Gaza tragedies 

29 March 2007 

As one of seven doctors from Britain paying an eight day visit to Gaza, I was shown the room in Al Wafa rehabilitation hospital where two nurses were killed in April 2002 by a sniper firing from a nearby building. They went into the room to tend a paraplegic patient who had to be turned every two hours. A bullet passed through the heart of the first nurse, killing him instantly, and then entered the chest of his colleague who died shortly afterwards. The patient managed to get to one of the nurses and was doing external cardiac massage when the staff arrived. Although the sniper had fired deliberately, the BBC reported that the two nurses had been killed in ‘cross fire.’ The name of the hospital is painted clearly on its walls.

            In the next room we were introduced to a man in his 20s, shot in his home in Khan Younis near the border with Israel. According to the senior doctor, the man was the victim of an expanding bullet, manufactured in California, fired by an Israeli sniper two months ago, well after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. It severed his spinal cord, paralysing both legs. At the young man’s bedside was his father, recovering from a fracture through his left femur, caused by another of the sniper’s bullets. A third bullet left the mother blind in one eye. The killing or wounding of health professionals on duty or civilians are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Father and son who were shot in their home by a sniper

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Three of us visited the house where 17 members of one family were killed during an Israeli incursion carried out in revenge for ineffectual Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot. On 6 Nov 2006, we were told, 13 to 15 tanks came into the area of Beit Hanoun where the house stands. A curfew was imposed which confined people indoors. At 5.30 on 8 Nov, when the family was asleep, three tanks round the house shelled it. We met a boy of about 16 who had lost his forearm, and spoke to a boy of about 12 who had lost his foot in the bombardment which killed his mother and two sisters. A woman lost both legs.

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Outside Gaza City, at a sewerage plant we were told that it had been renovated in 1997, but the American expert who specified the changes gave bad advice and the alterations were inadequate. It cannot cope and it cannot be expanded. Much raw sewerage has to be discharged via the Wadi Gaza into the sea. One of its two water treatment towers was shelled from a nearby Israeli army depot.

                A few hours after we left Gaza, the bank of an overloaded settlement pond in a plant at the northern end of the Strip gave way. The flood of escaping sewerage drowned at least six people in a Bedouin village close by, injured 18, and made 300 families homeless.

            Construction of a new plant had been prevented by the Israelis in three ways. They would not allow its creation on a site in the area; they refused to release taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinians which would have made construction possible; and the prolonged closure of Gaza’s borders by Israel, has precluded the entry of materials necessary for construction and repairs.

Palestinian rescue workers search for bodies amongst shanty houses after a cesspool embankment collapsed March 27, 2007   (Associated Press photo)

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