‘This is a massacre’: The value of life needs to be protected

19 Oct 2023

Jennifer Tierney, executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Australia, speaks about the situation in Gaza.

This was first published on The Sydney Morning Herald on 18 October, 2023.

ambulances carrying victims in Gaza

Ambulances carrying victims crowd the entrance to the emergency ward of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on October 15, 2023. © Dawood Nemer/AFP

As we learn of the bombing of the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, once again we are forced to believe the unbelievable. As well as treating people injured in the war, the hospital was also hosting displaced Gazans who believed a medical facility would be a safe haven in the midst of the relentless bombardment.

This has been proved tragically untrue, as reportedly hundreds of people have been killed in this bombing. It is absolutely unacceptable.

A Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) a doctor in Gaza, Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah, was providing critical medical care to the injured at the time of the bombing. “We were operating in the hospital, there was a strong explosion and the ceiling fell on the operating room. This is a massacre,” he says.

How many times must MSF state that hospitals can not be a target? Nothing justifies such a shocking attack on patients, healthcare workers, and the people seeking shelter in the hospital. This bloodshed must stop. This bloodshed must stop now.

The scale of the violence that has unfolded over the past 10 days is profoundly shocking. Thousands of men, women and children have been killed in Israel and Palestine. Mass killing of civilians is sickening and must be condemned in all possible terms.

What we are witnessing in Gaza is catastrophic. Hospitals and clinics are at breaking point. They’re overwhelmed and barely functioning. 

They’re running out of electricity that’s essential to run medical equipment, as well as medicines and medical supplies. Surgeons in Al-Shifa hospital are now operating without painkillers, which is truly unimaginable.

Israel’s short-notice evacuation orders are outrageous and frankly impossible. How do you evacuate a hospital with a few hours’ notice, when patients are too sick or injured to move? Those who are critically ill risk their lives either by moving, or by staying behind, in both cases perhaps condemned to die without treatment.

The bombing right now in Gaza is relentless. People have been killed while forced to move, looking for safety. Almost half of Gaza’s population of 2 million people is now displaced, but the problem is that there is nowhere to seek safety in Gaza. That’s clear when even hospitals are being flattened in this war.

Destruction in Gaza neighborhoods

Destruction in Gaza neighborhoods. © Mohammed Baba

The indiscriminate bombing must stop. The egregious level of collective punishment currently being meted out on the people of Gaza must end. People in Gaza urgently need access to truly safe spaces, and ways to reach them safely and unimpeded. People who wish to cross into Egypt should be allowed to – with the future option to come back – and be properly and humanely assisted.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt must be opened to allow medical and essential supplies to be sent to Gaza. People also need clean water, reliable electricity, access to food and healthcare.

The blockade imposed by the Israeli government is unconscionable. People are deprived of essential needs – water, food, protected shelter, medicines. This is unimaginable. This is inhumane. Basic humanity needs to be restored in Gaza.

For us, and all medical staff in Gaza to work, we need basic guarantees of safety. Despite the incredible needs, the widespread bombing and the impossibility to bring in supplies has forced us to suspend most of our activities. Our teams inside and outside of Gaza are doing the best they can to respond. Some of our 300 local Palestinian staff continue to work in hospitals across Gaza. We’re preparing medical and humanitarian supplies to be sent in to Gaza when access is open.

As a medical and humanitarian organisation, we are ready to do so much more. We are here to provide urgent care to the thousands of desperate civilians caught in the crossfire of war.

However, as long as the indiscriminate bloodshed continues, without safe passages or protection of healthcare, we cannot achieve the impossible and provide help to those who so desperately need it.