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As humanitarian nightmare escalates in Gaza, and the world enters “an age of chaos”, we must work harder for peace

As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects Hamas’s proposed ceasefire terms, fears are escalating for the safety of people crowded into Rafah in southern Gaza, where many thousands have fled to escape fighting.

BBC reports that Israeli forces have been ordered to prepare for operations in Rafah, where displaced people are crowded in abysmal living conditions, without basic necessities such as shelter, food and water.

With Gaza hostilities entering their fifth month, hope is dwindling for the millions of people affected and the humanitarians striving to assist them, warned Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“As the war encroaches further into Rafah, I am extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of families which have endured the unthinkable in search of safety,” Griffiths said in a statement on 7 February.

About 100,000 people in Gaza have been killed, injured or are missing, representing nearly five percent of the population, according to Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

In addition, around 17,000 children are unaccompanied or separated from their families, and more than 80 percent of the population has been displaced, most several times.

The war would have no winner, “only suffering, misery and grievance”, Lazzarini said on 6 February. “A ceasefire is overdue, a different trajectory is needed for the sake of people in Gaza, in Israel, elsewhere in the region and beyond.”

Speaking on 7 February, Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, said he was alarmed by reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah.

“The situation in Gaza is a festering wound on our collective conscience that threatens the entire region,” he told the UN General Assembly.

“Nothing justifies the horrific terror attacks launched by Hamas against Israel on 7 October. Nor is there any justification for the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Yet, Israeli military operations have resulted in destruction and death in Gaza at a scale and speed without parallel since I became Secretary-General.”

Israel attacks on Rafah “would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences”.

The lives of Israeli hostages are also threatened by Israel’s rejection of a ceasefire, family members told the BBC.

Unbearable

Meanwhile, horrific insights into the toll of Israeli attacks on patients and healthcare workers in Gaza have been provided by Marie-Aure Perreaut Revial, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency coordinator, recently returned from Gaza.

In an article published by MSF on 2 February, she describes a wound-dressing unit that was seeing on average 150 patients per day, almost all with burns or blast injuries.

“Many were children. One of our surgeons told me about dressing the wounds of babies who had lost their legs. It stayed with him. Babies who had never learned to walk, and never will,” she said.

Perreaut Revial said many hospitals and basic health centres had been forced to close, and that services like maternity care or chronic conditions essentially no longer exist.

“So, are the people of Gaza no longer sick? Is there no more appendicitis? No asthma or gastro-enteritis? The truth is, that in overcrowded shelters, without food and water, lacking the most basic hygiene conditions, people are sicker than before, but they no longer have access to healthcare,” she said.

In mid-November, MSF started supporting the Shohada Health Centre, the biggest provider of general healthcare in Khan Younis, where respiratory infections, skin diseases and diarrhoea are rife, especially in young children, all a direct consequence of their dire living conditions.

“Our mental health team held art sessions with children,” she said. “Some drew their families killed during bombings. They drew the legs and arms of their mothers on the ground, beside their bodies,” she said.

The article includes a photo of a message by Dr Mahmoud Abu Nujailon on a white board in Al-Awda hospital: “Whoever stays until the end will tell the story. We did what we could. Remember us. 20.10.2023.”

He was killed by an airstrike on 21 November 2023, as were other health workers.

“Our team members in Gaza have lost family members, homes, colleagues,” said Perreaut Revial. “One colleague learned on social media that her sister had been killed. She came to work anyway, to forget, because there’s nothing else to do.”

Perreaut Revial said healthcare workers in Gaza are “holding the values of humanity in a time of great darkness”.

“Meanwhile, the people who have the power to stop this humanitarian catastrophe do not do so,” she said. “While they hesitate, doctors, nurses, Palestinians are being massacred.

“When I left Gaza, I was asked by my colleagues to bear witness to their stories. I saw just the tip of the iceberg. And that small amount was unbearable to see.”

Peace and chaos

In outlining his priorities for 2024, António Guterres spoke broadly about the importance of reforms to support peace-making in a world dominated by “so much anger and hate and noise”.

Dysfunction and division in the United Nations Security Council – the primary platform for questions of global peace – is more dangerous than ever before, he warned.

“And so our world is entering an age of chaos,” he said. “After decades of nuclear disarmament, states are competing to make their nuclear arsenals faster, stealthier and more accurate.

“New potential domains of conflict, and weapons of war, are being developed without guardrails, creating new ways to kill each other – and for humanity to annihilate itself.”

Guterres described the importance of peace-making for many of the challenges facing the world, including but also beyond a focus on war and conflict.

“As polarisation deepens and human rights are trampled, peace within communities is undermined,” he said. “As inequalities explode, peace with justice is shattered.

“As we continue our addiction to fossil fuels, we make a mockery of any notion of peace with nature.”

Working for peace would help to address many of the world’s interlinked crises, including a loss of trust in institutions and faith in the political process, he said.

In Australia

The Medical Association for Prevention of War has written to the Federal Government urging an immediate reversal of the decision to suspend Australia’s funding of UNRWA.

“Your decision cripples UNRWA’s ability to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilian population, undermines the authority of the International Court of Justice, and makes Australia complicit with conduct that may amount to genocide,” said the letter from MAPW president, Dr Sue Wareham OAM, sent to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister on 1 February.

MAPW told Croakey yesterday that it had not yet received a response from the Government.


Further reading

• The Lancet: An arc of cruelty—and futility

Dr Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of The Lancet, provides a brutal timeline from 7 October 2023 to January 2024, and concludes: “We all abhor unpleasant deals, but that’s what must happen if we are to solve the Gaza crisis.”

• BMJ Global Health: Israeli necropolitics and the pursuit of health justice in Palestine

The authors conclude: “As health professionals, and moreover, as concerned global citizens, we share a duty to bear witness and to act to redress injustices wherever they manifest. We reject the suggestion that medicine and public health can, or should be, apolitical. Rather, we understand Israeli colonial dispossession and control, its occupation, its apartheid system, and its extreme and ongoing genocidal violence as leading determinants of health, life, and death in Palestine.

“To this end, it is incumbent on us to reaffirm the global demands for an immediate ceasefire to end the genocidal violence enacted in Gaza, an immediate arms embargo to prevent further violence, wide-reaching and immediate action to safeguard human rights for all people in the region, the investigation and prosecution of all war crimes, and most importantly the meaningful and sustained pursuit of justice and the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people.”

• The Medical Republic: AHPRA clarifies social media policy on war comments

• Pearls & Irritations: Open letter to Prime Minister Albanese on the urgent situation in Gaza and the freeze of UNRWA funds

The Conversation: Israel isn’t complying with the International Court of Justice ruling — what happens next?

(A perspective from Canada).

• Gaza: UN experts condemn killing and silencing of journalists

Israel’s military operation in Gaza has become the deadliest, most dangerous conflict for journalists in recent history, according to UN experts. Since 7 October, over 122 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza, and many have been injured. As well, three journalists in Lebanon were killed as a result of Israeli shelling near the border of Lebanon. Four Israeli journalists were killed by Hamas in the 7 October attacks. Dozens of Palestinian journalists have been detained by Israeli forces in both Gaza and in the West Bank where harassment, intimidation and attacks on journalists have increased since 7 October.


From X/Twitter


Previously at Croakey