Year of Gaza protests leaves lives broken, medical system on brink

So stretched are health care services in Gaza City that thousands of operations have been delayed. (AFP)
Updated 29 March 2019

Year of Gaza protests leaves lives broken, medical system on brink

  • With major protests expected on the anniversary Saturday, medical professionals are worried

GAZA CITY: A year ago, Ezzedine Al-Baz’s decision to skip work and join tens of thousands at the first day of protests along the Gaza-Israel border nearly cost him his life.

Baz, then 29, said he had been standing a couple of hundred meters from the border fence for only about a half an hour when an Israeli sniper’s bullet pierced his leg.

Five operations and multiple infections later, he is missing a chunk of bone, his leg remains strapped in a metal case and he will likely never walk as before.

“It has been a year that I have been suffering, there is still pain,” he said from a clinic run by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Gaza City.

“At night I don’t sleep at all. If I had known, I would have stayed at work.”

A year after the start of protests and clashes on the Gaza-Israel border, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

But beyond those killed, thousands of others wounded have been largely forgotten.

There have also been knock-on impacts for the Palestinian territory’s already beleaguered health system. Hundreds of those shot remain at risk of infection and amputation, while Israel has turned down most applications to leave the strip for treatment.

So stretched are health care services that thousands of operations for other conditions have been delayed, while doctors who can leave are fleeing the strip, Gazan medics say.

With major protests expected on the anniversary Saturday, medical professionals are worried.

“A full-blown escalation would obviously push the system again toward the edge of collapse,” said Gerald Rockenschaub, the World Health Organization (WHO) head in the Palestinian territories.

The protests labeled the Great March of Return have called for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel, which Israelis view as advocating for the destruction of the country. They were also billed as an opportunity for protesters to break the decade-long Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The World Bank says the restrictions are the primary cause of desperate economic circumstances in the strip, where seven out of 10 young people are unemployed.

Early on, many protesters remained far back from the fence and demonstrated peacefully. Others approached and clashed with Israeli forces. Those approaching the fence have progressively become more violent.

Explosive devices, stones and fireworks have been used against Israeli forces. There has been occasional gunfire, with one soldier killed by a Palestinian sniper.

Israeli forces’ use of live fire has come under heavy criticism, with Palestinians and rights groups saying protesters have been shot while posing little threat.

Last month, a UN probe said Israeli soldiers had intentionally fired on civilians in what could constitute war crimes.

At the MSF clinic, dozens of young men with casts sit on plastic chairs waiting for treatment.

The organization has treated more than 4,000 Palestinians with gunshot wounds. A few hundred are not healing and risk amputation.

Mohammed Bakr, a 27-year-old fisherman, was also shot on March 30 last year and has had six operations.

“Since that day I have had no hope for the future,” he said.

He accused Israeli soldiers of shooting at protesters who did nothing to provoke them.

“I won’t be able to work like before. The leg won’t carry weight.”

With Gaza’s medical system overstretched, treatment outside the strip could ease pressure.

Around 500 applications have been made by those injured in the marches to cross the Israeli border for treatment, according to figures published by the WHO.

Less than one in five have received the permits in time.

COGAT, the Israeli body responsible for the permits, confirmed it granted around 100 requests.

“The Gaza health system suffers from long years of neglect by the Hamas terror organization, which prefers to invest its citizens’ money in terror and military power,” it said.

More than 8,000 operations for other often serious but not life-threatening conditions — such as gallstones or hip replacements — have been postponed in Gaza hospitals according to the WHO.

Dozens of doctors also left Gaza in 2018, a huge spike from previous years, health officials say.

Neither the WHO nor Gaza health authorities said they had exact figures.

WHO’s Rockenschaub said he recently met a nurse who walked miles to work each day as she didn’t have money for a bus.

“Whenever we talk to health authorities in Gaza, even to individual physicians, many of them talk about their intention to leave,” he told AFP.

Health fears over French academic held in Iran

Updated 4 min 3 sec ago

Health fears over French academic held in Iran

  • Adelkhah would be willing to end her hunger strike if Marchal was freed
  • Iran does not recognize dual nationality and has lashed out at Paris for what it has described as ‘interference’

PARIS: French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah has requested access to her French colleague Roland Marchal in detention in Iran, saying she has “serious concerns” about his health, a committee supporting the pair said Thursday.
The two researchers have been held in the Islamic Republic since June, two of a number of foreigners arrested in Iran during a spike in tensions between Tehran and the West.
Adelkhah would be willing to end her hunger strike, which she started on Dec. 24, if Marchal was freed, the support committee said in a press release sent to AFP.
“She has the most serious concerns about his health — an alarm that we share,” because the Revolutionary Guards have refused a consular visit to Marchal since December, the committee said.
French nationals held abroad can usually receive consular visits, during which detention conditions — and their health — can be checked.
But Iran does not recognize dual nationality and has lashed out at Paris for what it has described as “interference” in the cases of the academics, both from Sciences Po university in Paris.
Adelkhah has refused to return to her cell and held a sit-in in a public area of the prison over the last week, demanding to see Marchal “to comfort him and check the state of his health,” the committee said.
Iran has dropped espionage charges against Adelkhah but she still faces charges of spreading “propaganda against the political system” and “conspiracy against national security.”
Marchal is accused of “collusion against national security,” according to his lawyer.
The two researchers are not the only foreign academics behind bars in Iran — Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert of the University of Melbourne is serving a 10-year sentence on espionage charges. Moore-Gilbert is sharing a cell with Adelkhah and joined her on the hunger strike.
Arrests of foreigners including dual nationals in Iran have increased since the United States pulled out a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.
France and other European nations have tried to salvage the deal, but tensions soared further after the US killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani earlier this month.
France has regularly called on Iran to release Adelkhah and Marchal, with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying earlier this month that their detention was “unacceptable.”