‘Violence has become normalised’: Reflections on Israel’s latest offensive on Gaza

Mahmoud Shalabi, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s Senior Programme Manager, reflects on the impact of Israel’s attacks, on healthcare and humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

Three weeks have passed since Israel’s three-day military offensive on Gaza which killed 49 Palestinians, including 17 children, and injured 360. Life is beginning to return to ‘normal’ in Gaza. But a return to ‘normal’ means a return to a worsening economic situation, only six hours of electricity per day and an ongoing health crisis.

Health services in Gaza remain on the verge of collapse. They are still recovering from previous military assaults and perpetual crises. Israel is maintaining the bare minimum requirements for the health system to continue functioning to allow people to survive, without it totally collapsing. This is why it has remained on the brink of collapse for more than a decade.

Other challenges are emerging for organisations like MAP. Israel continues its campaign of shrinking civil society space, which means it is becoming extremely difficult for humanitarian workers to get permits to allow them to leave Gaza. I have struggled to receive a permit for months, which has hampered my ability to collaborate with regional and international colleagues and delayed my travel for vital training and development opportunities.

Last week, I was in an online meeting with neurosurgery teams from Gaza and the UK to plan an upcoming medical mission to support neurosurgery services in Gaza. We were forced to cancel the mission because the UK volunteers did not feel safe to travel to Gaza. This is the first time that we have had to cancel a medical mission, just weeks before its arrival, because of the security situation. It would be extremely difficult for us to continue our work if we had to keep cancelling these critical missions.

Fortunately, MAP was in a strong position to respond to this latest emergency. We had prepositioned stocks of medicines, laboratory reagents and disposables ready to deliver from our warehouses across Gaza to support hospitals. We responded rapidly and effectively and have been delivering these essential supplies daily.

However, there were no guarantees for my safety as there were no humanitarian corridors to safely deliver aid. I risked my life during the peak of Israel’s attacks to deliver the items rapidly, but I often wonder whether I will continue with this kind of response in future without my safety being guaranteed.

Already in 2022, MAP has procured over $150,000 worth of urgently needed medicines, disposables and laboratory items that were at zero stock, meaning they have less than one month’s supply left. This has included medicines used in heart failure, antidotes for life-saving treatment of acute poisoning, haemodialysis, and continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (a way of replacing kidney function after kidney failure) that will support 1,420 patients in hospital. MAP has also procured laboratory items that will benefit 258,000 patients and will be used to test blood glucose levels for children and adults in intensive care units and neonatal intensive care units, and for pathology tests.

We are continuing to procure emergency and trauma related drugs that are currently at zero stock, but we have experienced further challenges as the majority of our orders faced huge delays. This has made us more cautious of procuring items in future.

In the longer-term, we are planning to replenish our pre-positioned stock and are continuing to provide trauma training for Palestinian health workers to enhance their ability to respond to emergencies in future.

Everyone has been psychologically impacted by Israel’s attacks. Each time these offensives happen, we all wonder whether these will be our last moments to live. When you have children, it is even more difficult. I struggle to answer all of their questions. My eldest son, who is eight years old, already understands what a ceasefire is. He knows that Israel’s airstrikes kill civilians, women and children. Violence has become normalised for my son and every other child in Gaza.

But the general mood here is hopeful. We have a lot of faith. Our relationships with our family, friends, communities and colleagues are very important parts of our lives and they keep us strong. We are hopeful that the ceasefire holds and we just wish for a break from the violence that has plagued our lives for years.

With chronic shortages of drugs and medical equipment, MAP is providing vital support to health services in Gaza as part of our emergency response. Please support these efforts by donating today.


Photo: Palestinians in the Sheikh Acleyn neighbourhood in Gaza on August 6, 2022. (Credit: Mohammed Zaanoun).

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