14 May: Remembering the Great March of Return’s deadliest day

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is remembering today the staggering loss of life and bloodshed at the “Great March of Return” protests on 14 May in Gaza last year. Sixty people were killed and 2,771 injured. Of those hospitalised, 1,359 suffered gunshot wounds. It was the deadliest day in Gaza since Israel’s 2014 summer military offensive.

Plastic surgeon Professor Tom Potokar was working with MAP in Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, that day. He described the scenes:

 “At 3 o’clock, after five hours of continual onslaught, the dam bursts. The casualty department erupts like a seething volcano, and casualties, relatives, staff and security pour into every corner of the department. Screaming mothers mingled with blood-soaked bodies lying on the floor. Shouting becomes hysterical, raised voices become raised fists surging at the metal gate which opens to let another almost-bled-out patient in, paramedics shouting to clear a path. Followed seconds later by another, then another, then another.

“Heads wrapped in blood-soaked gauze hide the damage underneath. Shattered limb after shattered limb, many already starting the countdown to probable amputation. Then another lifeless form, arm hanging over the stretchers side, pale unmoving body accompanied by shrieking and terror.

MAP’s Director of Programmes, Dr Andy Ferguson, was also in Al Shifa.

“Any hospital in the UK would be utterly overwhelmed by such a massive influx of injuries as we saw in Gaza,” he said. “Despite 12 theatres working flat out throughout the afternoon and evening, at 10pm there were still 70 major orthopaedic cases waiting for surgery – most of those with gunshot wounds. By 8am the following morning, 40 of these were still waiting, many in agony due to the unavailability of sufficient pain medications. Even basic supplies – gauze, syringes, surgical gowns – were running out.”

“Amid dwindling supplies of medicines and equipment and Gaza’s chronic electricity shortages, hospitals in Gaza were in crisis even before the protests began. It is testimony to the motivation and skills of medical teams in Gaza that, despite this, hospitals were able to keep receiving, triaging, referring and treating patients – both the newly-wounded and the hospital’s standard patient workload.”

One year on, Gaza struggles on, including the MAP-supported limb reconstruction units based in Al Shifa and European Gaza hospitals that are striving to repair an estimated 1,300 limb reconstruction injuries sustained primarily by high-velocity Israeli sniper bullets.  All health services and health workers are confronting enormous challenges. They endure systemic shortages, political obstacles and are repeatedly under fire. Three health-workers have been killed at the protests, more than 600 others injured. Forty-three health workers have been killed in the last decade in the occupied Palestinian territory and scores of health centres and ambulances damaged and destroyed. Not a single perpetrator has been held to account for any of these attacks, meanwhile the rights demanded by protesters in Gaza continue to be denied.

MAP salutes health workers in Gaza and across the oPt and calls for a step-up in international support for the Palestinian health sector - not only to prevent the total collapse of the healthcare system, but to ensure that aid spending is matched by political action to address the root causes of these needs.

MAP is doing all it can to support the provision of vital medical care, but the international community cannot shirk its own responsibility to the people of Gaza,” said Aimee Shalan, CEO of MAP. “The UK and other influential states must not only take action to address humanitarian needs, but also ensure international law is adhered to and meaningful steps are taken to protect civilians’ lives.”

“The situation in Gaza is fuelled by impunity, which is something that is within the international community’s power to put right.”

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