Gaza: hospitals and population face up to high human cost of violence
The recent violence in the Gaza Strip has left more than 60 people dead and hundreds injured. The ICRC has helped local hospitals cope with caring for the injured - interview with Georgios Georgantas, head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Gaza.
Between 1 and 4 February, at least 28 Gazans were killed and about 250 wounded adding to the many victims of the week before. Many people, including women and children, found themselves caught in the crossfire. But it wasn’t just the people on the streets who were affected: hundreds of thousands of people were unable to buy basic necessities because shops were closed; they couldn’t go to school or to work, go to the bank or visit offices, because either everything was closed or there was no safe way of getting there.
What has the ICRC been able to do in these conditions?
We have to adapt our action to the current situation and take into account new risks. The priority for the ICRC in Gaza is medical support, so that local facilities can deal with large numbers of wounded. We are in contact with hospitals and supply them with drugs and disposables. At any moment, we can provide enough surgical material and drugs for two hundred wounded. Equally important are the approaches we make to the different sides to try to ensure that medical units can work and to remind them of the basic humanitarian rules that apply in times of violence. Finally, we organize hundreds of family visits to relatives held in Israeli prisons – this is very important for Gazans and we do everything to keep it going despite the violence.
How are hospitals in Gaza coping?
Thanks to the professionalism and high morale of the staff, hospitals have been able to take care of the wounded. The ICRC monitors hospital stocks and delivers what is needed. There was a shortfall of blood, though, and appeals were made in the mosques for donors. We also noticed that the staff often had problems getting to w ork or going home; during the fighting there was no transport available, no taxis, and venturing out alone in such situations is not a safe option.
What is life like for the people of Gaza?
When we talk to people, they are all shocked, but on the other hand, when it is calm again, life returns to the streets of Gaza. People cope with this situation very courageously – they have to. Still, only activities that are absolutely necessary resume; Gazans avoid being on the street for no good reason.
How is the ICRC seen by the different sides in Gaza?
All sides accept the ICRC and our work is welcomed and appreciated both by the main political and armed factions, and by the people of Gaza. We can meet and talk at any time, and explain our concerns and recommendations. Our interventions bring positive changes even at the height of the violence, and everyone understands our neutral, humanitarian role.
The violence has overshadowed the case of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Is the ICRC still trying to get access to him?
We are continuing our contacts with the authorities and with various Palestinian groups, asking to have access to Gilad Shalit. In private and in public we have urged those holding the soldier to treat him humanely, to respect his life and dignity and to allow him to contact his family. We have not yet been able to see him, but, for the ICRC, with its strictly neutral and impartial mission, this remains a very important objective.