Yesterday several of us visited Shefa Hospital in central Gaza City. This is the largest hospital in Gaza; it is a public hospital and provides free care to anyone in need. Shefa was badly damaged during "Operation Cast Lead". During that time, they had to work for many days with no electricity and with bombs falling all around close by. It is a large hospital campus--it would be impossible to have been targeted by accident. Doctors and nurses there treated some of the worst injuries, and continue to do so with every Israeli attack.
We met with one of the medical directors, Dr Ayman. As he took us on a tour of several units in the hospital, he pointed out supply shortages and machinery that needed repair or to be updated. For example, yesterday there were only 4 bags of normal saline IV solution left in their stock. Dr Ayman also talked of the excellent training and dedication of the staff. Dr Ayman is a very dignified man, a Urologist. As we walked he said to me, "Most of anything, I want to give my children hope and to tell them never to give up. I keep telling them that we must not hate the Israelis. Sometimes I feel so hopeless, but I want to give my children hope."
We can talk about shortages of essential goods, that it makes NO sense for a society that is this well educated and trained and "ready to go" to be so dependent on NGOs and relief agencies, that people live in a constant state of fear and hyper-arousal for when the next shelling or bomb will come, that the trauma is ongoing, that the siege is absolutely brutal--imprisoning people and making it impossible to develop a viable economy. It is a geo-political nightmare that is the root of all that is hard and wrong and traumatizing and dieing in Gaza.
Yet there is the constant underlying reaching for hopefulness. This is not a population bent on destroying another population. From what I've seen it is a people intensely set on being well educated, improving their lives, rightfully claiming land and place. They want the freedom, as do we all, to get on with things--to re-build and develop and thrive.
I really believe that step one--as in, instantly, no delay--is that we must demand of Israel that the siege end. People here refer to it as "the situation"--they are totally weary of saying "blockade or siege". The blockade is immoral and is causing catastrophic hardships. The larger political situation, of course, has to be addressed and cannot be ignored. However, it is unconscionable that Israel has this land under blockade. It serves no one (not Israel and certainly, not Gaza) and it is slowly destroying the environment and infrastructure here. It negates freedom and human rights that are guaranteed under international law and it violates basic dignity for human beings.
The most important public health work we can do now, I believe, is put all our efforts toward immediately ending the Israeli siege/blockade of Gaza.