‘Help raise our voice’: Dialogue with Dr. Medhat Abbas, Gaza

By Pippa Bartolotti
July 2, 2020

Dr. Medhat Abbas has been director general of primary health care in Shifa Hospital and Al Aqsa in Gaza. He spent time in the Ministry of Health International Relations Department and has extensive experience in Health Services Management. Dr. Abbas is at the forefront of community health services and management of the COVID-19 response.

June 1 — Pippa Bartolotti: Is there any single moment in time or any single event which sums up for you the hardships and injustice of living under Israeli sanctions?

Dr Medhat Abbas: I remember the time I was working as a doctor in Shifa Hospital, Gaza. The Israeli F-16 fighters could be heard overhead; they were firing missiles. A child of little more than 10 years old was brought to me. It was in fact only half a child because the entire bottom half of his body was missing. The father came running in and cried out, “My son!” He knelt down and held the lifeless body, weeping. I too wept, that day. This is what Israel sends us.

Bartolotti: I was in Gaza about 10 years ago and saw for myself the cruel hardships your people suffer on a daily basis, as a result of Israeli and U.S. sanctions. Can you tell me a little about how Gaza is managing currently, especially with the onset of COVID-19?

Dr. Medhat Abbas, director general of primary health care in Shifa Hospital and Al Aqsa in Gaza.

Dr. Abbas: Gaza is a tiny strip of land of about 360 kilometers square. Two million people are trapped inside. There is no electricity most of the time. I have not taken my salary for six years. Eighty percent of our people are dependent on international aid for food. There is not enough water.

Israel is supported every step of the way by the U.S. Our hardships are many, and now we have the coronavirus. This virus comes at a time when poverty is the prevailing condition of our people, when we have almost no resources. How can you tell a man, who cannot buy bread for his children, that he has to buy hand-sanitizing gel?

This siege we have been under for 13 years is cruel and unfair. On top of the siege, we now have coronavirus. Gaza has no harbor, no airport. Fifty percent of our medical supplies are nonexistent. However, we have operated a stringent preventative program to stave off the virus. Every person entering Gaza is under mandatory quarantine, and we have caught every case before it touched the rest of the population.

The people living in Gaza only want to live in peace on our land and enable a good future for their children. Instead we have 24 hours of Israeli drones overhead. They are all armed, and we do not know when they will attack, or under what whim. We cannot even tell our children when it will end.

In July 2014 when the Israelis were heavily bombing Gaza, I was working in Al Aqsa Hospital as the tank shells landed close. Everyone had left in terror. Three doctors were killed that day. Hospitals are protected by international law: Why are hospitals in Gaza not protected?

This siege is inhumane. The U.S. sends too many weapons to Israel. Israel is already overflowing with weapons, yet Gazans do not even have enough food.

Bartolotti: Dr. Abbas, how can those of us who are working against sanctions help Gaza?

Dr. Abbas: We ask you to please help raise our voice. We have children, 70 percent of whom are anemic. We have no radiotherapy, no chemotherapy. Cardiac patients die here. Palestinians who can get to Israel for treatment are often arrested at the border and imprisoned in Israel. It is a tragedy for everyone in our country. The tragedy of a fake news program of disinformation which paints the victims as terrorists and denies us, and the world, the simplest truth.

Our reality is that we have no hope to solve our economic and social problems while under so much oppression. We need our allies to speak out and broadcast the truth.

Please, whoever is reading this, help raise our voice. Help to convey our needs. If the coronavirus gets inside Gaza, it will be a terrible tragedy on top of an already terrible tragedy.

Bartolotti: We will do our best. Already these UNAC (United National Antiwar Coalition) webinars on sanctions and the efforts of the Sanctions Kill campaign are reaching audiences of tens of thousands across social media. We will magnify this further at every opportunity.