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202 days on: All of Gaza is a mass grave, and Rafah is next

Gaza: 202 days on, time is running out to stop a massacre in Rafah
5 min read

Aseel Baidoun

26 April, 2024
 Aseel Baidoun from Medical Aid for Palestinians issues a dire warning: If Israeli invasion of Rafah is not stopped the world must brace for unimaginable horror
Healthcare workers wrap bloody bandages around their limbs and perform a die-in in solidarity with their colleagues practicing in Gaza [Getty images]

Earlier this year, during the Israeli army’s siege of Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, two siblings – Rafif, 13, and Rafiq Doughnosh, 15 - were trapped inside. Both children were critically ill and suffering from severe injuries, as a result of an Israeli airstrike which had killed their mother and 10 other of their family members. 

The Israeli army forced the children, along with around 200 to 300 other patients, to stay together in one hospital section, with no medical care, limited food or water for several days. The brothers not only lost their family members and their limbs, but they were cruelly left in pain, hunger and fear in unimaginable circumstances.

I was in direct contact with their uncle, to try and evacuate the children to a hospital in south of Gaza, but the Israeli army denied all medical evacuations of the patients for two weeks.

Rafif and Rafiq are just two of the millions of Palestinians whose suffering since October has been visible to the whole world but not considered worthy of decisive action. In the last 202 days Israeli military attacks have killed on a daily average 72 children, or nearly one child every 10 minutes.

More than 60% of homes in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, often with entire families living there being killed at once in airstrikes, and no one left to survive to report it. Thousands of people remain under rubble, dead. 

Grim statistics, world inaction

Almost every week, another horrific statistic is reported: one in 50 children killed; people in northern Gaza forced to survive on 245 calories a day. Now, we are reaching another horrendous milestone: almost 500 healthcare workers killed in six months.

Killing healthcare workers is part of a pattern of attacks on healthcare by the Israeli military over years. In this conflict, it has left Gaza’s health system in ruins. No hospital is currently fully functioning and only 11 out of 36 are even partially functioning.

At the same time, as Israel’s restrictions on aid entering Gaza have continued, disease and famine have started to set in and people are starving to death. Some of my colleagues have been forced to eat animal feed or bird seed to try and survive. Nearly all of them have been displaced from their homes and most have lost loved ones. I cannot forget the loud screams of my colleague, Nawras, on the phone when she told me her own son was killed. My heart still shatters on this memory.

As I write this, an Israeli military invasion of Rafah, a small city in the south of Gaza, is alarmingly imminent. Following Israel’s ‘evacuation’ orders for areas in northern and central Gaza, more than one million people, including more than 600,000 children, have sought shelter there.

Most people in Rafah have been displaced multiple times and are now living on less than 20% of Gaza’s land, leading to extreme overcrowding. People have been forced to sleep on the streets, in the grounds of hospitals, or in makeshift tents. 

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The coming Rafah onslaught

An invasion would totally overwhelm the capacity of the healthcare system in Rafah. There are only two government hospitals, both of which are partially functional. These are supported by one NGO hospital and a handful of field hospitals. They are all already struggling to cope with the sheer number of patients and there is a shortage of beds, equipment and vital items like painkillers. 

An Israeli military invasion of Rafah would take an already dire situation to catastrophic new levels, and lead to thousands more civilian deaths and injuries. There is no safe place in Gaza – not even in so-called “safe zones.” There is no feasible evacuation plan or conditions that would protect civilians if a ground incursion moves forward. 

The closest larger hospitals, Nasser and Al Amal, in Khan Yunis (which can take hours to reach for emergency care due to damaged roads and transport infrastructure), have been forced out of service due to Israel’s military onslaught.

All of Khan Yunis’ hospitals have also experienced relentless Israeli military airstrikes and shelling nearby and, just last week, hundreds of bodies were discovered in mass graves at Nasser Hospital. This is beyond any words to be described and needs to be investigated as it indicates the worst crimes against humanity. 

But while Israel has indiscriminately bombarded civilians, systematically dismantled Gaza’s health system, and used starvation as a weapon of war, the international community has sat back and watched or even supported. There have been plenty of critical noises and statements made on the international stage, but Israel has yet to be held accountable for its war crimes as it continues to act with full impunity. This is despite the fact that the International Court of Justice has ruled that Israel’s military onslaught of Gaza may amount to genocide.

History will judge world leaders for their silence, while the people of Gaza continue to face death and destruction. The past six months taught us that our lives as Palestinians do not matter. 

Aseel Baidoun is Acting Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), based in the occupied West Bank and originally from East Jerusalem. She has more than 10 years of experience in advocacy and communications in the humanitarian and health sector, and as worked for several international organisations including the World Health Organization and Save the Children. 

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.