Doctors Without Borders to Philippines: Take action for ceasefire in Gaza

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Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) implores governments to do everything in its power to ensure an immediate and sustained ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. We commend the Malaysian and Indonesian governments for exercising leadership together with Brunei in calling for a lasting cessation of hostilities in Gaza and the immediate provision of much needed humanitarian aid to civilians caught in conflict. We call on the Philippine government to do the same and add its voice to its regional neighbors given the immense human cost of this war.

Though the recent truce is the first sign of humanity after weeks of relentless violence, it is by no means a solution of any kind. Any respite for the people of Gaza is welcome, especially if it gives them access to medical supplies, food, and water. However, considering the immeasurable needs, this temporary truce is not nearly enough to organize the delivery of sufficient aid to meet the immeasurable needs.

Doctors Without Borders is aggrieved and shocked by the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians. Now, after more than seven weeks, words fail us to describe the absolute horror being inflicted on Palestinian civilians by Israel, as it carries out incessant and indiscriminate warfare in Gaza for all the world to see.

Israel has shown its blatant and total disregard for the protection of Gaza’s medical facilities. We are watching as hospitals are being turned into morgues, and even ruins. They are being hit by strikes, tanks and guns, encircled and raided, killing patients and medical staff.

Regidor Esguerra is a Filipino nurse who was working for Doctors Without Borders in Gaza, as a project coordinator. He recalls, “An airstrike hit a building less than 500 meters away from us. We could feel our houses shake.”

A Filipino nurse-midwife, Darwin Diaz, was working in Gaza as a medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders. “In the morgue of al-Shifa Hospital, we could see piles and piles of white cloth that they had wrapped the bodies in. And you could tell from the size – you could see the small ones, which were children, and the big ones were the adults.”

Family members of the Doctors Without Borders Palestinian staff and volunteers have also become victims of violence, their houses razed, their family members killed. Two of our doctors, Dr Mahmoud Abu Nujaila and Dr Ahmad Al Sahar, and a third doctor working with Al Awda, Dr. Ziad Al-Tatari, were killed following a strike on Al Awda Hospital, one of the last remaining functional hospitals in Northern Gaza.

 The World Health Organization (WHO) has documented 178 attacks on health care, including 22 fatalities and 48 injuries of health workers on duty. Three medical doctors of Doctors Without Borders have been killed inside Al Awda hospital, and many more have lost family members. Numerous other colleagues have been injured. Other fellow humanitarian organizations have reported dozens of their staff killed.

Medical staff, including our own, are utterly exhausted and beyond despair. They have had to amputate limbs from children suffering from severe burns –without anesthesia or sterilized surgical tools. People are dying of pain due to shortages of pain relief medications. Due to forcible evacuations by Israeli soldiers, some doctors have had to leave patients behind and face an unimaginable choice: their lives or those of their patients.  There is no fathomable justification for such atrocious acts.

Doctors Without Borders recently sent an international emergency team to Gaza to support our Palestinian colleagues in bringing medical and surgical capacities in health facilities. Regrettably, their activities have been severely limited due to the scale of casualties, destruction of infrastructure, lack of essential supplies such as fuel, and the ongoing insecurity. We want and ought to be able to do so much more. Today, this is just impossible, due to the siege and unrelenting generalized warfare being unleashed by Israel.

Three of our Doctors Without Borders staff have been killed, and many more have lost family members. Numerous other colleagues have been injured. Other fellow humanitarian organizations have reported dozens of their staff killed.

Gaza, under an Israel-imposed blockade since 2007, is indeed the world’s largest open-air prison. From the start of its military campaign, the Israeli government enforced a “complete siege” on Gaza, banning the entry of water, food, fuel and medicinal supplies for the 2.3 million civilians trapped in the enclave. Added to this, unyielding restrictions have been put on humanitarian access and are preventing much needed aid from reaching anyone who needs it. Subjecting an entire population to collective punishment is a war crime as per International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

We are witnessing the fundamental principle of humanity being openly disgraced.

Despite Israel’s claims, its all-out assault is not being waged just on Hamas. It is being waged on all of Gaza and its people at any cost. Even wars have rules, but Israel is clearly trading them in for its own military doctrine based on disproportionality. In the early days of this unbearable offensive, the spokesman for Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) announced that the “emphasis” of this flagrantly excessive reprisal was to be on “damage and not accuracy”. It is safe to say Israel’s actions have spoken louder than their words.

Northern Gaza is being erased from the map. The health system has collapsed. More than 14,000 people have been killed, half of which are children, according to Gaza’s health authorities. That’s one out of every 200 people in Gaza. Tens of thousands are injured. Families are digging their dead loved ones out from under the rubble. At least 1.7 million people have been displaced, according to the United Nations. These civilians have been forcibly ordered to move south, but Israel is bombing that area too. Nowhere is safe.

Our emergency team in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, has reported massive influxes of wounded after intense bombing and airstrikes, including on overcrowded squalid refugee camps where people are barely surviving on the sparse humanitarian aid available. If the bombs do not get them, infectious diseases and starvation will.

Our medical teams in the West Bank also report attacks on healthcare with a surge in violence, persecution and harassment, in which over 200 Palestinians have been killed since 7th October, either by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) or settlers, according to the United Nations.

A sustained ceasefire is the only way to stop the killing of thousands more civilians and to allow for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid. Doctors Without Borders also calls for the establishment of an independent mechanism to oversee the adequate flow of humanitarian supplies into Gaza.

The indiscriminate and relentless attacks must stop now. The forcible displacements must stop now.

The assaults on hospitals and medical staff must stop now.

The siege and restrictions on aid must stop now.

It must ALL STOP NOW.

We call on you to be part of the solution, and to exert all means in your power to prevent further carnage.

Thus far, world leaders have been complicit, either by funding or providing Israel with weapons, or have made no efforts other than empty words, failing to stem the relentless bloodshed and atrocities being committed in Gaza.

It is time for the Philippines to amplify calls to “respect the protection of civilians” and use your diplomatic leverage to convince the State of Israel that the death sentence it has handed the people of Gaza is inhumane and indefensible.

We urge you to take action. Uphold our shared humanity.

We did what we could. Remember us.” These are the words our Doctors Without Borders doctor wrote on a Gaza hospital whiteboard normally used for planning surgeries. When the guns fall silent and the true scale of devastation is revealed, will you and your government be able to say the same?

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