Israel has killed more than 8,200 children in Gaza, which the U.N. now calls the most dangerous place in the world to be a child. We speak with Steve Sosebee of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which provides medical and humanitarian aid to Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank, about how at least six Palestinians the organization had brought to the United States for free medical care have now been killed in Gaza. Sosebee shares the stories of Izzeddin Nawasra and Mohammed Al-Ajouri, two young men who were shot by Israeli snipers during the Great March of Return protests in 2018 and received medical care in the U.S. from PCRF. Both were killed alongside their families by Israeli airstrikes on and after Christmas Day. Sosebee also describes the state of medical care in Gaza, where patients are being forced to undergo amputations without anesthesia and forgo life-saving medications amid Israel’s ongoing blockade.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Sheikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue to look at Israel’s war on Gaza and turn now to the war’s impact on children. According to Palestinian officials, the Israeli assault has killed more than 8,200 children in Gaza over the past 11 weeks. At least 8,600 children have been injured. UNICEF says some 1,000 Palestinian children have had limbs amputated without anesthesia due to the lack of basic medical resources.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Steve Sosebee, founder of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an organization that provides medical and humanitarian aid to Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank. The fund, founded in 1991, has helped build pediatric cancer center units, emergency departments and ICUs in Gaza.
Six Palestinians that the group brought to the United States for free medical care in recent years have been killed in Gaza since October 7th, two of them killed this week within a day of each other. Izzeddin Nawasra was killed on Christmas with his entire family, and Mohammed Al-Ajouri was killed the day after Christmas with his wife and baby.
Steve Sosebee, our deepest condolences. If you can talk about these two, well, people who were children when you met them, when they were brought to the United States? You brought them to get them medical care, and now killed in the Israeli attacks in Gaza. Tell us about them.
STEVE SOSEBEE: Yeah, well, both of them were amputees. Both had been shot by snipers during the Great Return marches of 2018. They were teenagers who were participating in peaceful protests at the gates, at the borders of Gaza. They’re refugees. They were born into refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. Their families were the descendants of refugees from 1948, when the state of Israel was created, and were, as all refugees in Palestine, demanding the right to return to their villages, to their homes, to their towns within Israel.
During these protests, both had suffered below-knee amputations from the result of being shot by a sniper. And our organization, as a humanitarian organization, identifies these kids who need medical care they can’t get locally. And the quality of prosthetic care in Gaza before October 7th was really underdeveloped and in need of improvement, which we were working on. So these kids were brought outside for treatment.
Izzeddin was brought to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he was provided a new leg and taught to walk again. And Mohammed was brought to Dayton, Ohio, where the same thing. Both of them were provided below-knee prosthetics for free, treated by excellent facilities and also by our communities, who took care of them as host families. And they became very much integrated in the communities, part of the communities where people want to be involved more in helping these children. Both of them had great experiences during their treatment. They flourished, being outside of Gaza for the first time in their lives.
And when we sent them back home, as we do with all of our injured kids, both of them started to have a new hope in life. For the first time since their injuries, they were able to go back to school. They were becoming independent. They were mobile. In the case of Izzeddin, we even hired him to become a field worker for our organization. And one of the areas that he was quite interested in was photography. And so we gave him the opportunity to learn and to train in photography to become part of our communications team. And he was flourishing. He was, you know, having an opportunity to — it was a dream for him to help his own people.
I’ve been in touch with both of them during the war, the bombings in Gaza. And Izzeddin, in particular, I was quite close with, because I had taken him back home after his treatment. And he had mentioned that, you know, he was still alive, because that’s the communication you have with people in Gaza these days. It’s just a very basic, “Are you still alive?” It’s not much else you can really say. “I hope you’re OK.” It’s kind of a painful way of expressing your sympathy and support for the people there. And, you know, he was always responding, “Yes, I’m fine. How are you?” and then, recently, was asking, you know, “How can I do more to help my people? I’m looking for ways to be part of humanitarian work here on the ground during this terrible crisis.” So, even during this period, a boy who had lost his leg and who was, you know, disabled for the rest of his life, in a certain sense, was looking for ways to help his own people during this terrible crisis. And both of them are, as you mentioned, two of six kids that we brought to the United States who have been killed over the past two-and-a-half months.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Steve Sosebee, you mentioned, of course, that even before October 7th, the care for amputees in Gaza was very, very poor. If you could talk about what you’re hearing from your colleagues in Gaza now, where there are so many children who are in need of prosthetic limbs? What is the situation there now, especially since also, as we reported, you know, there isn’t even anesthesia available for operations for children who are so much in need?
STEVE SOSEBEE: Yeah, it’s hard to even convey the idea that in this world today that children are being amputated, having limbs amputated, as a result of traumatic injury, without anesthesia. And by the way, there’s plenty of anesthesia medicine at the border of Egypt waiting to enter Gaza. There’s plenty of food at the border of Egypt ready to enter Gaza. Children are starving. People are starving in Gaza. It’s not as if there’s some kind of natural disaster that’s preventing anesthesia medicine to come into Gaza and be able to be utilized to treat injured children. This is absolutely unimaginable that this is happening in this modern world. And we’re witnessing it, and everybody sees it, and nothing is changing.
The fact that there’s now 1,000 new amputees, at least — and that number is going to grow, because a lot of these kids are with significant injuries in which their limbs are going to have to be amputated in the coming weeks and months. Let’s keep in mind, not only were they amputated without anesthesia, but many of them were amputated in a very quick fashion. And, you know, God bless the doctors and nurses in the health sector in Gaza. They are the true heroes in this, if there are any heroes in this, and there are, of course, among the Palestinian health workers. They’re the ones who are, day and night, in the hospitals, exhausted, as their own families are living under bombs and being killed, trying to help their own patients. And they’re doing these amputations in a very quick manner, because they have so many injured cases coming in. And a lot of these kids who are suffering traumatic amputations have to have surgery again in the future and even furthe amputations, because they’re not getting the adequate care in the initial stages of an amputation. So they’re going to need revision surgery.
So, what we’re trying to do is we are identifying these kids, get them out and get them the treatment they need first, and ensuring that they have adequate surgical services, and then fitting them with prosthetics and getting them walking again. There is no services at all in Gaza for amputees. The hundreds of kids that we’ve treated over the years who’ve suffered traumatic amputations in Gaza, like Mohammed and Izzeddin, who were killed this week, those kids are — their limbs are breaking down. They’re being destroyed. They’re being — they need to be adjusted. They need to be repaired. So these kids are now going again without limbs. And you can imagine, under these circumstances, once again being dependent on others to carry you around, or being on crutches while your neighborhoods are being bombed or your refugee camps are being bombed, is just an unimaginable situation. And this is the reality. There’s absolutely no services available for them right now.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, on November 25th, during the seven-day truce, Defense for Children Palestine filmed an interview with 12-year-old Dunia, who lost her leg in an Israeli airstrike that killed her whole family. Dunia then was herself killed on December 17th after an Israeli tank-fired shell hit her while she was recovering in Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. This is part of her interview with Defense for Children Palestine, which we’re playing posthumously.
DUNIA A.: [translated] When they shelled us with the second missile, I woke up and was surrounded by rubble. I realized that my leg had been cut off, because there was blood and I had no leg. I tried to move it, but it wouldn’t move. My father and mother were martyred. My brother Mohammad and my sister Dalia, too. I want someone to take me abroad, to any country, to install a prosthetic leg, to be able to walk like other people, so that I can move and go out and play with my siblings. I want to become a doctor, like those who treat us, so that I can treat other children. I only want one thing: for the war to end.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s 12-year-old Dunia, who was killed on December 17th. Steve, if you could talk more broadly about the crisis in medical facilities generally, I mean, even the most basic care that’s no longer available to people in Gaza, who need it now more than they ever have, and talk also about specifically the cancer hospitals that you’ve built there?
STEVE SOSEBEE: Yeah. So, prior to October 7th, we were on the ground in Gaza identifying needs in all of the various specialties in the health sector and developing programs to support the improvement of patient care and reducing the need for patients to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment that they should be getting locally. We were training doctors. We were bringing in medication, medical support. We were bringing in medical teams from all over the world — we’re the main organization doing this — and providing hands-on training and support in various specialties that don’t exist in Gaza — open-heart surgery for children, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and so on and so forth, reconstructive surgery. These were all specialties that we were identifying as a need on the ground and bringing in teams to address those needs.
And in addition to that, we were identifying significant gaps in the health sector, like the lack of pediatric cancer treatment for children, in which prior to our opening of the only cancer department in Gaza in 2019, every single child in Gaza with cancer had to travel outside for treatment. And a lot of them were suffering, and in many cases even dying, due to the lack of permits being issued or the access to care.
After October 7th, the health sector, as you all know, has been almost completely destroyed. There’s only a few hospitals now functioning, most of them in the south. The European Gaza Hospital, Nasser Hospital, Al-Aqsa Hospital are the three main hospitals in the center and in the south of the Gaza Strip that are now operating, but they’re basically just triage centers. They’re doing some CPR there.
And this is what needs to be pointed out, as Amy said in the early part of the show when she mentioned the statistics of over 8,000 children in Gaza have been killed. They’ve been killed by bombings. They’ve been killed by traumatic injury. What about the children who have heart disease, who need medical care they can’t get in Gaza anymore? What about the kids who have neurological disorders or have cancer or have other types of, in many cases, quite serious injuries or diseases, that they otherwise would get through our medical teams coming in or through the health system being available that can do elective surgeries, no longer having access to treatment, kids with diabetes, kids with dialysis? All of these children no longer have medical care, and they’re dying, or they’re not getting treatment. In many cases, their conditions are getting worse, and they’re suffering.What about kids that are now in these internally displaced areas, like these U.N. schools, where they’re sharing a toilet with 700, 800 people, all these communicable diseases going around within these small communities, or these huge communities now, of internally displaced people? They’re getting sick. They don’t have access to primary care. And in some cases, these children are dying.
Add to that the fact that a significant number of children now in Gaza are suffering from hunger and from starvation. All of these factors, in addition to the over 8,000 children that have been killed through bombings of their homes and of their schools and of their mosques and churches and hospitals, you add all of those numbers up, and it’s an absolute humanitarian catastrophe, far beyond what anybody can even articulate properly in words. It’s unimaginable.
Our cancer department, which we opened up in February 2019, was the first shining symbol of hope in Gaza that we can do something. It was built by our community. It wasn’t built by a government. It wasn’t built by a foundation. It was built by thousands of people coming together and saying children with cancer in Gaza shouldn’t have to go without treatment. And that’s the kind of ethos that we believe very strongly in, that you bring the services to them, you develop the services, and these children get treatment near their families with the best care possible. That’s destroyed. That hospital has been closed down since November 7th. It was bombed on November 5th.
When you hear the words of Dunia, the 12-year-old girl who was killed — God rest her soul — and what she expressed, that she wants to go outside, she wants to walk again, she wants be a doctor, this is the hope of all the children in Gaza. And what we’re going to do, what I’m going to do in the future is — every one of these children needs not only a new leg to walk again and to have their bodies repaired, but they need long-term healing. They need an opportunity to develop themselves into doctors. We have to give them that opportunity. Their lives are being destroyed. Their lives are destroyed. But they want hope for a better future. We have to come together as a community. We have to come together as people who have love in our hearts, not hatred, and serve these children for the long term, develop programs where kids like Dunia, who’s 12 years old without a leg — God rest her soul — have a chance for a better future. We have to take that responsibility. We’re going to take that responsibility. That’s the only way we can bring peace and healing to the children of Gaza during this nightmare of suffering and death that they’re enduring today.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve Sosebee, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Again, our condolences. Founder of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an organization that provides medical and humanitarian aid to Palestinian children in Gaza, speaking to us today from Washington, D.C.
Coming up, we look at Secretary of State Tony Blinken and the Homeland Security chief’s meeting with the Mexican president in Mexico City yesterday, discussing migration and the border. Back in 20 seconds.