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“This Must End”: Israel Orders New Mass Evacuation, Continuing Attacks on Gaza Health System

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The Israeli military has issued new evacuation orders for eastern Khan Younis and Rafah, where more than 250,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter following multiple previous forced displacements. Monday’s order prompted a flight from European Hospital, one of the few remaining partially functioning hospitals in Gaza, which has now shut down. “The situation is dire,” says Dr. James Smith, an emergency medical doctor who spent nearly two months treating patients in the Gaza Strip before returning to London in June. “We have an obligation as healthcare workers, as public health advocates, to state very clearly … our demands not only for an immediate and sustained ceasefire, but an end to the Israeli occupation.”

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

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

In Gaza, an Israeli airstrike Tuesday afternoon on a building in Deir al-Balah inside an Israeli-declared safe zone killed at least a dozen people, including nine members of one family across three generations — grandparents, parents and children as young as 3 years old — this according to the Associated Press. Among those killed was Dr. Hossam Hamdan, head of the burns and plastic surgery department at Nasser Hospital. The family had fled their home in the middle of the night, after the Israeli military ordered new evacuation orders for areas in southern Gaza, including eastern Rafah and Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city.

The United Nations estimates up to a quarter of a million people live in the area covered by the evacuation order, which has triggered the third mass displacement of Palestinians in Gaza in as many months. Over a million people have fled Rafah since May following Israel’s invasion there, and tens of thousands have been displaced in the past week amidst a new Israeli offensive in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood in Gaza City.

Monday’s evacuation order also prompted a frantic flight from European Hospital in eastern Khan Younis, one of the few remaining partially functioning hospitals in Gaza. The facility shut down after thousands of medical staff, patients and displaced families seeking shelter on the hospital grounds evacuated overnight. The Red Cross said some families dragged patients in their hospital beds through the streets for up to six miles to reach safety.

More than 37,900 Palestinians have been killed and over 87,100 wounded in Gaza since October. There’s an unknown number of thousands dead in the rubble.

We hope to reach Gaza momentarily, but first we go to London, where we’re joined by Dr. James Smith, an emergency medical doctor who returned from Gaza in June. He spent nearly two months treating patients at trauma stabilization points in al-Mawasi and Rafah. He also worked in the emergency rooms of Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah and Al-Awda Hospital in Nuseirat.

Tell us the latest that you’re hearing, Dr. Smith, as the situation becomes ever more dire in Gaza.

DR. JAMES SMITH: Thanks, Amy.

As you say, the situation is dire. And indeed, it was dire when we last spoke. In fact, it was dire prior to October of last year.

As you’ve reported, nearly a quarter of a million people are now in this new red zone as designated by the Israeli military. We’ve heard reports, as you’ve mentioned, of caretakers and family members having to drag patients from the European Gaza Hospital several kilometers in order to seek some degree of safety. Now, of course, that notion of safety is an incredibly fragile one in Gaza. We’ve heard repeatedly — and, indeed, I’ve seen it firsthand — that nowhere is safe in Gaza. As you’ve mentioned, Dr. Hamdan was killed along with members of his family yesterday in a supposedly safe area. There are, on a daily basis, air and artillery strikes, naval shelling from the Israeli warships off the coastline in Gaza into areas that are supposedly safe areas.

The situation with respect to the European Gaza Hospital is beyond catastrophic. EGH was, is one of the biggest hospitals in Gaza, after Shifa and Nasser, both of which have been intentionally targeted and decimated over the course of recent months by the Israelis. And what that means, the forced evacuation of staff and patients from in and around EGH means that the few remaining partially functional hospitals have had to try as best they can to absorb the additional medical need, hundreds of patients that are still in need of immediate medical and surgical care. And we’re talking here about hospitals that are already beyond capacity. They have, by some miracle, by some testament to the determination of Palestinian colleagues, been able to respond to some of those additional pressures, but with phenomenal difficulties.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Smith, what will happen to the — from your experience, to the many patients who were not able to evacuate that hospital?

DR. JAMES SMITH: So, we know from the way that the Israeli military has behaved in its targeting, in its raids on and in the way that it’s besieged other healthcare facilities, that those patients that are unable to leave European Gaza Hospital now face the very grave threat of immediate Israeli violence. We know of patients that have been shot and injured within hospital compounds. We know of patients that have died in their hospital beds elsewhere in occupied Palestine, in the West Bank, of course. We know of Israeli troops that have raided healthcare facilities to assassinate Palestinians in their hospital beds. The risk that those patients face is phenomenally high now.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Israel released the doctor of Gaza’s largest medical center after detaining him without charge for seven months. Dr. Muhammad Abu Salmiya of Al-Shifa Hospital said after his release, his Israeli captors broke his fingers while he was in captivity, repeatedly struck him in the head as part of daily torture he and other Palestinians endured. This is what he said.

DR. MUHAMMAD ABU SALMIYA: [translated] The prisoners are undergoing extremely harsh conditions, from scarcity of food and drink, as well as physical torture. The prisoners are all facing brutal conditions right now. … Hundreds of medical staff, including doctors, nurses, radiation specialists and others, were targeted and are stuck in occupation army prisons being tortured.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Abu Salmiya said prisoners lost an average of 25 kilos, or 55 pounds, of body weight after they were denied adequate food and water. I mean, we’re talking about the director of Al-Shifa Hospital, who had his fingers broken and described the rest. Can you respond to this, Dr. Smith?

DR. JAMES SMITH: So, the testimony from Dr. Abu Salmiya is one of many hundreds, if not thousands, that we have heard, not only over the course of the last several months, but over the course of the history of the Israeli occupation. Details of illegal detention, torture and extrajudicial killings in the context of Israeli detention are not new. They have a long history in occupied Palestine. During my time in Gaza, I treated people that had been released from detention, including healthcare workers, all of whom recounted the most horrific stories of the ways that they had been treated in Israeli captivity.

We actually don’t now currently have accurate figures for the total number of people who are being held hostage in Israeli detention camps. There is a complete lack of transparency. There is no access for independent observers or human rights observers.

And of those who have been released, as you’ve mentioned, they are recounting the most horrific testimonies of direct experience of torture or having witnessed other individuals being tortured. They also recount experiences of medical negligence on the part of Israeli healthcare workers and, on occasion, as Dr. Abu Salmiya has mentioned himself, the direct participation of Israeli healthcare workers in acts of torture.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Smith, I’m wondering — I know your main concern is the treatment, the medical treatment, of those injured in Gaza. But I’m wondering your reaction to reports in recent days that even the generals of the Israeli army are calling for, are urging a ceasefire, because their troops are exhausted and they see that as the main way to free the remaining hostages, yet the Netanyahu government persists in pursuing the war.

DR. JAMES SMITH: I can’t say I’m particularly interested in the exhaustion of occupying forces, but we absolutely need a ceasefire. And as a medical professional, yes, you are right to say that my priority is administering care to those who suffer from illness and injury. But, of course, medicine is deeply and inherently political. We have an obligation as healthcare workers, as public health advocates, to state very clearly and to escalate in whatever way possible our demands not only for an immediate and sustained ceasefire, but an end to the Israeli occupation of occupied Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Dr. James Smith, you’re speaking to us from London. You’re a British citizen. There are elections tomorrow. Hundreds of thousands of Brits have gone into the streets to protest, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the occupation, over these months. How much of an issue is it in these elections right now?

DR. JAMES SMITH: I mean, we know that the U.K. government is clearly complicit in not only the ongoing genocide in Gaza, but the protracted occupation of Palestine. Indeed, the U.K. government was instrumental in the formation of the Israeli entity and the violence that has since followed.

The question of what is happening in Palestine is clearly a major electoral issue in the U.K. There are very few parliamentary parties. Certainly, the two leading parties have made it very clearly that it— sorry, rather, made it very clear that they are not about solidarity with Palestine or the Palestinian people. And many people will vote and act accordingly.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a senior member of the U.N. humanitarian and reconstruction — the U.N. senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag, addressing the U.N. Security Council in Gaza on Tuesday — rather, in New York, saying there’s no place in Gaza that’s safe.

SIGRID KAAG: The war has not merely created the most profound of humanitarian crises. It has unleashed a maelstrom of human misery. The public health system, as you know, has collapsed; schools destroyed. One-point-nine million people are now displaced across Gaza. I am deeply concerned about reports of new evacuation orders issued into the area of Khan Younis. Its impact on the civilian population is deep. In Gaza, nowhere is safe.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final comment, Dr. James Smith?

DR. JAMES SMITH: I mean, that’s absolutely true, a maelstrom of human misery, entirely manufactured, and much of the world watching on in clear complicity with Israel’s ongoing war crimes and its genocide against the Palestinian people. This must end. It should never have been allowed to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. James Smith, emergency medical doctor, just returned from Gaza, spent nearly two months treating patients at trauma stabilization points in al-Mawasi and Rafah. He also worked in the emergency rooms of Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah and Al-Awda Hospital in Nuseirat. We had hoped to go to Gaza, but we haven’t been able to reach the doctor there.

When we come back, as Democrats discuss whether President Biden should stand down as a candidate following his disastrous debate performance, we’ll speak with Jim Zogby, senior member of the Democratic National Committee, who is making a call for an open and transparent nomination process, calling for President Biden to step down. Stay with us.

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