Palestinian Medics in Gaza Struggle to Save Lives Under Israeli Siege and Bombardment 

Palestinians search for survivors amidst the rubble of a building after an Israeli airstrike on the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 17, 2023. (AFP)
Palestinians search for survivors amidst the rubble of a building after an Israeli airstrike on the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 17, 2023. (AFP)
TT

Palestinian Medics in Gaza Struggle to Save Lives Under Israeli Siege and Bombardment 

Palestinians search for survivors amidst the rubble of a building after an Israeli airstrike on the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 17, 2023. (AFP)
Palestinians search for survivors amidst the rubble of a building after an Israeli airstrike on the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 17, 2023. (AFP)

For hours and hours, Moen Abu Aish digs through the rubble of demolished homes to find survivors of Israeli airstrikes, toiling in a vast and desperate search complicated by the shortage of critical supplies and the sheer scope of destruction across the Gaza Strip.

Even as rescue worker Abu Aish, 58, and his colleagues struggle to pry lifeless bodies from the concrete and twisted metal where residential towers once stood, the death toll keeps rising. Gaza's Health Ministry has reported that Israel's bombardment — launched after Hamas mounted a bloody, unprecedented attack on Israel on Oct. 7 — has killed more than 2,700 Palestinians, many of them women and children.

But far more Palestinians have been killed than have been officially reported, with 1,200 people, among them some 500 minors, believed to be trapped under the rubble awaiting rescue, or recovery, health authorities said. They based their estimates on distress calls they received.

“So many times medics say they hear victims scream but they cannot do anything about it,” said Mohammed Abu Selmia, general director of Shifa Hospital, Gaza's biggest medical center.

The untold scores of victims buried beneath destroyed buildings shed light on the struggles of rescue teams in Gaza trying to save lives, while cut off from the internet and mobile networks, running out of fuel and exposed to unceasing airstrikes.

Israel imposed a siege on Gaza after the Hamas attack, severing the crowded strip's access to water, power and fuel. Health authorities have warned that without humanitarian aid, hospitals and emergency services will soon break down. Hospitals running on backup generators say they have enough fuel for another day or two at most.

“The destruction is so intense, there are hundreds of dead under the rubble as we speak,” said Mahmoud Basal, the spokesperson for the Palestinian Civil Defense, which provides emergency service, his voice cracking as he fought back tears. “Where are the Arab countries? Where is the rest of the world? We are begging you, please, save us from this madness.”

At dawn Monday, Israeli warplanes struck the headquarters of the Civil Defense in Gaza City, killing seven paramedics as they prepared for a rescue mission, the Interior Ministry said. In widely shared videos of the aftermath, medics, shell-shocked and exhausted, crouched on the back of their blood-smeared ambulance with their heads in their hands.

“They targeted a center for ambulances,” one of them cried out, his voice frantic. “There are no weapons. There are no militants. There is nothing, nothing but civilians.”

The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the airstrike but has alleged in the past that Hamas militants use hospitals and rescue services as protective cover. It says it only targets sites and infrastructure used by Hamas and other militant groups.

Since the start of this war, 10 other medics have been killed on the job, the Health Ministry said.

“I’m terrified all the time, of course I am. I'm human,” Abu Aish said from Al Awda Hospital in northern Gaza, where doctors had refused an Israeli military order to evacuate earlier this week. “I see the worst things you could imagine.”

Like most medics, Abu Aish has spent the past days in the hospital’s ambulance bay, sleeping a few hours before returning to his grueling work. The massive blasts ripping through the northern Jabaliya refugee camp where he lives have been bad enough, he said.

What made them worse was not knowing how his loved ones fared.

Since Israeli bombardment destroyed two of Gaza’s three main lines for mobile communication last week, he hasn’t spoken to his family in five days.

“I miss them so much it hurts,” he said of his seven kids and 10 grandchildren. “But this is my mission. I respect it.”

At the hospital, distress calls follow the nearby thunder of explosions. Abu Aish drives as far as he can in the ambulance and jumps out when the roads buckle so badly they cannot be used. Rushing in the opposite direction of panicked families, he and his team arrive by foot to ravaged homes with little more than flashlights, shovels and other amateur tools, like pickaxes, saws, backhoes and blowtorches to cut metal bars.

The rescue crews in their bright vests and white helmets largely lack excavators, ladders and heavy machinery — the outcome of a blockade imposed by Israel in 2007 to prevent Hamas from digging tunnels and rearming itself. Often Abu Aish uses his bare hands to sort through chunks of concrete mixed with residents’ belongings and personal mementos.

But as the rescuers work, they hear bombardment crashing in the distance. Another block of homes, flattened. More people who need their help, urgently.

Residents say it often takes rescue crews many hours to reach the site of an attack and search for victims. By that point, the chances of finding additional survivors are slim.

Ali Ahad, a 37-year-old resident of Gaza City, said that when airstrikes leveled the residential building next door, rescuers never came.

He and his friends sprinted outside in their slippers, sifted through the rubble and struggled to lift men and women coated in blood out of the ruins with blankets. When they saw an ambulance racing down the street to Shifa Hospital they chased it, pounding on its windows to make it stop so they could squeeze their neighbors inside.

“You have people like us using our hands and we have zero experience doing such things,” he said. “There is no infrastructure. There is no capacity.”

Rescuers say they try to save as many lives as they can. But at any point, they may have to save themselves.

Among the 10 medics killed over the past week were four workers with the Palestinian Red Crescent. Airstrikes last Wednesday slammed into their ambulances in two different places.

Three of those killed that day had been waiting to evacuate civilians in Jabaliya. “I was traumatized by that loss,” said their colleague, Salem Abu Al-Khair. As he spoke from the ambulance center, the roar of airstrikes could be heard.

“Even during this interview we are being bombed,” he said. “This is the extent of the danger.”

Good news is rare for Gaza's medics. On Thursday, after airstrikes hit Jabaliya, Abu Aish found a mother hugging a small child under the rubble. The mother had been killed, along with the rest of the family members in the collapsed building.

But the child, a boy no more than 3 years old, was alive.

Abu Aish pulled him out of the rubble and took him to the ambulance. He was covered in dirt but completely healthy, he said.

“Those moments give me the will to carry on,” he said. “That's my work. I never want to let one child like that die.”



Gaza High School Students Miss Final Exams as War Rages

 Destroyed buildings are pictured in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen near the Gaza coast, June 25, 2024. (Reuters)
Destroyed buildings are pictured in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen near the Gaza coast, June 25, 2024. (Reuters)
TT

Gaza High School Students Miss Final Exams as War Rages

 Destroyed buildings are pictured in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen near the Gaza coast, June 25, 2024. (Reuters)
Destroyed buildings are pictured in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen near the Gaza coast, June 25, 2024. (Reuters)

Majd Hamad, 18, dreams of becoming a doctor but the war in Gaza has left his textbooks buried under rubble amid relentless Israeli bombardment and has forced him, along with thousands of other young Palestinians, to miss his final high school exams.

"I was displaced from my house, and there were many books in there. I was hoping to get high grades (to get into university), but my house was destroyed and my books remain under the rubble," said Hamad.

Ironically, Hamad and his family are now living in a classroom at a school designated as a shelter after being forced early in the war to flee their home in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip and move to Khan Younis in the south.

"I'm sad that I missed this school year. Sad because I would have been taking exams in this classroom where I currently live. I was hoping to get high grades and to graduate from this class and become a doctor," Hamad told Reuters.

"The war has destroyed many of our dreams, destroyed the dreams of many young people who were aiming high. It has left us with no energy or morale," said Hamad.

Palestinian officials say it is the first time in decades that high school exams are going ahead this month without the participation of students in Gaza.

Some 40,000 high school students in Gaza would normally be taking their final exams this month. A further 10,000 are doing so in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the diaspora, and they would usually all take the exams at the same time.

Life for Hamad and his family, as for most of Gaza's 2.3 million residents, has instead become a daily struggle to survive amid Israel's military onslaught, the spread of hunger and shortages of basis items. He spends his days collecting water to drink and cleaning the classroom that is now home.

'BOOKS, NOT BOMBS'

Gaza's Education Ministry said in a statement that 450 high school students had been killed since the war erupted last October. Other Palestinian data showed more than 350 teachers and academics have been killed, while all 12 of Gaza's higher education institutions have been destroyed or damaged.

The current war began on Oct. 7 when fighters from Hamas, the group which has been running Gaza, attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The ensuing Israeli offensive has so far killed more than 37,600 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say, and laid waste to most of the tiny, densely-populated enclave.

An estimated 1,090 Gaza high school students will sit exams on Saturday in Cairo after they and their families managed to cross into Egypt before Israeli forces shut the border in May.

"Books, not bombs" read a banner held by one high school student during a gathering in Gaza last Saturday.

Back in Khan Younis, Hamad's mother Noha said they had hoped the war would end quickly and that he could return to his studies.

"But the war has gone on for a long time, it's destroyed us... I imagined that Majd would graduate from this class and (eventually) become a doctor. He would graduate and we would be happy for him, but this class has now become a shelter for us," she said.