent to 150 years of medical progress that has taken place outside the Gaza Strip. What is needed now is a reasonable solution to the Palestinian issue, so that we can live like everyone else.”
Abdul Hadi Mohammad Abu Shahla, 37, doctor of vascular surgery
“Since this war started, we can get to the hospital at 7am and work for 24 hours, and then rest for a day. We have received cases that require medical intervention, specializing in vascular surgery. But that helps. we also work with other specialists, such as general surgery and thoracic surgery.
“We handle cases from all over the Gaza Strip. One of the most difficult situations was when an 11-year-old boy came to us carrying shrapnel placed in the aorta and hepatic artery. [supplying the liver]. We used a synthetic artery patch to repair the artery, and the operation was successful. But the child died two days later as a result of head and chest injuries.
“The nights I spend with my family at home reassure me, and the nights I work in the hospital… it’s hard to weigh between treating the injured and thinking about my family and examining them.
Yet we have the energy and the teams are ready to continue working despite the shortage of medical supplies which is severe in times of war and crisis.
“I want the war to stop, because most cases are martyrs.”