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Bombs, Disease, Starvation: Canadian Doctor Describes the Desperate Situation Inside Gaza

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As Israel continues to threaten to invade Rafah, where over a million Palestinians have sought refuge, we speak to a surgeon who recently returned from a humanitarian mission at the European Hospital in Khan Younis in Gaza. “What I saw in Khan Younis were the most horrific scenes in my entire life,” says Canadian ophthalmologist Dr. Yasser Khan. He describes the dire conditions of injured civilians in Gaza, the majority of whom are children. “The genocidal intent of Israeli politicians, the Israeli army, is really clear. What is really bizarre is that they haven’t hid it,” says Khan. “The killing machine that Israel has unleashed on the healthcare system, I think, is unprecedented. … If the bombings are not going to get you, then disease will surely get you.”

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StoryJul 03, 2024“This Must End”: Israel Orders New Mass Evacuation, Continuing Attacks on Gaza Health System
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We turn now to Gaza, to Israel threatening to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, where over a million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge. On Monday, President Biden hosted King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House. During public remarks, Biden initially described Israel’s operation in Rafah as, quote, “our operation.”

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As I said yesterday, our military operation in Rafah — the major military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible plan, a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support of more than 1 million people sheltering there.

AMY GOODMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah condemned Israel’s plan to attack Rafah and called for a ceasefire and the creation of a Palestinian state.

KING ABDULLAH II: We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah. It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe. The situation is already unbearable for over a million people who have been pushed into Rafah since the war started. We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end. … Seven decades of occupation, death and destruction have proven beyond any doubt that there can be no peace without a political horizon. Military and security installations are not the answer. They can never bring peace. Civilians on both sides continue to pay for this protracted conflict with their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Toronto, where we’re joined by Dr. Yasser Khan. He’s a Canadian ophthalmologist and eye surgeon who recently returned from a humanitarian surgical mission at the European Hospital in Khan Younis in Gaza.

Dr. Khan, welcome to Democracy Now! If you can describe what you saw there in Khan Younis, the level of the injuries, how crowded the European Hospital was, the threats people were facing there?

DR. YASSER KHAN: Thank you very much for having me.

Well, you know, I look at the impending invasion of Rafah and the attacks on Rafah, and I know, because I’ve seen it — I know what’s going to happen. I know the casualties, and I know how much worse it’s going to get.

When I was in Khan Younis a few weeks ago — I’ve been to over 40 different countries, you know, doing humanitarian work, anywhere from in Africa, Asia and South America. And what I saw in Khan Younis were the most horrific scenes in my entire life, and I hope I never see them again. It was just — you know, the bombings were going on every few hours at that point in time. The Israeli forces were about a kilometer away. And the mass casualties kept on coming in.

And it was mostly — I mean, the majority of the patients that I treated were children, anywhere from the age of 2 to 17. I mean, I saw horrific eye and facial injuries that I’ve never seen before, eyes shattered in two 6-year-old children with shrapnel that I had to take out, eyes with shrapnel stuck inside, facial injuries. I saw orthopedic injuries where — you know, limbs just cut off and dangling. I saw abdominal injuries that were just horrific. And it was just mass chaos. There was children on the floor, unattended to, with head trauma, people suturing patients without anesthesia on the ground. It was just mass chaos and really horrific, horrific scenes.

And I know that now with the bombing going on in Rafah and scenes of children hanging exploded and, you know, half their bodies cut off and hanging on a wall because they’ve been exploded — I mean, those are scenes going on now. So I know exactly what my colleagues are going through right now in Rafah and in Gaza, basically.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Doctor, you were working shifts of 12-, 13-hour days. Can you talk about the conditions of the medical staff and the doctors you worked alongside with? Where did you sleep? Were you able to eat? Could you talk about those conditions you faced?

DR. YASSER KHAN: Well, the doctors were amazing. I mean, the Palestinian doctors were amazing. Their dedication and their will to resist dying and staying alive was amazing. They’re talented. But they have nothing. There’s no antibiotics. There’s no painkillers. On the last day I was leaving, we ran out of morphine, which is very important in a lot of orthopedic injuries.

So, patients were — I mean, the whole European Gaza Hospital was, at the time — now everything I’m saying and — everything I saw is much worse now. But, basically, it was overcrowded, about 300, 400% over capacity. There was patients and bodies lying all over the hospital floor, inside and outside. They had orthopedic devices coming from their legs or their arms. They were getting infected, they were in pain, because they were on the floor, so the conditions weren’t very sterile. And if they survived amputation the first time, the infection would get them, because then they’d have to be amputated after.

A lot of the kids that I saw — and more than 60% of the patients I saw were children — they’re thin. They had no fat on them. They’re starving, because, as you know, Israel has had a food blockade since this war on Gaza started. And so, they’re all thin, with no fat, starving. And they were coming in, and, you know, it was just — and we didn’t have enough supplies, enough gauze, enough antibiotics, enough instruments even — the instruments are rusting — to kind of, you know, deal with the mass trauma.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Khan —

DR. YASSER KHAN: I stayed in the hospital — yes, please.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Khan, this is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland speaking Monday ahead of a vote on the $95 billion aid package to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Madam President, I want that to sink in. Kids in Gaza are now dying from the deliberate withholding of food. In addition to the horror of that news, one other thing is true: That is a war crime. It is a textbook war crime. … And that makes those who orchestrate it war criminals.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Dr. Khan, you’re talking about the thinness of the children, of the whole population.

DR. YASSER KHAN: Yeah. Well, you know, Amy, it’s — you know, from what I saw and what I experienced when I was on the ground, speaking to officials, speaking to the doctors there, and this whole — you know, one of the whole aspects of this war on Gaza, you know, the genocidal intent of Israeli politicians, the Israeli army has been clear. What is really bizarre is they haven’t hid it. They have openly called for it. They have openly called for epidemics.

And so, as a healthcare professional, the attack on the healthcare system has been unprecedented. I mean, the viciousness of it, the killing machine that Israel has unleashed on the healthcare system, I think, is unprecedented. Hospitals have been bombed. When the doctors have tried to repopulate them, they’ve been — you know, sniper fire with drones has prevented them from going in.

They’ve attacked the sewage system, the water system, so the sewage mixes with the drinking water. And you get diarrheal diseases, bacterial diseases. You know, cholera, typhoid is not far away. Hepatitis A is epidemic there now. They’re living in cramped spaces.

They have killed over 300 or 400 healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics. Ambulances have been bombed. This has all been a systematic sort of — you know, by destroying the healthcare system, you’re contributing to the genocide.

What’s going on is now there’s 10,000 to 15,000 bodies that are decomposing. So, it’s raining season right now in Gaza. So all the rainwater mixes with the decomposing bodies, and that bacteria mixes with the drinking water supply, and you get further disease.

They have kidnapped about 40, 45 doctors, that have been specifically targeted. They have targeted specifically specialists who are, you know, one-offs. So, like, the one nephrologist in the Gaza Strip was targeted. The pathologists, hospital chiefs and directors have all been targeted through drones or targeted missile strikes.

And, you know, so the whole thing is that if the bombings are not going to get you, then disease will surely get you, because they’re all malnourished. So, as you know, if you’re malnourished, your immune system is weaker, so you’re more susceptible to disease. But there’s no antibiotics.

You know, the amount of amputations I saw in children, for example — both arms, one arm, one leg, both eyes gone, you know, both eyes amputated, basically, out of their eye socket — you know, it’s amazing. I mean, it takes about — you know, if this was done properly in a nonwar scenario, one amputation in a child, a child will need about nine to 12 surgeries by the time they’re an adult, you know, for prosthetic fitting and whatnot. Now, in this case, first of all, it’s a war situation. They have not been done properly, fair enough, because you have to rush it. But secondly, who is going to take care of these children? Most of them mostly children. Because their parents are gone. Their uncles are dead. Their grandfathers and grandmothers are dead.

And so, you know, the Israeli killing machine has been vicious. I mean, they’ve used drones. When I was there, I was speaking to doctors who were there, and they told me that they’ve used drones like the Hellfire drone, that is an explosive drone. It fires off these discs once it implodes or explodes. And these discs are very unique, and they cause unique amputations. Most amputations occur at the weak points, like the elbow or the knee. But they cause, you know, mid-thigh, mid-arm amputations, which are much more complicated. And they fire off this shrapnel.

And, you know, from what the doctors are telling me, that what I believe is that they’re using weapons on the civilian population that have never been used before, because from what I heard, based on my experience, you know, Israel has a very strong defense industry, and buyers like weapons that are battle-tested. So, if you can put a label to your new weapon that it’s battle-tested, that increases the value of it. And they’re experimenting with these weapons, from what I’ve heard and from what I saw, in a civilian-dense population. So, it’s just — it’s been vicious, really, really vicious.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Yasser Khan, I want to thank you for being with us, Canadian ophthalmologist, eye surgeon, based in Toronto, Canada, just recently returned from a humanitarian surgical mission at the European Hospital in Khan Younis in Gaza.

When we come back, we’ll be joined by climate scientist Michael Mann, just awarded a million dollars in a defamation lawsuit against two right-wing critics. Back in 20 seconds.

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