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On Tuesday, a Norwegian doctor sitting in Cairo sent me a WhatsApp message. One of his brightest medical students, Maisara Alrayyes, was killed after his home in Gaza was bombed by Israeli forces.
Alrayyes’s parents, his two sisters, one of whom had three children, were also killed in the attack.
“Eight humans, guilty of nothing but being warm, caring and resolute Palestinians. Murdered in cold blood,” Dr Mads Gilbert wrote to me.
A spectator to an ethnic cleansing, Gilbert – with whom I have been in touch since last month – feels as helpless as I do.
Gilbert isn’t the only doctor from Gaza in my network. Every day, a doctor in Gaza shares data from the Palestinian health ministry with me. According to those figures, between October 7 and November 7, 10,328 people have died in the Gaza strip. That is 14 deaths per hour. Another 2,800 are missing, most probably trapped under the rubble of blown-up buildings.
Gaza has been under attack from Israel ever since the militant group Hamas struck Israel with a series of surprise attacks, killing 1,400 people.
Gilbert has been assigned a medical team from the Norwegian ministry to help treat those injured in Gaza. But for three weeks, he has been waiting for the Rafah crossing to Egypt to open. This is the only point connecting Gaza with the rest of the world.
Except to allow limited aid, the crossing has remained shut.
As Gilbert waits in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, 300 km from the crossing, his colleagues in Gaza send out distress calls every hour.
Every few days, I receive a message from him, more often about the death of one of his colleagues. Alrayyes, an alumnus of King’s College in London, was the latest victim. His two brothers also died in an airstrike while they were trying to extract the bodies of Alrayyes and other family members from the rubble.
These are distressing times. The world has been barred from entering Gaza. For journalists like me, far away from the conflict, the only communication modes possible have been WhatsApp and Signal.
But the horrors unfolding in Gaza sometimes force me to shut my social media, to take a break from watching the ghastly videos, the faces of weeping children, and the utter desperation of hungry civilians.
We have the liberty to distance ourselves but those in Gaza do not.
A new acronym is being heard in hospital corridors. Doctors there say. “WCNSF” or Wounded Child No Surviving Family, a phrase unique to the Gaza Strip, where injured orphans are turning up at hospitals as the rest of their family is dead.
Last week, I asked a doctor posted in the emergency department of Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, for a first-person account of his and other health workers’ days and nights in the hospital.
Dr Mohammed Ghuneim has been communicating with me through audio messages that he records while he is on duty.
Every time we converse, he emphasises the urgent, immediate need for medical supplies, fuel and water. In its absence, people are dying every minute, his desperate voice says.
“I haven’t left the hospital in 20 days,” he told me on a voice note last week.
“Every day it is getting worse. We are treating patients on the floor. There is mass casualty. The hospital is now fully, fully crowded. There are injured people here and civilians – displaced civilians who are trying to find a safe place to stay in the hospital.”
He added: “There is a shortage of fuel, of water. Earlier, for more than 36 hours we had no drinking water. Now the water we are using for washing and taking showers is very salty water, not suitable for human use.”
The same water, Ghuneim went on to say, has to be used for patients. The hospital has been struggling with a lack of oxygen pumps, oxygen stations, even anaesthesia.
“The mass casualties we are treating is unbelievable,” Ghuneim told me in another voice note. “I have never treated this kind of casualties before. Many of the trauma tools we need are not available anymore. People are coming to us with severe pain, shrapnel in the head and abdomen, some are coming with amputations. And there is no anaesthesia. Can you imagine that? We are operating on patients without anaesthesia.”
I ask him to tell me about himself, his family, where they are, if he has met them since the attack.
It has been a week, he has not responded. I hope – desperately hope – that his silence is because he is busy with patients and has no time to respond.
The World Health Organisation and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency on November 8 put out a statement, saying that medical supplies have reached Al Shifa hospital, but that they “are far from sufficient to respond to the immense needs in the Gaza Strip”.
The medical conditions in the hospital “are disastrous”, the WHO noted.
Over a call, Ghuneim chooses to differ. He calls it “a genocide”.
We have arrived at a state where humanity has lost to brute power. We have all failed – Ghuneim, in saving the lives of injured patients, and the rest of us, in forcing global attention to the tragedy of Gaza so that the world’s most powerful countries would have to call for an immediate ceasefire.
This reporting was supported by a grant from the Thakur Family Foundation. Thakur Family Foundation has not exercised any editorial control over the contents of this article.