A Leading Doctor in Gaza Explains the Trauma of Palestine

Published May 19th, 2021 - 07:26 GMT
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A Palestinian man in Gaza looks at the wreckage of a building follow Israeli airstrikes in May 2021 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
One of Gaza’s top medical experts has told Al Bawaba News that the world has once again abandoned the children of Gaza.

Dr. Khamis Elessi, Professor and Head of the Evidence-Based Medicine Unit at the Faculty of Medicine at the Islamic University in Gaza, said world leaders need to “act, and act now to stop this escalation” in Palestine and Israel.

Speaking from Gaza where he is living with his family under constant fear of bombardment, Elessi said he is “not afraid for the people who are dying now, I’m afraid for the future generations. Their hearts and minds will be impregnated with hatred because somebody has just erased their past, present, and future. I’m very pessimistic about the way forward if the world continues to ignore the ongoing air, sea, and land siege on Gaza Strip and the Palestinians' basic rights for freedom and independence.”


“At the beginning, you tell your children that the missiles are far from the house and there is no need to worry. But they ask why the home is shaking."


Elessi spoke to Al Bawaba on Tuesday, the ninth day of attacks by the Israeli army after Israeli settlers attempted to evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. This was followed by repeated police raids on worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan.

Missile attacks on Palestinian homes and Hamas targets in Gaza have killed at least 218 people, including 63 children. At least 12 entire Palestinian families have been killed in the attacks. A further 12 people in Israel have been killed, including two children. 

“I guess that 99.9% of all Palestinians inside Gaza are mentally traumatized, including me,” Elessi said. “I’m a doctor trying to treat as many patients as I can, trying to alleviate their pain and anxiety but I cannot elate myself. It is so depressing when there is no safe place to go to. The simple notion of being safe inside your home is lost because they are attacking everyone and attacking whilst you are asleep.”

“We doctors are used to emergency situations. I’ve worked in the UK, the Philippines, Israel, and the UK. But I’ve never seen a situation like this because all the victims are civilians. Out of 213 people killed, only 10 or 20 are militants. The rest are civilians.”

On Tuesday, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said that eleven children receiving trauma therapy were killed by an Israeli airstrike. Amongst those killed was 15-year-old Lina Iyad Shar. Both of her parents were killed in the same attack that struck their home in Gaza's al-Manara neighborhood. Shar’s two-year-old sister, Mina, is in critical condition and suffering from third-degree burns. 

Hamas does not give casualty figures for fighters, but Israel has said that at least 150 militants are amongst the 219 killed.

“I don’t condone the loss of any civilian life, whether it’s an Israeli life or a Palestinian life,” Elessi said. “Both lives matter for us. But when the most sophisticated army in the Middle East attacks civilian homes during the night, imagine how much terror is being implanted in the heart and minds of the children here.” 


“World leaders should act swiftly and decisively before it is too late."


“At the beginning, you tell your children that the missiles are far from the house and there is no need to worry. But they ask why the home is shaking, why people are running in the street, and why people are leaving their homes and going to schools to sleep. Why are mothers weeping? Sometimes I cannot find answers, I am just flesh and blood. It has been seven or eight days without sleep.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has done little to stop the violence. Sticking to standard procedures in Washington, the White House expressed unequivocal support for Israel and its right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas. 

Within the Democratic Party, however, there are calls for Biden to do more. On Tuesday, Representative Rashida Tlaib stopped the president on the tarmac as he landed in Detroit to visit a Ford factory near Tlaib’s congressional district to repeat pleas made in an earlier speech for the president to call on Israel to stop the bombardment. According to an anonymous aide who spoke to The New York Times, Tlaib said more had to be done to protect Palestinian lives and human rights. 

“World leaders should act swiftly and decisively before it is too late,” Elessi says. Perhaps more than in any other conflict between Israel and Palestine, international public support is against Israeli bombardment. If it’s enough to force politicians to pressure Israel to reach an agreement whereby the violence can stop is something that Palestinians will be hoping won’t take long to find out. 

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