An SOS call from Gaza

Israel’s war on Gaza is paving the way for a new world order in which no civilian can find true safety.

A doctor examines an injured child at the Al Aqsa Hospital after the Israeli attack on Maghazi Refugee Camp in Deir al Balah, Gaza
A doctor examines an injured child at the Al Aqsa Hospital after the Israeli attack on Maghazi Refugee Camp in Deir al Balah, Gaza on November 03, 2023. [Ashraf Amra - Anadolu Agency]

On the morning of Sunday, November 12, I received a plea, an SOS, from my dear friend Shireen, a Christian Palestinian in Bethlehem. “Ghada, do you know any institutions in Gaza, other than the Red Cross, that can help evacuate people trapped in the north?” I had to respond: “No…”

Shireen is just one of many friends, loved ones and acquaintances who got in touch with me in recent days desperately looking for a way to find help for those stuck in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza has created three simultaneous crises.  First, there is the crisis experienced by every individual in the besieged Strip who is unable to escape. Then, there is the crisis of conscience that has seemingly taken over the international community, which is ignoring the desperate plight of civilians in Gaza.  Finally, there is the global crisis resulting from the apparent collapse of all the mechanisms supposedly designed to promote and protect human rights.

A crisis of humanity

Every day, I receive dozens of SOS messages, cries for help, from Gaza. As a Palestinian from Gaza who is currently out of the Strip, I am living a nightmare, because there is very little, if anything, that I can do to help those who are under siege and under attack there.

I know there is nothing I can do to stop Israel’s war machine. I know this because I spent most of my life, about 36 years, in the besieged and occupied Gaza – the open-air prison that has since been transformed into a slaughterhouse.

Still, I desperately try to do something, anything. Action is imperative – staying idle, doing nothing, feels like being stuck in another hell.

So despite not knowing how I could help, I messaged Shireen back: “Can you send me more details?”

“Nour al-Nakhala’s family is trapped in their home in Gaza City due to heavy bombardment,” she responded quickly. “Nour is the wife of Dr Hammam Alloh. Their residence is in front of al-Basma kindergarten, on Abu Hasira Street in Gaza. Here is their cell number. Please help.”

Shireen’s plea to rescue al-Nakhala and Alloh families triggered a flood of memories and made me think of all the other families I know in Gaza. I thought of the Luthun family, Bilbaisi family, al-Birwai family… I thought of the Awad family, which lives, or once lived, near the blood bank and the German representative’s office – at the very heart of middle-class Gaza.

I did not know the fate of any of these families. I did not know if they were alive or dead. But I feared the worst. And we still had no news from al-Nakhala and Alloh families.

Then, I received a desperate plea from the al-Bayid family – a household of six members, some with special needs, trapped in their home on al-Halabi street next to the Civil Affairs office. They were stranded without food or water.

Another cry for help came from the al-Saqa family, besieged in their home not far from al-Shifa Hospital. They were also trapped, immobile, together with their children and the elderly with little access to food or water. Tanks had ravaged their surroundings and were firing at anything that moved.

Then, on the same day, Dr Majdy Alkhouly, who lives in Qatar, also took to Facebook to try and find someone to help al-Nakhala and Alloh families. He said they needed immediate evacuation because many of them, including Dr Hammam Alloh, and his father-in-law, Mahmoud, have been critically wounded as a result of the bombardment, and are bleeding.

Simultaneously, the Abu Hashish family, a group of around 15 people who are not far away from al-Shifa Hospital, sent out a heart-wrenching cry for help. The family said some among them have been severely wounded, and their lives are hanging in the balance. But the bombs were raining from the sky, and the presence of tanks around their home rendered them completely immobile.

All these family names echoed in my mind, repeatedly, filling me with a feeling of dread that I know I will never be able to forget or get over for the rest of my life.

All of this, repeated two million times over, every single day, is the first crisis that was born out of Israel’s latest war on Gaza.

A crisis of conscience

The second crisis is one that is caused by the world’s indifference to the pleas of Gaza’s doctors and hospital workers. This is a crisis of conscience.

Israel’s military continues to target doctors, nurses, patients and medical facilities. At least 200 doctors and medics have been killed in the ongoing genocide. In stark numerical terms, the occupying force has claimed the lives of six doctors and medics on average every single day since the beginning of its latest assault on the besieged Strip.

Just a few days ago, my own brother, a doctor at the Nasser hospital, narrowly escaped death. He had stepped out of his office to check on a patient when a nearby mosque was struck. The shelling also damaged the radiology unit of the hospital. The ceiling collapsed, creating a scene of devastation.

Meanwhile, my cousin Nour, a recent graduate of medicine, continues to work at the UN school in Khan Younis camp, which has been turned into a concentration camp with tens of thousands of people crammed into classrooms, using just eight washrooms between them. Despite the dire conditions, Nour is still tirelessly working, seeing at least 500 patients a day and offering advice and prescriptions to the sick, even though obtaining medications is nearly impossible.

Whenever we can speak, she tells me how shortages have become the norm in Gaza, causing tragedies. She explains people are grappling with kidney problems, and diseases like diarrhoea, due to a lack of clean water. She tells me that they are also suffering from hunger-related illnesses and anaemia.  That communicable diseases like chickenpox are spreading rapidly. Newly married girls expecting their first babies live in fear that when the time comes to deliver the baby, no one will be able to assist them. Two children in the school she works in lost their lives in the past week due to a lack of medication. The desperation is overwhelming.

As I pen these words, most Gaza hospitals have run out of essential supplies, and become literal graveyards. The bodies of those murdered, lie both inside and outside of al-Shifa Hospital, which is now occupied by Israeli soldiers.

The world has ignored the calls from Gaza’s doctors for fuel to be delivered to keep hospitals operational. Remarkably, countless locals, who are under a communications blackout and often do not even know exactly what is happening just around the corner from where they have taken refuge, heard these calls and rushed to the hospitals offering what little petrol they have in their cars or homes.  Even though each one fears for their own life, they believed taking the risk, in the hope of helping someone even more desperate than themselves, was the right thing to do. This is the true spirit of Gaza.

A crisis of human rights protection mechanisms

Finally, Israel’s war on Gaza led to a global crisis in the systems and mechanisms designed to protect civilians. All international institutions proved impotent.  The International Criminal Court (ICC), which has supposedly been investigating the situation in Palestine for many years, is still doing nothing in the way of offering any justice and help to long-suffering Palestinians. The United Nations Security Council is powerless to even condemn Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on Gaza despite there being ample evidence for crimes against humanity and genocide being committed in the besieged Strip and on the occupied West Bank. The best of what these institutions offer are hollow words, and in most cases, they cannot even achieve that.

So this is an SOS call.  An SOS call on behalf of every family in Gaza who needs an immediate ceasefire. An SOS call on behalf of the world’s conscience and governance structures.  Unless we act today and immediately, we risk accepting a world order where impunity is rewarded, the powerful is allowed to crush the weak, and no civilian is truly safe.

As I conclude this article, Dr Majdy has posted that Dr Hammam Alloh, and his father, Mahmoud, are no longer with us. They bled to death while the children watched. I am engulfed in darkness.

And we still don’t know what has happened to their relatives, the al-Nakhala family.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.