Palestine: Israel’s bombing of Gaza cripples its health system

Hyderabad: The already frail health system of the Gaza Strip is being annihilated in the fourth attack on Palestinians by the Israeli government in just over a decade. According to the Associated Press, hospitals have been overwhelmed with hordes of dead and wounded from Israeli shelling on civilian homes in Gaza.

Many vital medicines and fuel to keep electricity going are rapidly running out in our stock with a blockaded coastal territory. Two of Gaza’s most prominent doctors including the number two in Gaza’s COVID-19 task force, were killed when their homes were bombed by the Israeli security forces since the attack on Palestine began 10 days ago. 

Media reports said that Gaza was just climbing out of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, the only virus testing lab, was damaged by an airstrike and had to shut down. Health officials fear further outbreaks among tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians crowded into makeshift shelters to seek refuge from the endless bombings by Israel. 

“The Gaza Strip’s health infrastructure was already collapsing before the latest offensive,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for UNRWA, the U.N. agency that provides vital assistance to the 75% of the enclave’s population who are refugees. “It’s frightening,” he added. The health sector has been battered by three previous onslaughts by Israel on Gaza.

Dr Ayman Abu Al-Ouf 

An Israeli air strike on Sunday destroyed the four story building without a warning where Dr Ayman Abu Al-Ouf lived. He was the head of internal medicine at Gaza’s main hospital. Dr Ayman was killed along with 12 members of his extended family which included his mother and father, his wife Reem, their 17-year old son Tawfik and his 12-year old daughter Tala. 

“This is a really big loss not just for us personally because we knew Ayman – this is also a loss for his patients and students,” Dr Ghaith al-Zaanin, a close friend and former colleague who lives in Canada, told the BBC.

Dr Abu Al-Ouf oversaw the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as being in charge of internal medicine at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. According to the BBC, he supervised the treatment of an entire ward of pellets with severe COVID-19 in a place where there are few specialists in respiratory illnesses. 

He also trained students from two local medical schools. “To get someone as qualified as Ayman, you need at least 10 to 15 years of training,” said Dr Zaanin, who named his own daughter Tala after his friend’s. Dr. Zaanin added that Dr Ayman dedicated his life to helping other people and treating patients, as well as to teaching their new generation of physicians.

“I would say he was the most kind-hearted and compassionate person I have ever seen in my life,” he added. According to BBC, Dr Abu Al-Ouf had left the hospital only around an hour before the strike that levelled his home on Gaza City’s al-Wahda street, which is lined with apartment buildings and shops. 

In its defence, the Israeli military, which critics say is nothing more than a state terrorist group, said that it had struck an underground military structure which allegedly belonged to Hamas. “No-one believed that he was dead until a doctor in the hospital sent us a picture of his body,” Dr Agha, Dr Ayman’s student, told the BBC.

“His death is a catastrophe,” she added. Furthermore she said that he took on the load of three or four doctors, and that he was so hardworking that we thought he was invincible. Dr Agha said Israeli strikes had also destroyed roads leading to the area and al-Shifa hospital, making it even harder for rescue teams to get there in time to save people that day.

The Israeli military says it has attacked only what it regards as military targets, and that it is doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties, but facts on the ground speak of a different reality.  Among the 43 Palestinians killed on the same day as Dr Abu Al-Ouf and his family, other prominent medical experts were Dr Mouin Al-Aloul, Gaza’s top neurologist and Rajaa Abu Al-Ouf, a psychologist. 

What is being seen as a deliberate attack on Gaza’s health infrastructure, Six hospitals and 11 primary healthcare centres have been damaged, along with Gaza’s only Covid-19 testing laboratory. Another hospital is not functioning because of a fuel shortage.

Dr Zaanin, who left Gaza in 2017 to get specialist training said “It is unfair. It is completely unjust that they kill innocent civilian people. They are not just destroying the physical infrastructure, they are killing our Human Resource’s.”