Published: December 09, 2023
A call from a friend, a doctor, in Gaza. The line is bad, but he is able to give a vivid impression of life in this worsening war. He has moved back to an apartment in Gaza City. He tells me that the city and surrounding area have been “carpet-bombed”. “The bombing is intense”, he says. His life and the lives of his family have been “saved by a miracle”. Whole neighbourhoods have been erased. Buildings have been demolished by bombs while children are sleeping in their beds. “There is no safe place”, he explains. “It's really scary here.” His family is terrified. They are unable to leave the building, fearful of being shot in the street. Water is in short supply. He has to walk and wait “under bombardment” for 7–8 hours to get a gallon of water. The cost for water is now US$10, where in the past it was $0·50. Water and electricity supplies are regularly cut. Access to money is almost impossible. There is no work. There is little money to buy food. Basic supplies are 20-times more expensive today than before the war. Aside from direct killings by aerial bombing, the risk of indirect deaths is now rising. Pollution is rampant. Garbage litters the streets. Water and food are becoming contaminated and unsafe. There is a collapse of public hygiene. People are developing gastrointestinal infections. There are outbreaks of hepatitis A among children. Malnutrition and poverty are deepening. People are stranded in whatever shelter they can find—schools and hospitals. There is dangerous overcrowding. There are some 200 people in his apartment block alone. There is no functioning government.
Already, too many words have been spilt onto the blood of innocent victims in this cruel war. Too many commentators have lamented the “complexity” of this conflict and the impossibly “tragic choice” facing the two parties. By assenting to the idea that no solution beyond war is available, one endorses the abdication of agency and responsibility to end the slaughter. International humanitarian law has failed to protect the Gazan people from attack and to hold those responsible for these attacks accountable. Palestinian political leaders have failed to condemn and repudiate the terrorist attack of Oct 7, 2023, a massacre that went well beyond any reasonable notion of legitimate resistance. And the international community has failed to seek an end to the conflict by bringing representatives of Palestine and Israel together to negotiate peace and security for both peoples. What has been especially disappointing is to see the moral contradictions of some physicians when explaining the killing of children in Gaza. Statements such as “Nobody wishes to hurt any Palestinian child during this conflict. That being said…” are not uncommon. I have received such letters. How can a physician, educated and inducted into a profession founded on a moral code that emphasises the inviolable dignity of every human life, write this conjunction of words? There can be no “That being said” when children are being killed in the name of “payback”. There can be no “That being said” when whole families are being terrorised by aerial bombardment. There can be no “That being said” when communities are being deprived of basic amenities necessary for survival. The same arguments apply to those physicians who refuse to denounce the Oct 7 massacre and the barbaric capture of hostages. What kind of moral universe have we doctors created to justify atrocities?
I ended the call with my friend in Gaza by asking him what I could do to help? Understandably, he wishes to take his family to a place of safety. He describes what they are experiencing as a “genocide”. This word is contentious and the subject of fierce disagreement about its legitimacy regarding events in Gaza today. But it is the word that he uses to describe the life he and his family have endured in recent weeks. Who are we to contradict him? He is living in the crosshairs of this conflict, not I, most likely not you. Most of all, he wants the killings to end. “I don’t want any of my brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine to die, regardless of nationality, religion, or ethnic background.” Yet nobody with the power to stop the killing seems to be listening to this urgent and humane plea.