Calls alone won’t solve Gaza con­flict

CityPress - - Voices - Gar­ret Barn­well Barn­well is pres­i­dent of Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders South­ern Africa

For three weeks now I’ve been gripped with a hor­ri­ble sense of pow­er­less­ness and seething frus­tra­tion.

Civil­ians are be­ing killed, maimed and in­jured as fight­ing in the Gaza­Is­rael con­flict in­ten­si­fies.

The Is­raeli De­fence Forces con­tin­ues to rain a tor­rent of bombs and shells on Gaza – a place roughly the size of the city of Joburg, but nearly twice as densely pop­u­lated.

I get alarm­ing daily dis­patches from col­leagues work­ing in Gaza – a city un­der siege, where no one is safe. Many of the pa­tients lucky enough to make it to the emer­gency rooms where we are work­ing die within min­utes due to the sever­ity of their in­juries, and hos­pi­tals are also be­ing bombed.

Our teams work­ing along­side Pales­tinian med­i­cal staff can only of­fer the best pos­si­ble med­i­cal care to the in­jured and try to save as many of the crit­i­cally wounded as pos­si­ble un­der dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

But we have be­come acutely aware of the lim­its of our ac­tion: you can­not stop this war with doc­tors.

And as a South African, I am wor­ried our govern­ment is not play­ing a strong enough part in end­ing the blood­shed, which is not only an af­front to our con­science, but to the legacy of Nel­son Man­dela.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s dis­patch of a del­e­ga­tion to con­vey the South African govern­ment’s “grow­ing con­cern” about what is a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter is not enough.

De­spite the very clear rules of war un­der In­ter­na­tional Hu­man­i­tar­ian Law, hos­pi­tals are no longer places of safety in Gaza. Just this week, AlShifa, Gaza’s big­gest hos­pi­tal and the main re­fer­ral hos­pi­tal for the en­tire strip, was hit by Is­raeli fire.

In the past month, other hos­pi­tals have been tar­geted. And a week ago, when Al-Wafa Hos­pi­tal re­ceived a warn­ing that it was to be de­stroyed, hos­pi­tal staff were forced to make ex­tremely tough de­ci­sions about what to do about the pa­tients on oxy­gen life­lines who could not be moved from their beds. Nurses try­ing to evac­u­ate pa­tients into the streets col­lapsed from smoke in­hala­tion as the at­tack started. It was re­mark­able that no one was killed.

We are adamant that hos­pi­tals shouldn’t be bombed – but nei­ther should schools, or a civil­ian pop­u­la­tion trapped in what has been called “an open-air prison”.

Is­rael’s mil­i­tary is show­ing dis­re­gard for civil­ian life and in­fra­struc­ture in its of­fen­sive. The power sup­ply, un­sta­ble at best, is now down for 20 hours a day due to dam­age fol­low­ing the bomb­ing of the strip’s only power sta­tion. This af­fects ev­ery­thing from the work we do in op­er­at­ing the­atres to the wa­ter pumps that pro­vide wa­ter to the en­tire pop­u­la­tion. To­day, 80% of Gaza’s pop­u­la­tion can­not ac­cess safe drink­ing wa­ter.

We have seen that the “ad­vanced warn­ing” sys­tems that Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties boast of to the in­ter­na­tional me­dia do lit­tle to pre­vent deaths and in­juries. Our doc­tors have seen pa­tients who have been maimed by mis­siles that hit UN schools, des­ig­nated as shel­ters for the ter­ri­fied pop­u­la­tion.

With more than 40% of the area of the Gaza Strip la­belled off-lim­its by Is­rael, os­ten­si­bly to pre­vent civil­ian deaths, peo­ple do not know where to find safety for their fam­i­lies any more.

They have nowhere to run and, with the block­ade in place, pre­cious few ba­sic med­i­cal sup­plies can reach the teams try­ing to help them.

It’s high time the South African govern­ment steps up ef­forts based on our own his­tory of over­com­ing op­pres­sion and vi­o­lence through ne­go­ti­a­tion.

The out­pour­ing of sup­port from South Africans to the peo­ple of Gaza in re­cent weeks, as well as our govern­ment’s historic sup­port of the peo­ple of Pales­tine gen­er­ally, is rooted in a recog­ni­tion that parts of their on­go­ing strug­gle mir­ror our own his­tory.

Are there lessons to be learnt from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s iso­la­tion of apartheid South Africa as a diplomatic tac­tic to force a per­ma­nent change?

These are not the first mil­i­tary at­tacks we have wit­nessed along with the peo­ple of Pales­tine. For this rea­son, we know that “hu­man­i­tar­ian” cease­fires and truces have min­i­mal im­pact on a fraught and des­per­ate pop­u­la­tion, who live in fear of the next bom­bard­ment.

South Africa needs to re­dis­cover its con­science and add its voice, loud and clear, to the call for a so­lu­tion – not a truce, not a tem­po­rary cease­fire, but a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion that stops the blood­shed on both sides.


THE COST More than 10 000 civil­ians have been wounded in Gaza since the con­flict be­gan more than a month ago

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