Open letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese: MSF Calls for an Enduring Ceasefire in Gaza

22 Nov 2023

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Australia Executive Director Jennifer Tierney has written to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, urging him to do everything in his power to bring about an enduring ceasefire in Gaza and Israel.

Dear Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

I am writing on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia (MSF) to urgently request that the Australian government does everything within its power to call for an immediate and enduring ceasefire in Gaza and Israel. I appreciated the recent opportunity to raise our concerns with Senator Wong in person, and I reiterate them again in this open letter.

A ceasefire for all warring parties is crucial to:

  1. Prevent more deaths. More than 11,000 people have now been killed in Gaza including over 4,000 children, and many more injured. More than 1,200 people have been killed in Israel.
  2. Ensure access to lifesaving emergency medical care. There are more than 27,000 wounded people in Gaza (mainly women and children), with that number growing every hour. A ceasefire will enable people to safely reach healthcare facilities.
  3. Enabling humanitarian organisations to safely enter Gaza, bringing in essential medical personnel and supplies, food, water and shelter materials.
  4. Protecting medical infrastructure. During war, wounded people, healthcare facilities, staff and services are protected under international humanitarian law. A cessation of hostilities will prevent further attacks on vital healthcare infrastructure in Gaza and allow for the restoration of critical services.
We are calling upon the Australian Government to be much clearer and louder in calling for an immediate and enduring ceasefire.

MSF is a neutral and impartial medical humanitarian organisation. As such, we have offered our medical support to both sides of this terrible conflict. Assistance to Israel was respectfully declined due to the strength of Israeli emergency medical systems. We have worked in Gaza for more than 20 years. We condemn the unconscionable attacks of Hamas on Israelis on 7 October, and hope for the success of those working tirelessly to support Israelis who are suffering as a result of this conflict.

Since the horrific mass killings of civilians by Hamas on 7 October, the bombing by the Israeli Defense Force has escalated to an unprecedented level: northern Gaza is being razed to the ground. Civilians, including more than 300 MSF staff, have no safe place to take shelter.

Across Gaza, the number of injured in need of urgent medical assistance far exceeds the capacity of the health system.

Across Gaza, the number of injured in need of urgent medical assistance far exceeds the capacity of the health system. Hospitals, such as Al Shifa in Gaza City, where MSF doctors have been working, have faced intense bombardment. Between October 7 and November 6, the WHO reports there have been 235 attacks on healthcare in Palestine. Under International Humanitarian Law, patients, health workers and medical facilities must be protected at all times and patients must have safe evacuation options. Our colleagues who have been working in Al Shifa report that it’s impossible to evacuate or move all patients.

There are only a few barely functioning ambulances left, and critical patients including neonates in incubators, injured patients who are in ICU or people who are immobile – simply cannot be moved without them and survive.

Over two million men, women, and children are facing an inhumane blockade that includes the withholding of food, water, fuel and electricity; a collective punishment that is also prohibited under International Humanitarian Law.

Jennifer Tierney
MSF Australia Executive Director

We are calling for Israeli authorities to lift the blockade to allow an unconditional and continuous flow of humanitarian supplies and personnel to cross into Gaza. Humanitarian pauses of only a few hours would only allow additional aid to reach a few locations in southern Gaza. The health system has collapsed, and to provide people with the care they deserve, we need time to rebuild. A ceasefire is the only way that sufficient additional aid can reach those who need it most.

We are deeply concerned for the safety and wellbeing of our colleagues in Gaza. Tragically, three of our Palestinian MSF colleagues have been killed in this conflict, and others have lost homes or family members. Mohammed Al Ahel, a laboratory technician with MSF, was killed on 6 November when his home at Al Shate Refugee Camp collapsed during bombing in the area. On 21 November, two MSF doctors, Dr Mahmoud Abu Nujaila and Dr Ahmad Al Sahar, and a third doctor, Dr Ziad Al-Tatari, were killed following a strike on Al Awda Hospital, one of the last remaining functional hospitals in Northern Gaza. Our thoughts are with their families and all colleagues mourning their death.

On 18 November, the relative of an MSF staff member was killed and another one wounded in an attack on an MSF evacuation convoy carrying 137 people. The attack occurred on clearly marked MSF vehicles, after long negotiations and an agreement between MSF and both parties to the conflict regarding this movement.

It is clear that no place in Gaza is safe from brutal and indiscriminate bombing. A ceasefire is the only way for corridors to be implemented in order to safely evacuate trapped civilians.

Some MSF colleagues have continued to work and provide lifesaving care in hospitals across the Gaza Strip, even while the most basic protections for hospitals and medical personnel are not guaranteed. They describe attempting life-saving surgeries in unhygienic corridors, with inadequate analgesia or anaesthesia. All our colleagues describe their terror at the relentless bombardment that continues across the entirety of Gaza.

On 14 November, an MSF team of 15 international and national staff entered Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah crossing point and we stand ready to vastly increase our humanitarian response in Gaza. But as long as the bombing continues with the current intensity, any effort to increase medical aid will inevitably fall short.

We are calling upon the Australian Government to be much clearer and louder in calling for an immediate and enduring ceasefire. To use your influence with key allied states, particularly the United States and United Kingdom, and in the United Nations, to apply as much pressure as is possible on the warring parties to stop the bombing and to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Specifically on the prohibition of inflicting unnecessary suffering; on the principle of proportionality; and the principle of humanity.

As long as the bombing continues with the current intensity, any effort to increase medical aid will inevitably fall short.

Jennifer Tierney
MSF Australia Executive Director

Equating an entire population with a military target discredits the very spirit of International Humanitarian Law, and makes the deployment of aid totally unrealistic – endangering the lives of all Palestinians and aid workers. The persistent attacks on healthcare in this conflict have been shocking and unprecedented. If this is tolerated by the Australian Government and the international community, what legacy are we leaving? What protections are left for those caught in conflict who desperately need medical care? In the future, what guarantees will be left to those who provide that support?

The world risks becoming a far more unsafe and inhumane place as a result of this devastating conflict. Australia must do everything in its power to demand that attacks on hospitals and medical facilities stop. Immediately.

I implore the Australian government to act now to uphold our shared humanity and demand an immediate and enduring ceasefire.

Yours sincerely,

Jennifer Tierney Signature Image Jennifer Tierney    
Executive Director    
Médecins Sans Frontières Australia