Middle East

US doctors back from ‘catastrophic’ Gaza urge Biden to halt Israel’s war

‘Situation in Gaza … was already catastrophic and I think we’re starting to see evidence that it’s getting a lot worse,’ Dr. Tammy Abughnaim tells Anadolu

Diyar Güldoğan  | 31.05.2024 - Update : 31.05.2024
US doctors back from ‘catastrophic’ Gaza urge Biden to halt Israel’s war

- ‘Situation in Gaza … was already catastrophic and I think we’re starting to see evidence that it’s getting a lot worse,’ Dr. Tammy Abughnaim tells Anadolu

- Biden has ‘the power to stop the war, like other American presidents who stopped previous wars,’ says Dr. Zaher Sahloul

- ‘There is no time of peace for the people in Gaza, for their families. A father dies, the next week the daughter dies,’ says Dr. Thaer Ahmad  


Doctors who have recently returned from humanitarian missions in the Gaza Strip have reiterated their call for the Biden administration to put an end to Israel’s deadly war on the besieged Palestinian enclave. 

“The situation in Gaza, when I was there in March, was already catastrophic and I think we're starting to see evidence that it’s getting a lot worse,” Dr. Tammy Abughnaim told Anadolu in Washington.

Abughnaim, a board-certified emergency physician from Illinois, said conditions in Gaza are getting “much, much worse” as Israel intensifies its attacks on the southern city of Rafah.

“I did not think it was possible … but right now I think we’re seeing (increasing) levels of (a) catastrophic, disastrous situation for the Palestinians that are there, all imposed by Israeli actions,” she added.

Speaking about the challenges as a doctor in Gaza, Abughnaim said they were not able to “effectively” deliver care because Israel blocked the flow of aid.

“It was very hard for me to be able to see people and not be able to help them in the way that I wanted, because Israel is not allowing them,” she said.

She said healthcare workers coming back from Gaza have a lot of stories, particularly those of suffering inflicted on innocent children.

“There was one night in Gaza where we had Israeli bombardments nonstop in the neighborhood of the hospital that I was at, and maybe 80% of the casualties were children,” she said.

“We got a flood of about 10 or 15 children coming into the hospital, and two of them were very small babies, three months and six months old, and both of them needed a ventilator, and we only had one ventilator.”

After intense efforts to resuscitate the babies, the team “realized that one of them was not going to survive,” she said.

“We made the decision to take him off of the ventilator. We discovered that his mom had been killed, his entire family had been killed and he was the last member of his family,” said Abughnaim.

“The hardest part about that situation was not only that we had to take away the breathing tube that was keeping this baby alive, but also that we were the only people in the world that knew what happened to that baby, and that nobody in Israel would ever be held accountable.”

Abughnaim called on the Biden administration to leverage its power over Israel to stop its war on Gaza.

“If you say there is a red line, hold Israel to that red line. Stop supplying them with the weapons that continue to perpetuate these crimes on the Palestinian people,” she said.   

‘It’s a catastrophe I cannot describe in words’

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, who has worked in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, and other war zones around the world, said Gaza “is the worst” he has ever seen.

“This is different … It’s a nightmare. When we were in Rafah, you see the war in front of your eyes,” Sahloul, the president of MedGlobal and a pulmonary and critical care associate professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, told Anadolu.

Many of the victims are women and children, he said, as he recalled the story of Mohamad Khalil, a 12-year-old boy who “had shrapnel in his head and belly” after an Israeli attack.

“We resuscitated him on the floor of the emergency room because there was not enough space … He had abdominal surgery. He never woke up. We pronounced him dead next day. We could not communicate with his family because there were no communications,” he said.

He said people in Gaza “are dying not only from the impact of the bombs and the missiles, but also from the impact of war on healthcare system that has been collapsing.”

“It’s a catastrophe that I cannot describe in words,” he added.

Lamenting that there is still no end in sight to Israel’s assault, Sahloul stressed that US President Joe Biden has “the power to stop the war.”

“He has the power, like other American presidents who stopped previous wars,” he said.

The doctor said Biden told him and others at a White House meeting that “he cares about civilians in Gaza … (and) that he’s working to change the behavior of the Israeli government.”

“He said that Rafah is a red line. Apparently, it’s not a red line,” Sahloul stressed, referring to the recent Israeli strike on a tent camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah which killed at least 45 civilians, mostly women and children, and injured some 300 others.   

‘I can only remember faces of children who have been bombed’

Dr. Thaer Ahmad, global health director of the emergency department at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Chicago, worked at the Nasser Medical Complex in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.

“To me, as somebody who’s been on the ground, I can only remember the faces of the children who have been bombed. I only think about everything that has happened to them,” he said.

Ahmad, who is Palestinian-American, said he had witnessed horrors in Gaza that he would not forget for the rest of his life.

“There was a case when 20 people from the same family came in. I remember three of young girls between the age of 10 to 15 were what we say dead on arrival ... I remember that I was checking each one. I saw that each one had been killed. And I remember the man who I thought was their father come up to me and said: ‘It’s only been five minutes, please, can you do something, can you help?’ And I knew that there was nothing that I could do,” said Ahmad.

“When I told him that they had been killed, he said about one of them that she followed in her father’s footsteps, who had been killed the previous week. I remember just thinking they don’t get any breaks. There is no time of peace for the people in Gaza, for their families. A father dies, the next week the daughter dies.”

Ahmad said the very dignity of people in Gaza is under attack.

“A family can’t mourn together. That’s very important for Palestinian culture … When somebody passes away tragically, you are surrounded by your family and you get a chance to grieve and to mourn. Even that has been deprived for the people of Gaza, for the Palestinians in Gaza," he added.

Asked about his message to the Biden administration, the doctor said: “My message is two words: do something, do something … We’re going on eight months of this worst humanitarian crisis. This is our responsibility to put a stop to this right now, and they can do this.”

On US officials’ statements on the recent Israeli attack on Rafah, Ahmad said: “They need to change their thinking. They need to start seeing Palestinians as human beings. They breathe just like you breathe. They cry just like you cry. So start looking at them that way. And you will understand just how terrible the situation is.”

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