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Gaza Doctor Says Hospitals Have to Choose Who Lives and Who Dies Amid Worsening Humanitarian Crisis

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As Israeli tanks and other ground forces enter Gaza, we speak with a doctor in the besieged territory. Dr. Hammam Alloh is working at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in the area, and says tens of thousands of people have sought shelter to escape Israel’s heavy bombardment. He describes making harrowing decisions with rapidly dwindling supplies, such as not resuscitating a patient who went into cardiac arrest because of a lack of ventilators. He also remains steadfast in staying at the hospital, despite Israeli demands to evacuate south. “You think I went to medical school and for my postgraduate degrees for a total of 14 years so I think only about my life and not my patients?” he says. “This is not the reason why I became a doctor.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Top United Nations officials are expressing growing alarm over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as the enclave’s last remaining hospitals are on the verge of shutting down due to a lack of fuel, as Israel intensifies its ground invasion while rejecting growing calls for a humanitarian ceasefire. Palestinian health officials say over 8,500 people, mostly women and children, have been killed over the past 26 days. The head of UNICEF said, “The lack of clean water and safe sanitation is on the verge of becoming a catastrophe.” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestine refugees, repeated his call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, saying it’s, quote, “become a matter of life and death for millions.”

PHILIPPE LAZZARINI: The current siege imposed on Gaza is collective punishment. Two weeks of full siege followed by the trickle of aid last week mean that basic services are crumbling, medicine is running out, food and water are running out, fuel is running out. The streets of Gaza have started overflowing with sewage, which will cause a massive health hazard very soon.

AMY GOODMAN: In north Gaza, Israel attacked areas next to the Indonesian Hospital Monday, where Dr. Moaeen al-Masry said the staff is struggling to treat patients.

DR. MOAEEN AL-MASRY: [translated] The damage has been caused to more than one area in this unit. The damage has directly led to the disconnection of the electricity line of this unit. As you know, this means no electricity for the patients and injured here, which directly threatens their lives and could lead to the death of many of these patients. … In a few hours from now, the power will be cut due to the limited fuel available in the generators. Running out of fuel means power will be cut, meaning certain death for many of the patients in the ICU, some of whom need respirators, as well as patients in the surgical suites and patients in other units who numbered around 240 or 250.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Dr. Hammam Alloh, who works at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza.

Dr. Alloh, thanks so much for joining us. I know you’ve just left the hospital a few minutes ago. You told Jewish Currents yesterday, “I had to stop the resuscitation of a patient who went into cardiac arrest in the dialysis unit, because if she made it back to life, we had no ventilator to offer her. We have to prioritize patients who are younger, healthier. We have lost the ability to provide true care.” If you can talk about the situation right now at your hospital and overall?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: Hey. Thank you for contacting me.

This is not an incident I would really love to keep remembering, but this is — what you just said was exactly what happened to me. As physicians, we are trained to resuscitate patients who go into cardiac arrest, hoping they would make it back again to life, and consequently put them on ventilators to help them live again, go back to life. But I had to stop my co-nurses and my physicians from doing this. They asked me, “Why are you asking us to stop resuscitating the patients? It’s like you’re asking us to kill her.” I told them, “We have no better options. We have no other choices, because in case she makes it back to life, we have no ventilators to offer her. And if there is any, we would prevent a younger, healthier injured patient from entertaining that victory — I mean the ventilator.” So, I don’t know if you would imagine the amount of regret, the amount of sadness I’m living with since this happened with me, but I’m sorry to say there was no better options to go for except stopping that resuscitation.

And if this tells us anything, this tells us how things are really getting worse and worse. I was talking to a journalist an hour ago or so, and he kept asking me, “You told me a week earlier that things are bad. And are these now the same? Because you’re telling me things are very bad, as well, now.” I told him, “Yeah, this was probably a very strange answer from my side, because things were really bad one, two weeks into war, but now they are getting really worse.” We have patients admitted to emergency departments where they shouldn’t be admitted, where there should be vacant beds for newcomers, for new patients. We have patients admitted to dialysis unit. You know, dialysis unit is a closed unit where you offer a service, and when you’re done with your patients, you close your doors. But we can’t do this anymore. We are allowing people to live in the unit, actually. And we are admitting now patients who need care other than dialysis patients.

As the few trucks that were allowed in with aid to Gazan people actually is almost nothing compared to what we need, and there was — many of the contents of these trucks that were allowed into Gaza had water, gloves and gauze, and this is not what we are looking for. We are looking for devices, medications, things of really major help and concern for providing real healthcare for people in need. Number of injured patients is increasing. The number of people with chronic medical illnesses who need regular follow-up and regular maintenance of and the provision of medications is increasing. We are not capable of providing the care, other than keeping people dying from death. This is the only thing we can do. And we can’t properly provide this care, because we are getting — we are running out of medications and supply.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hammam Alloh, you’ve said, “Every day, I see a fear in their eyes that I can’t do much about. It’s very painful. If you have kids, you know how horrible it is not to be able to comfort them, to ensure they are alright, to make them hope for anything beyond living one more day.” If you can talk about that in the hospital, which, as you said, is not just a hospital for sick people? Thousands are taking refuge at Al-Shifa and al-Quds and the other hospitals. And also, we’re talking to you as you just left Al-Shifa. How do you comfort your family? What’s happening to your family as you’re at the hospital?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: I tell them at least we still have a house with a door to close. But many thousand refugees, people like us, who used to live in dignity have no longer houses and no doors to close to protect them as they are surrounded by wastewater, by garbage. They don’t have a liquid, continuous supply of clean water to drink. Many of them have a lot of missing members of their families. They don’t know if they are alive or not. I tell them at least we still have a house to live in, but they don’t have. And surprisingly, my 4- and 5-year-old kids, they accept this as a comfort, as a better situation compared to those refugees living — they are living actually in hospitals, but it’s not like they are living inside the hospital departments. Many of them do not have enough space to go into hospital hallways, so they are living around the buildings and in the garden. So, yeah, surprisingly, my very young kids accept this.

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli military has dropped thousands of pamphlets warning people where you are, in northern Gaza, to leave. Why don’t you go with your family south?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: And if I go, who treats my patients? We are not animals. We have the right to receive proper healthcare. So we can’t just leave.

AMY GOODMAN: The World Health Organization talked about this issue of telling doctors to leave their patients, choosing your own lives over your patients. Can you talk about that choice, since so many patients can’t leave — for example, babies in incubators?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: You think I went to medical school and for my postgraduate degrees for a total of 14 years so I think only about my life and not my patients? I’m asking you, Ma’am. Do you think this is the reason I went to med school, to think only about my life? This is not the reason why I became a doctor.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happening to the hospitals? Just in our headlines today, we talked about, and in the last few days, the attack on the Indonesia Hospital. The Turkish Hospital is the only cancer hospital?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of these places, both as a sanctuary, thousands of people taking refuge, and for patients?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: Yeah. Indonesian Hospital is providing healthcare for over 400,000 citizens in the Gaza Strip. And this part of the Gaza Strip is being split from the rest of the Gaza Strip. If this hospital stops providing care, so we are exposing many thousand Palestinian souls to the dangers of disease and death.

Turkish Hospital, with its very modest capabilities even before war, was the only hospital providing care and medications for cancer patients from around the Gaza Strip. It was airstruck yesterday. I don’t know how many patients and healthcare professionals were wounded. And many patients are dying now because they are not safe with their families to go to receive care and to continue their chemotherapy.

Ministry of Health has declared two hours ago also that the electricity would be cut off from Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital, representing 40% of the healthcare power in the Gaza Strip and providing services for many machine-dependent patients, like the ventilated patients and the hemodialysis patients. So, if electricity is cut out from this hospital, so we are directly deciding those patients are going to necessarily die. Ventilated patients will die in minutes. Dialysis patients will die in hours to days after stopping their hemodialysis. Many patients are now being treated with the modest supplies we have. Many diabetic patients are now being admitted to hospital because of their insulin is not being kept in the refrigerator, so it’s not working. We are out — we ran out of many medications, like antifungal medications. We have a patient who died earlier this week with mucormycosis. This is an invasive, ugly type of fungal infection that killed her because we had no amphotericin to offer her. So, my very simple answer to your question is that death is coming to so many people in the Gaza Strip, in hours to days, if this continues the same way it’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Alloh, the Middle East Eye reports on a baby who died, says, “His death certificate has been issued before his birth certificate.” A 1-day-old baby has been killed by Israeli bombing in Gaza. Israel, the military, the government, says that Al-Shifa, your hospital, is Hamas —

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — the site of Hamas command and control. Can you respond to that, Dr. Alloh?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: I’ve been working this hospital for over two years, and I never saw this. So, I’m no lawyer, I’m no attorney, but this is how I am simply replying. I never saw this for over two years. If this is true, I would see at least a clue.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the shipments of aid coming in. Normally, in normal times — if there’s ever a normal time in Gaza — over 400 trucks a day. We’re talking about a trickle of trucks now, maybe a dozen, maybe eight in a day. Have you ever seen this aid arriving at the hospital? And can you talk about what you need right now?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: Well, that number you just mentioned that was allowed into Gaza Strip is actually — is actually what you were referring to. It is nothing compared to what we need, nothing compared to the shortage in supplies, machines and medications we are in need for. The only thing, came just as I was leaving the hospital today, was a carton of IV fluid bottles. This is the only thing I saw. And I don’t really know if this came through the aid trucks in the few couple of days, or that was from the stores of the Ministry of Health. In addition, I happened to ask about in the hospital administration, and what they mentioned that was all about the gloves and gauze. And this is not what we are actually only in need for. This is what maybe the least we care for, the least we are in need for. So this is, again, nothing compared to what we are in need for in terms of supplies and medications.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dr. Hammam Alloh, your message at this point to the United States, where we’re based, and to the world?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: Actually, the message hasn’t changed since the beginning of this war. First, we need this war to end, because we are real humans. We are no animals. We have the right to live freely.

Second, if you were, and your citizens, to live under these circumstances, what would you do for them? This is what we exactly would like you to do for us as a superpower country, as the United States, because we are really as human as your U.S. citizens are.

We were expecting more — earlier, I mean, solutions for that humanitarian and healthcare catastrophes and the crises, but what we are seeing, mainly through trucks allowed into Gaza, is nothing compared to us. So, we are being exterminated. We are being massly eradicated. And you pretend to care for humanitarian and human rights, which is not what we are living now. To prove us wrong, please do something. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hammam Alloh, speaking to us from Gaza City, where he works at the largest hospital, Al-Shifa Hospital. Please be safe.

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: I hope I will be. Let’s hope, both together, I will be. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. Coming up, we speak to the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, author of many books, including The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Palestine Will Be Free” by the Lebanese Swedish singer Maher Zain, who sung at an Istanbul solidarity protest on Saturday.

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Israeli Historian Ilan Pappé on Gaza War, Hostages & the Context Behind Current Violence

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