The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies and the Institute for Palestine Studies hosted Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta on Tuesday 5 December 2023 in Doha. The Palestinian surgeon and Associate Professor gave a lecture titled “The Destruction of Gaza’s Health Sector: Confronting Devastation and Forced Displacement”, in which he described his experience working in Gaza’s hospitals during the past four wars. The lecture was moderated by the ACRPS Researcher Ahmed Qasem Hussein.
Abu Sitta began by pointing out that the genocide taking place today in Palestine, which he referred to as “the Second Benny Morris War”, aims to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip. He referred to the extraordinary efforts by Palestinian medical and paramedic teams to confront these genocidal attempts, linking the Palestinian struggle with medical work. The resistance of medical teams during the ongoing war is an extension of a long pattern of resilience since the Nakba of 1948. The surgeon emphasized that the wounds inflicted by the Israeli war machine provides a window into the objectives of the war on Gaza.
The 2008-2009 war trialled a new generation of phosphorus bombs. In the 2014 war, many residential towers were targeted, wiping out entire families. Recalling the types of injuries he witnessed during the first forty-three days of the current war, Abu Sitta observed that heavy bombs weighing up to three tons were unloaded on residential buildings. Further into the war, he observed very severe burns that spread across more than 50 percent of the body without any shrapnel or fractures, indicating the use of incendiary bombs. Abu Sitta would then come to observe Israeli’s return to using white phosphorus bombs in targeting Al Karama Towers and Al-Shati Refugee Camp. He also shed light on Israel’s use of a new cohort of US Hellfire missiles, which break into pieces of iron upon impact that shred bodies, initially used during this war in the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital massacre. This was followed by the appearance of killer Quadcopters targeting markets and hospital courtyards.
Abu Sitta explained that targeting the health sector is part of a policy of creating disaster by dismantling all necessities of life. From destroying sewage systems, water desalination plants, solar energy installations, and bakeries, to targeting ambulances and medical teams, intentionally martyring more than 280 doctors, paramedics, and nurses, these attacks contribute to Israeli efforts to inflict a disaster that is great enough to keep the ethnic cleansing project going even after the war is over. The Israelis have now killed more than twenty thousand Palestinians, injured more than forty thousand and has deliberately left them to die slowly. This tactic works to force their families to leave the Gaza Strip after the ceasefire. Abu Sitta believes that the emergence of the Israeli narrative about tunnels at Al-Shifa Hospital and the command-and-control centre of the Palestinian resistance made clear Israel’s decision to target the health sector. The bombing of the Baptist Hospital was a test to scope out the international community’s response to the systematic targeting of the health sector. This test led to the bombing of four children’s hospitals, the besieging of Al-Shifa Hospital, and the performance of abandoning premature babies to die alone.
Concluding the lecture, Abu Sitta asserted that this war demonstrates Israeli society’s support for moving toward a ‘final solution’ for the Palestinian question, eliminating the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, first through wreaking death and destruction, then by displacing any survivors. He made clear that this would be repeated on the Palestinians of the West Bank and within the Green Line. But this plan is being tripped up by the incredible resistance and defiance of the Gazan people. Despite the ‘death world’ created by Israel, there is daily resistance, not just militarily, but in the responses of ordinary people, through societal solidarity. People are hosting relatives and even strangers in their homes and are rejecting the humiliation of asylum, which explains the approximately 800,000 Palestinians remaining in the northern Gaza Strip. Even during the temporary truce, a number of Gazans returned from Egypt to the Gaza Strip, and Palestinians displaced from northern to southern Gaza tried to return to their homes. Abu Sitta’s final remarks stressed that the Gaza Strip will indeed recover from the results of the war in the coming years, as long as it is given the opportunity to do so.