Global Cease-Fire Call Grows as Israel Wages ‘War Against Hospitals’ in Gaza

“Children in Gaza are hanging by a thread,” said a UNICEF director, calling for attacks on healthcare facilities to stop immediately and the urgent delivery of supplies to hospitals.

By Jessica Corbett. Published 11-10-2023 by Common Dreams

Photo: @SaveSJarrah/X

As Israeli forces waged what al-Shifa’s director described as a “war against hospitals” in Gaza on Friday, United Nations officials, human rights groups, and doctors demanded the protection of medical facilities and renewed calls for a cease-fire.

“Half of the Gaza Strip’s 36 hospitals and two-thirds of its primary healthcare centers are not functioning at all,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the U.N. Security Council. “Those that are functioning are operating way beyond their capacities. The health system is on its knees, and yet somehow is continuing to deliver some lifesaving care.”

Since the Hamas-led attack on October 7 that killed around 1,200 Israelis, the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) assault of Gaza has devastated civilian infrastructure, displaced about 70% of the strip’s 2.3 million residents—about half of whom are children—and killed over 11,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,500 children. Tens of thousands more are injured or missing.

“The situation on the ground is impossible to describe: hospital corridors crammed with the injured, the sick, the dying; morgues overflowing; surgery without anesthesia; tens of thousands of displaced people sheltering at hospitals; families crammed into overcrowded schools, desperate for food and water,” Tedros explained Friday. “Nowhere and no one is safe.”

“WHO continues to call for unfettered access to deliver humanitarian aid to the civilians of Gaza, who are not responsible for this violence, but are suffering in ways that we in this room cannot imagine,” he added, also calling on Hamas to release hostages; Israel to restore supplies of electricity, water, and fuel; and both sides meet their obligations under international humanitarian law.

“We continue to call for a cease-fire, to prevent further deaths of civilians and further damage to Gaza’s hospitals and health facilities,” he said. Tedros also argued the Security Council must be reformed and recalled his memories of war in Ethiopia, saying, “I understand what the children of Gaza must be going through, because as a child, I went through the same thing.”

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Middle East and North Africa Regional Director Adele Khodr declared Friday that “children’s right to life and health is being denied,” especially in northern Gaza, where the IDF has pressured civilians to evacuate amid its ongoing bombardment.

“Children in Gaza are hanging by a thread, particularly in the north,” Khodr warned. “Thousands and thousands of children remain in northern Gaza as hostilities intensify. These children have nowhere to go and are at extreme risk. We call for the attacks on healthcare facilities to stop immediately and for the urgent delivery of fuel and medical supplies to hospitals across all Gaza, including the northern parts of the strip.”

According to The Washington Post, “At least seven hospitals reported being under siege or in proximity to the fighting in Gaza City.”

Baqr Qaoud, director of al-Nasr Hospital, told the newspaper that thousands of people left his facility, along with al-Rantisi Cihldren’s Hospital and the Gaza Eye Hospital. Noting the IDF forces in the area on Friday, Qaoud said, “We were carrying white flags, and when we walked out, we passed by the tanks; I was meters away from one.”

Steve Sosebee of the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, which runs al-Rantisi’s pediatric cancer unit, said Friday that the hospital had been “overrun with thousands of internally displaced people while continuing cancer treatments for patients.”

“These are kids with cancer. They’re starting to relapse and fall out of remission,” he continued. “According to the Israeli army, hospitals are legitimate military targets. The [Gazan] health sector has completely collapsed. Thousands of innocent children—on ventilators, on dialysis, with cancer, with heart conditions, amputees with trauma injuries, and hundreds [of kids] in the burn department—are not getting care anymore. That should be on the conscience of the entire world.”

Sosebee added that “we have transferred 13 children out. They are mostly in Egypt now.” The WHO also confirmed Friday that some children with cancer or other blood disorders have been evacuated to Egypt or Jordan to continue treatment.

Gaza’s largest hospital is al-Shifa, and thousands of the estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people who had sought shelter in and around it fled for the south on Friday, as the IDF closed in, according to The Associated Press.

The Israeli military has claimed Hamas’ main operation is under al-Shifa, which the hospital’s director called “utter lies.” The IDF and Hamas on Friday traded accusations of blame for a blast at the hospital that health officials said killed 13 people.

As Amnesty International announced Friday that its petition demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza now has over a million signatures, Erika Guevara-Rosas, the group’s senior director of research, advocacy, policy, and campaigns, asserted that “Israeli authorities continue to dehumanize Palestinians in their rhetoric as Israeli forces bomb densely populated refugee camps, hospitals, U.N.-run schools, bakeries, mosques and churches, roads, and civilian homes, wiping out entire families.”

“The only way to prevent further loss of civilian lives and allow lifesaving aid to reach those in desperate need in Gaza is for states to act now to demand an immediate cease-fire,” she said. “A cease-fire will also provide opportunities to secure the release of hostages and for independent international investigations to take place into the war crimes committed by all parties to address long-standing impunity. Ultimately, justice and reparation for all victims and dismantling Israel’s entrenched system of apartheid against Palestinians are essential to ending the cycle of recurrent horrors.”

Some advocates of a cease-fire have focused pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden, who is pushing to put $14.3 billion toward the Israeli war effort, on top of the nearly $4 billion that Israel already gets annually.

“We urge President Biden to wield all the influence and power of the U.S. government to help secure a cease-fire and stop this devastating spiral of violence in Gaza, which threatens to engulf people living across the region,” Avril Benoît, the U.S. executive director of Doctors Without Borders, known globally as Médecins Sans Frontières, wrote Friday.

“The U.S. government has been staunchly supportive of Israel’s military operation. It has also expressed concerns about mitigating the impact of the conflict on civilians, calling on the Israeli government to conduct its military operations within the bounds of the laws of war,” Benoît noted. “The horrors unfolding before our eyes in Gaza show that these calls are going unheeded. Working purposefully to reach a cease-fire is the most effective way to ensure the protection of civilians.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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