Amid further mass casualties on the third consecutive Friday of the “Great Return March” protests, health workers were put under yet further considerable strain and a number of them were injured.
Today, a Palestine Red Crescent Society medic in Rafah was shot in the knee with live ammunition, and a further 10 paramedics had to evacuate their medical point near Khan Younis after inhaling tear gas.
Even before Israel’s violent response the protests, health workers in Gaza were under huge strain due to the cumulative effects of a decade of blockade, which has degraded health and other essential services as well as the economy and living conditions, in addition to previous mass casualty events. Burnout and emotional exhaustion was already a significant feature among Palestine’s medical workforce. Now, they are once again experiencing the most difficult conditions, working long hours in tense situations and assisting casualties with often horrifying and life-changing injuries.
Last Friday, the World Health Organisation reported that five ambulances were damaged in attacks, three paramedics were injured by direct fire to the lower limbs, one by a tear gas cartridge to the head and that 29 healthcare staff suffered from tear gas inhalation.
Attacks on Palestinian health workers, facilities and ambulances by Israeli forces have been a painfully regular and repeated feature of the past decade, as MAP has emphasised in its publications and advocacy.
“Regretfully, no one has been held to account for any of the multiple attacks on protected medical personnel and facilities, and this impunity makes recurrence much more likely,” added Aimee Shalan.
“The prolonged and often traumatic stressors endured by health workers in Gaza are almost inconceivable for people not trapped there. On an almost daily level, they see and suffer what many of us won’t in a lifetime,” said Aimee Shalan, CEO of Medical Aid for Palestinians.
Today, at least 969 injuries have been reported by the Ministry of Health. More than 1,200 were reported to have been shot in the last fortnight. At least 26 protesters are reported to have been killed.
A medic treating severely injured protesters in a hospital in Gaza told MAP that the types and numbers of injuries “would overwhelm any European hospital and be classified as a “major incident”, let alone a local hospital in Gaza with a shortage of disposables and man power for this kind of injury. This is happening every Friday.”
With the sheer number of casualties threatening to overwhelm available services, communities in Gaza are stepping up to support them. In Khan Younis in the south of Gaza, for example, MAP has learned of groups of students of healthcare subjects banding together to form “rescue teams” to offer treatment and support the work of professional responders.
Those inside hospitals and clinics are working long hours to keep essential services running alongside caring for thousands of new patients. The physical health of unarmed protesters is clearly under threat in Gaza, but so too is the mental wellbeing of those who are once again bravely striving to save lives and limbs.
As we celebrate the steadfastness and resolve of Gaza’s medics, we are also outraged that their safety is once again endangered as they carry out their vital humanitarian functions.
MAP repeats its call on the UK government and the international community to support the demand of UN Secretary General for there to be independent investigations into the violence at the Gaza perimeter protests.