When the dust finally settles on Gaza, there will be little left to rebuild

22 Feb 2024

In complete defiance of worldwide calls for an enduring ceasefire, Israel has stated it will carry out a ground offensive on Rafah threatening the lives of more than one million Palestinians. 

As essential life sustaining supplies continue to be blocked, one can only conclude that the humanitarian principles and laws that States fought hard to implement, are being ransacked with impunity before our very eyes.

What price will we pay for the way this war is being waged? Beyond the already horrific and climbing death toll in Gaza, is Israel’s unabated interpretation of its right to self-defence worth the cost of compromising international humanitarian law (IHL) for all? What is the benefit to humanity in allowing armed actors free reign to attack civilians, to target and kill medical personnel and to attack hospitals full of patients? What price does humanity pay when we allow a civilian population to be trapped by conflict, denied access to food, water, shelter and passage to safety?

Just as our world leaders condemned Hamas for their unforgiveable atrocities and killing of 1,200 people, Israel must follow IHL and cease its relentless and indiscriminate attacks, which have now claimed the lives of more than 28,000 Palestinians and caused horrific injuries to over 68,000 more.

MSF team standing in front of bomb building in Jenin.

MSF team standing in front of bomb building in Jenin. July 2023. © MSF

Hospitals and their surrounding areas have been repeatedly subjected to evacuation orders, hit, and even besieged, killing, injuring or displacing patients and health workers, as well as people who have sought safety in the grounds of these facilities. This includes the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported Al-Shifa and Al-Awda hospitals in the north, and Nasser hospital in the south, to name a few. The duty of treating the sick and wounded, and the correlating protection of medical personnel and facilities, is at the core of IHL and is being flagrantly violated.

Of 36 previously fully operational hospitals in the Gaza Strip, only 15 of these are partially functional according to the World Health Organization. Providing healthcare is becoming virtually impossible in Gaza, as no place, not even places of healthcare, are respected and safe.

The level of destruction and suffering that we are witnessing daily is beyond belief. MSF teams are seeing more severe burn injuries than we have ever seen in a conflict globally. Most burns patients that our teams are receiving have 30 to 50 per cent of their body affected. At 50 per cent, most people die. In any other circumstance, the gravity of this horror would be enough to provoke change. 
 

Providing healthcare is becoming virtually impossible in Gaza, as no place, not even places of healthcare, are respected and safe.

Jennifer Tierney
Executive Director, Médecins Sans Frontières Australia

Even wars have rules. What could be more powerful than our commitment to shared values and to humanity? We have seen an outpouring of support from more than 60,000 Australians who have joined our efforts for increased political pressure to make a ceasefire an immediate reality on the ground in Gaza.

As members of the international community and Australians with a conscience we must show our collective humanity by applying pressure on our leaders who continue to allow this flouting of IHL in our name. While Australia supported the UN resolution demanding an immediate and sustained ceasefire in December, it is not effectively using its influence to see this through.

Instead, States, including Australia, have hastily suspended funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA) following allegations against individual staff. The result is that a besieged Palestinian community goes with even less food, shelter and water and at this critical time, donor States should be using all possible means to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance and maintain funding for services in Gaza. 

The hypocrisy of Israel and its allies remains clearly apparent to MSF and other international agencies working in Gaza under strict respect of international law and humanitarian principles – despite the ongoing horrendous attacks on civilians, medical personnel and hospitals.

When the dust finally settles on Gaza, there will be little left to rebuild. Schools, hospitals, places of cultural significance, communities... levelled, erased.

How can we work in areas where armed actors, States, refuse to protect hospitals and target our staff? How can we provide lifesaving support where States block us from providing medical supplies, and even food, water and shelter for our staff and patients? 

What could be more powerful than our commitment to shared values and to humanity? 

Jennifer Tierney
Executive Director, Médecins Sans Frontières Australia

For MSF, the ability to work unimpeded in hospitals, without the threat of attacks by any warring party on medical facilities and staff will be the first indicator of improvement.

For now, a sustained ceasefire is the only way we can move forward. The Australian Government must apply diplomatic pressure and use all its power to ensure that Israel stops this catastrophic assault on civilians before the offensive begins. 

A version of this story was first published by The Canberra Times.

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