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“3 Days of Hell”: Israel Raids Nasser Hospital, Arrests Staff in Latest Assault on Gaza Medical System

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As Israeli forces raid Nasser Hospital in Gaza, trapping hundreds of patients there and arresting medical staff, we speak with emergency room physician Dr. Thaer Ahmad, who just recently returned to the United States after three weeks volunteering at the hospital. “We’re just asking that hospitals not be targeted, that they not be bombed, and that doctors and nurses can provide for their patients without being worried that they may be killed, that they may be abducted or arrested,” says Ahmad. “We need a ceasefire now. Hospitals need to be protected and functioning.” He also criticizes the American Medical Association for speaking out against Russian attacks on hospitals in Ukraine but staying silent on much more widespread attacks on medical facilities and personnel in Gaza.

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

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined in Chicago by Dr. Thaer Ahmad, an emergency room physician who spent three weeks in Gaza volunteering at Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. He’s a board member for MedGlobal, which has an office in Gaza, and is working with the World Health Organization. Dr. Ahmad just returned to Chicago, where he’s the global health director of his hospital and also an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Thanks for joining us again, Dr. Ahmad. If you can give us the latest on what took place? The hospital where you volunteered, Al-Nasser Hospital, one of the largest in southern Gaza, the World Health Organization has called it now nonfunctional. The Israeli raid took place this weekend. Explain what you understand is taking place.

DR. THAER AHMAD: Well, this all really started just about a month ago. While I was there in Khan Younis at Nasser Hospital, the Israeli tanks and the military was inching closer and closer to the hospital and had made its way around the complex of the hospital. And many of the staff then had told me that this was going to unfold. What we’re seeing happening now over the course of a week, they had predicted this is exactly what would happen. And they knew that because many of them had been displaced from other hospitals throughout the Gaza Strip. Many of them had come from Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah. Many of them had come from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

And so, they had predicted that what would happen is people would be forced to be displaced from around the compound, where thousands of people were sheltering, that there would be very intense bombing and shelling, there would be demands for them to leave, there would be threats, just like we saw happen all of last week, and then, finally, there would be an assault on the hospital, a raid with troops, and many people would be abducted. And they even said what would happen during the abduction. They said Israeli troops would clear the hospital floor by floor, and whoever they felt like detaining and abducting, they would take them, and they would be gone anywhere from two weeks to four weeks, and they’d be subjected to humiliation and torture. And they predicted that many people would unnecessarily die. And that’s exactly what we heard.

I was also able to get an update from Dr. Khaled, the trauma surgeon that you just mentioned. And one of the things that he said in that message was that there was — it was three days of hell for patients and for doctors and for staff. He had mentioned that they were essentially asking many of the staff and the patients to keep moving from building to building within the medical complex. He mentioned that, you know, they had to move 65 patients that were bedbound, using one elevator, to the smallest and oldest building in the compound. And it was him and 20 of the medical staff members that remained, while there were 200 patients.

And the other thing is, yes, electricity was cut off, and ICU patients died, but I just kind of want to give the details of how that happens. When you cut off electricity, especially for ICU patients, many of whom are dependent on ventilators to breathe, once you cut off that electricity, they suffocate to death, and they die. And that’s what happens to them. And we know two of the patients in the ICU died that way. We also know, from Dr. Khaled and many of the other physicians and staff members that are there, that a missile struck one of the patient wards in the hospital, and it instantly killed a person, injuring six others.

And just like the World Health Organization mentioned that this hospital is not functioning, but there’s pandemonium. It’s total chaos. These patients, many of whom are either amputees or they have been injured or they’re even just sick from some sort of bacterial infection, they’re not able to move around. And there is no staff to check on them or to give them the antibiotics that they need or to deliver the care. And so there is a true level of uncertainty taking place here. They are all at risk. I believe you mentioned how the WHO said that there are 20 who need urgent referral. If that doesn’t happen in the next two to three days, those people will die. They will be killed in this process.

And I think what we’re seeing is an assault, overall, on the healthcare system. It’s already devastated, and you’re talking about the largest hospital in southern Gaza, one of two referral hospitals that remain in all of the Gaza Strip, and one that was able to handle multiple operating room cases at one time. And so, it’s not operable. It’s not functioning. And that is absolutely devastating. It’s a public health nightmare. And it’s horrifying to think what will happen to all of the people who need care in the Gaza Strip for an already overwhelmed system.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard anything, Dr. Ahmad, of Atef al-Hout, the director of the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis? We’re seeing tweets that he was abducted by the Israeli military.

DR. THAER AHMAD: Yeah, I know him. I mean, he is the director there. He was somebody that said that he was going to remain in the hospital as long as there were patients there, even back when I was there and it was clear that there was an imminent siege that was going to take place. And the last that I saw was a picture of him speaking to an Israeli soldier. Nobody has heard from him since. Nobody knows what has happened to him. And again, this is very much part and parcel for what we’ve seen happen to healthcare workers and the healthcare system in Gaza. We know that the director of Shifa Hospital suffered a similar fate in terms of being abducted and detained and being subjected to torture and humiliation.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the reports of the patients who died? We have reports of eight patients who died. We see Dr. Alserr, who filed these video reports standing next to a dead patient. He said he died after the electricity was cut off.

DR. THAER AHMAD: Yeah. I mean, this is the problem, is when we are talking about a hospital system, we’re talking about the largest hospital, you’re going to have very sick patients, because the assumption is that this hospital has the capabilities to be able to take care of those patients. And Nasser Hospital, if it’s fully functional, is a phenomenal hospital with incredible physicians, Dr. Khaled being one of those physicians. We’re talking about probably the best and brightest clinicians in all of the world. And I can say that I’ve witnessed that firsthand.

When you are not able to deliver any sort of supplies or care to this hospital, when the electricity cuts off and these people are on ventilators or they can’t get an X-ray or a CT scan, or you can’t work a pump that can deliver antibiotics or fluid into an IV, we’re putting them at risk. We’re putting them at danger.

But I think people need to also recognize we’re causing an incredible amount of suffering to take place. You know, the ICU is on the fourth floor of the hospital at Nasser, as well as the operating rooms. They’re all on the fourth floor. Dr. Khaled shared with us around seven days ago that an operating room nurse was walking through the hallway and was hit by a sniper. And so he became one of the patients at Nasser Hospital. He needed to have emergency surgery. He needed to have a tube placed because his lung had collapsed from the sniper bullet that hit him. And he was walking on the fourth floor. I mean, that’s where all of us stayed. That’s where we slept when we were working at Nasser Hospital. And any of these patients, if you are to just walk through any of the floors at Nasser Hospital, you’ll see they’re lined up all next to each other. There is no space. Before any sort of siege, Nasser Hospital was 300% over capacity. There were over a thousand patients there. And there was not a single inch or space that you could walk without running into a patient.

And so, it’s exceptionally dangerous to leave these patients unattended, without medical staff being able to deliver the care that they need. It’s very dangerous when you’re not able to deliver supplies to restock the hospital. And then, when you cut off electricity and then raid the hospital and you hear reports of gunfire in the hospital, like we did, take place at Nasser Hospital, it becomes a bloodbath. It’s a massacre.

And that’s something that I think every single healthcare provider in the world should stand up against. I mean, that’s not something that’s acceptable. Hospitals cannot become targets. There has to be a different way to accomplish whatever military objective there is. These hospitals are lifelines regardless of what city they’re in, but especially in Gaza and especially in Khan Younis. A place like Nasser is the last place — is literally the last place of refuge, not just for patients and doctors, but for the many internally displaced people who thought that it would be safe there.

And so, when we’re talking about electricity being cut off, or maybe there’s shrapnel flying through the window, or any of these workers not being able to leave, it’s not just an inconvenience. It’s not just another incident. It is horrifying, and it becomes a bloodbath. It’s very, very concerning, what’s happened at Nasser Hospital, but it fits with what we’ve seen happen to all of the other hospitals in the Gaza Strip. And it started all the way in the north, and it seems to be heading towards the south. And that’s something that should concern every single person who wants some sort of ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, who want hostages to be released, and who wants the people of Gaza to get the desperately needed aid that they deserve and are in need of right now.

AMY GOODMAN: The significance of Dr. Ahmed Moghrabi leaving Nasser, who has stayed there all this time, the head of plastic surgery, but feeling at this point of the raid, to protect his family, he had to go south to Rafah?

DR. THAER AHMAD: Yeah. I mean, that’s the tragedy in all of this. This is what we’re forcing healthcare workers to do. This is what is happening to the healthcare system. I mean, as a result of that, people will die. People will suffer. And we cannot expect these healthcare workers to just be subjected to this sort of violence. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world.

And just as an American doctor who works in the United States, I remember when Ukraine had hospitals that were targeted, that the American Medical Association came out very strongly, and appropriately, saying hospitals and healthcare workers can never be targeted. For some reason, that is not happening in the Gaza Strip. We’re not hearing voices as loud. We’re not hearing professional societies like the American Medical Association come out against it.

And so that’s what happens. You have people like Dr. Ahmed, whose patients totally depend on him, but he’s at risk of death. He can be killed. And that’s not an overreaction. It has happened. Over 300 healthcare workers have died. Your show, your program reported on Hind, the 6-year-old, who was stuck in Gaza City, who was talking for three hours to the dispatcher from the Palestinian Red Crescent. She was waiting for somebody to rescue her. And then, when an ambulance with two paramedics were trying to reach her and were given the green light and coordinated with Israeli authorities, they were bombed and killed, and Hind was left to die. She had died. And this is just another chapter in the assault on the healthcare infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. And so, every way you look at this, it’s an absolute tragedy. And people will suffer as a result of this.

AMY GOODMAN: What has the American Medical Association said?

DR. THAER AHMAD: Nothing. I mean, nothing. And they’re not the only ones. Most of these professional societies, especially when it comes to the healthcare professions, have been silent on the Gaza Strip. And if you try to broach this subject, what we’re being told is that this is a very politically charged and polarizing topic. I reject that totally. That’s unacceptable. It’s not political or polarizing when you’re talking about children who are hungry, just like you reported early in the show. It is not political or polarizing when you’re talking about being able to treat patients, people getting dialysis, making sure that somebody doesn’t bleed to death. It’s not political or polarizing when you’re asking for antibiotics. We’re just asking that hospitals not be targeted, that they not be bombed, and that doctors and nurses can provide for their patients without being worried that they may be killed or that they may be abducted or arrested or whatever it is. They should be able to practice with that sort of peace of mind.

And it’s really unfortunate that, especially here in the States, we don’t have that sort of consensus. The entire international humanitarian community is in consensus. You need a ceasefire now. Hospitals need to be protected and functioning. The WHO says they want to be able to deliver supplies to Nasser Hospital. Why that sort of conversation is derailed in the United States is beyond me, but it’s something that’s no longer acceptable.

And it’s much too late now to come out and say something, so we need even stronger approaches now. We need efforts to deliver aid to the people of Gaza. One out of six children in the north of Gaza need immediate nutritional intervention. That just came out two days ago in a report by UNICEF. One out of six kids is starving, and we need to do something now. They need to be hospitalized so they can get the nutrition that they need. You’d think that that’s not something that’s very controversial, that any sort of organization anywhere in the world, regardless of the background or ethnicity or faith, should be able to call for that, should be able to say kids don’t need to go hungry.

AMY GOODMAN: I just checked. The American Public Health Association did urge President Biden and Congress to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza back in November, whether or not the American Medical Association did, which they didn’t. I want to thank you, Dr. Thaer Ahmad, an emergency room physician who spent three weeks in Gaza volunteering at Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, which was raided by the Israeli military this weekend. Dr. Ahmad is a board member for MedGlobal, which has an office in Gaza, is working with the World Health Organization.

Next up, to Russia. More than 400 people have been detained for publicly mourning the death of Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison Friday. We’ll speak with Russian American journalist Masha Gessen, staff writer for The New Yorker. Their latest piece, “The Death of Alexey Navalny, Putin’s Most Formidable Opponent.” Stay with us.

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