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“Horror Show”: Doctors Without Borders Demands Permanent Ceasefire in Gaza, Medical Aid for Wounded

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We get an update from Avril Benoît, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and violence hospitals are facing in the occupied West Bank. Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian children Wednesday during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp, and medical workers say they were blocked from reaching the camp to treat the wounded. “Under humanitarian law, anyone should be able to reach a hospital,” says Benoît, who is demanding a “proper ceasefire” in the region to allow medical aid to reach people devastated by Israel’s war. She says the prospect of Israel resuming its bombardment of Gaza, including in the south where people were ordered to move, would be “a horror show.”

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Israel has agreed to extend its truce with Hamas for a seventh day to facilitate the exchange of captives. The extension was announced just minutes before it was set to expire on Thursday morning, prolonging a reprieve for Gaza’s 2.3 million residents after 47 days of relentless attacks by Israel spawned a massive humanitarian crisis. On Wednesday, Hamas released 16 hostages. In exchange, Israel released another 30 Palestinian women and child prisoners.

Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, two Palestinian children were shot dead by Israeli forces during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp on Wednesday. Fifteen-year-old Basil Suleiman Abu al-Wafa died in a hospital after he was shot in the chest. And 8-year-old Adam al-Ghoul was shot in the head as he ran from Israeli forces, in a killing captured on video. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli soldiers blocked medics from reaching the camp to treat the wounded.

In Khan Younis, in the south of Gaza, Doctors Without Borders surgeon Dr. Hafez Abukhussa described how his hospital is overwhelmed.

DR. HAFEZ ABUKHUSSA: The patients that we see, the majority of patients, they are female and children. But what hurts me a lot, when I see a child, an innocent child, injured, and he need a major surgery. He lost his limb. And he’s the last child. He’s the only remnant of his family. And when he woke up from anesthesia, he asked to see his family. So, this is really a heartbreaking situation.

The difficulties that we face here is the lack of supplies, the lack of instruments. In the hospital on normal days here, there’s 300 patients. Now it’s more than 1,000 patients. The patients, they are homeless, because many of them are refugees within Gaza, and the other people, they have — their houses were destroyed. They don’t have the access to potable water, or there’s a lack of food, a lack of [electricity]. And some of them just get out from their houses with the clothes that they are wearing. We know that we are in danger, in danger anytime, but we will keep doing the same.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Avril Benoît, executive director of Doctors Without Borders.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can talk about what is happening right now in Gaza? I mean, as we are broadcasting, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken is meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, and he just met with Netanyahu. There is a ceasefire, not clear it was going to be extended even one more day. Minutes before the end of that ceasefire, it was announced it would continue. What have you learned about the devastation?

AVRIL BENOÎT: Well, thanks for having me.

From the medical humanitarian perspective of what we have seen from the beginning, after the appalling attack on October 7th, has been a collective punishment of the people in Gaza. And that’s why you’ve seen such a disproportionate number of civilians killed. The devastation on the hospitals is near complete. There are a few hospitals in the north that are really not much more than shelters right now, with still medical personnel trying to stay with patients, but they have no more equipment, they have no electricity, they have no water. They’re holed up.

And it’s a very high-risk evacuation route. We know from our own experience of our team that was stuck there with their families, after having made the decision for the medical doctors to stay with some of the patients in the hospitals, that they came — they were subjected to crossfire. A couple of the members of the evacuation group, the family members were killed in that. Our vehicles were destroyed, the ones that we were intending to use to be able to evacuate these staff and families after they retreated from what seemed to be imminent risk of death, that proved to be fatal in the end.

And so, what we’re seeing is this surge of patients in the south. As you just heard, hospitals, from the beginning, have been completely overwhelmed, but now they’ve got patients who really require much more complex medical care. They require, really, referral — ideally, medical evacuation in a safe way to a third country, for example, where they can receive the level of care that will save their lives and prevent further damage.

Just to mention another thing, because of the lack of antibiotics, medicine, wound dressing equipment, we have a very high risk of high numbers of people dying of infections. And that is something that should never happen under international humanitarian law, the norms of war. People should have access to medical care in a conflict like this. And that is just not being guaranteed in terms of the way this war is being conducted.

AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask you if you’ve heard about this report of al-Nasr pediatric hospital in northern Gaza and the premature babies, five of them, discovered, the remains of the babies? The reports were that they were left to die after Israeli forces blocked access to the intensive care unit.

AVRIL BENOÎT: I don’t have the details on that, I’m sorry. What we do know is that it was a harrowing decision for the medical staff when ordered to evacuate, knowing that sometimes you’re only given a couple of hours, which is completely unacceptable. Even in the context of this pause, this truce — which we certainly hope will continue and become an actual ceasefire — it’s very complicated to transfer a patient that is in a vulnerable state, in a machine that no longer has any electricity — as you probably know, the lack of fuel has meant it’s near impossible to run ambulances — and because of the violence, all these checkpoints, where it seems that people are waiting for hours and hours. You can imagine you’ve got people who are transferred from an intensive care unit stuffed into an ambulance because it’s one of the only ones running, and then at the checkpoint they’re stopped for up to seven hours. And then there’s violence, and they feel they have to retreat. It’s a very harrowing, high-risk kind of thing to organize.

And that’s one of the reasons that we’re calling for this killing to stop, for there to be a proper ceasefire, and, furthermore, for there to be medical evacuations, so that people can receive the care they need in a safe way, with, of course, the right to return if they so wish, and then also for there to be unconditional humanitarian aid that is allowed to enter, because we know people are in places where the aid cannot reach, and they cannot reach the hospitals. They don’t feel it’s safe. And so they are at risk of dying and suffering lifelong consequences if they don’t receive the medical care right away.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Avril, could you speak about the — during this pause, how much medical equipment, supplies, medicine, as you were speaking about earlier, the acute shortage, which many people have mentioned — how much medication is coming in, medication and equipment is coming in, during this pause, into Gaza?

AVRIL BENOÎT: The specifics are unclear, to be perfectly honest. We see that every day there are a certain number of trucks. They move at a snail’s pace. What we would really like to see, of course, is for that to be faster and of greater volume. Before this conflict, before October 7th, there were 500 trucks that would cross daily into Gaza, and that was during a blockade, so not enough. The hospitals were already at a deficit of the equipment that they needed, of the replenishing supplies. All the stocks were always threadbare. And so, then compounded with the fact that we have an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 wounded people, not to mention those that are now coming in with fevers, gastrointestinal situations, acute watery diarrhea — maybe it’s cholera; we don’t know, because we don’t have the testing facilities and labs available to check — what we’re seeing with this truce is that there is no way to be able to support the hospitals that continue to stand. Of course, many of them have been damaged in the fighting. They have been attacked systematically. The World Health Organization has been tracking this.

And for us, this is such an obvious violation of international humanitarian law, to attack hospitals, to attack medical staff, to kill them while they’re at the bedside of patients — and our own colleagues have been killed — and to just go after these facilities as if there’s some excuse that is legitimate, when it’s not, and there’s no evidence that’s been offered to really prove that they should be targets, really nothing — nothing — to substantiate that at all. They are protected spaces.

And so, the truce has allowed perhaps some stocks to go in for us to facilitate to do some movements, to check on some hospitals and clinics to see what their stocks are like. But what you really needed was to pre-position everything, to have it already in place at the starting blocks, in a warehouse, ready to be distributed to the places that need it most, that still have medical staff. And that wasn’t done because of the total siege over the last many weeks.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Avril, I’m not sure — I’m sure you’ve heard that the World Health Organization earlier this week warned that more people in Gaza could die from disease than have already died from the bombing. If you could talk a little bit about that?

AVRIL BENOÎT: Yes. Well, certainly, I mentioned infections earlier. When you have children coming in who have more than 50% of their bodies burned from explosions, they are, in the best-case scenario, in the fully equipped hospital with all the means to control the infection, really it’s a life-or-death situation. So, now we have so many of these children that we cannot treat properly. We don’t even have the proper gauze in the stocks to be able to do it.

The other thing that the World Health Organization was pointing out, which is entirely plausible, is this whole question of dehydration. So, young children, infants are coming in severely dehydrated. And where is the water? Since the siege began, this is one of the things that this collective punishment has honed in on to say, “We’re not going to give you access to water or food or medicines” — all the things that are needed just to stay alive. So, that’s a huge problem right now.

Then you just think of the people with chronic illnesses. And this is always a concern for us. Somebody who’s on heart medication, or they have diabetes, they have any number of chronic illnesses — think of all the cancer patients — where are they supposed to go to replenish? The hospital system that is barely functioning at all in the south, for example, their focus is on the severely wounded that are coming in, trying to keep people alive, patch them up, do the amputations really quickly, not in the proper way even to allow for prosthetic devices after. They’re just trying to do the most triage very urgently. And the ones who need safe place to give birth, the ones who need their heart medication, the children who are severely dehydrated, and there’s nowhere really to look after them in a hospital like that, these are the ones that are likely to be the other casualties of this war, not only the ones who are killed by the direct violence that is seemingly affecting civilians so much more than anyone else.

AMY GOODMAN: Avril Benoît, if you can talk about Netanyahu’s threat to — in resuming the bombardment? You’ve got Blinken, who reportedly is urging more surgical strikes. But they’re talking about bombarding the south. This is where they forced — what is it? — a million Gazans, Palestinians, to go from the north. So, talk about what this would mean if this temporary ceasefire ends.

AVRIL BENOÎT: It’s a horror show for us. Just think about it. A third of the injured people already were injured in the south, which was the place that everyone was told to go. That was the place. You were supposed to leave the north, go to the south. And then they got killed there.

So, for us, this is the worst, because what we have is, on the one side, the talk of “We would like humanitarian law to be respected. We would like civilians to be considered. Limit the collateral damage of civilians,” and yet, what we have seen time and again is there are no consequences evident for not doing that. And so, we have, with the looming end of this truce — and, it seems, not enough political will to really have a ceasefire — what we would regard as a kind of talking one thing but no consequences. So we can tell the Israeli forces, the Netanyahu government, “Please try to limit the killing of civilians, start doing that,” but we’re not really seeing any consequences if they don’t.

And we do know that the United States is providing billions in aid, its military aid. And so, you know, it seems that that aid could well be used, with no consequences, to violate international norms, the Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian law. And for us, that’s just unacceptable.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And finally, Avril Benoît, MSF International President Christos Christou posted this update on Tuesday, that while he was visiting the MSF team at the Khalil Suleiman Hospital in Jenin, the Israeli army conducted an incursion on the refugee camp.

AVRIL BENOÎT: Yes. And one of the most difficult things about that is that —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to play a clip. We’re going to play a clip — 

AVRIL BENOÎT: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: — of Christou right now.

AVRIL BENOÎT: Sounds good.

CHRISTOS CHRISTOU: It’s been already two-and-a-half hours that we are trapped in our hospital here in Jenin, while the Israeli forces are operating in another incursion in Jenin camp. There is no way for any of the injured patients to reach the hospital, and there’s no way for us to reach these people. There’s nothing worse for a doctor to know that there are people there needing our care, and they cannot get it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Avril Benoît, if you could comment on that and also the fact that two children were killed in Jenin just today?

AVRIL BENOÎT: Yes. Well, as Dr. Christou, our international president, said, if people cannot access a facility in the West Bank, already you can see the grave concern that we have. Under humanitarian law, anyone should be able to reach a hospital. And to have a hospital surrounded, blocked, so that no one can actually bring their injured children, bring their wounded to that hospital, for us, is a complete outrage. It’s been happening systematically in Gaza. And for us to now see it elsewhere is something that we, as the international community, should never accept.

And that is one of the reasons that we are speaking so loudly and in a united voice with the humanitarian aid agencies for a ceasefire, a proper ceasefire, to stop the killing, stop the siege, and allow aid to come in unconditionally and for the people to be helped, saved, and to be able to resume their lives in some shape or form.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Avril Benoît, for joining us. This ceasefire, we will see, goes day by day, those children in Jenin killed yesterday. Avril Benoît is executive director of Doctors Without Borders.

Coming up, we’ll be speaking with the acclaimed Gazan human rights attorney Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. He’s going to be joining us from Cairo, after his house was bombed in northern Gaza. We will find out about his journey south. Then we’ll speak with the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Greg Grandin about the death of Henry Kissinger. Stay with us.

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