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“The question is no longer whether Palestinians will starve to death in a famine, but how many will do so”

Amid global fears about the starvation of people in Gaza, a medical organisation in Australia is organising missions to help children there who have had limbs amputated.

The Palestinian Australian New Zealand Medical Association is striving to recruit surgeons, nurses and other volunteers, as well as to raise funds and donated medical supplies, reports Alison Barrett.


Alison Barrett writes:

The Australian Government must insist on full and unimpeded access of aid convoys to all regions of Gaza, and an end to attacks on Palestinians who are desperately seeking food, according to a medical leader.

The call from Dr Sue Wareham OAM, President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), comes amid horrific details about the starvation of babies, children and others in Gaza.

Famine in Gaza is imminent unless there is an immediate increase in deliveries of food, water and other essentials, according to the latest analysis from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

An editorial in The Guardian this week titled ‘…famine in Gaza: a human-made catastrophe’ said: “The question is no longer whether Palestinians will starve to death in a famine, but how many will do so.”

The editorial said Josep Borrell, the EU foreign affairs chief, has accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war.

The United States should make it clear that while it embraces Israel’s right and duty to protect its citizens, military aid is conditional on protecting civilians in Gaza, the editorial said.

“The priorities must be a ceasefire and the release of hostages, and the facilitation of a huge quantity of aid, and the traffic of commercial goods, including through the opening of more crossings. Many lives will be lost, whatever happens. But many more could still, and must, be saved.”

Wareham called on the Australian Government to strengthen demands for a permanent ceasefire and an end to the siege of Gaza, announce an explicit prohibition on sales of weapons and weapons components to Israel, and abandon its “warm and close” relationship with Israel.

“Right now, the Australian Government must act to prevent far more children, and adults, dying from the starvation and other horrors being inflicted on them,” she wrote in an article published yesterday in Pearls & Irritations.

The World Health Organization reiterated previous calls for Israel to open more land crossings to accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“As the occupying force, it is their responsibility under international law to allow for the passage of supplies including food,” WHO said in a statement on 18 March.

The latest IPC report on famine confirmed what WHO, its UN partners and nongovernmental organisations have been witnessing and reporting for months, said the statement.

“When our missions reach hospitals, we meet exhausted and hungry health workers who ask us for food and water. We see patients trying to recover from life-saving surgeries and losses of limbs, or sick with cancer or diabetes, mothers who have just given birth, or newborn babies, all suffering from hunger and the diseases that stalk it.”

Immediate ceasefire

Meanwhile, a medical specialist has called on the Australian Government to press Israel to stop the war on Palestine and implement an immediate ceasefire.

Dr Ala Mustafa, founder and president of the Palestinian Australian New Zealand Medical Association (PANZMA), told Croakey that ceasefire is the biggest message for everyone to be involved in.

He believes the Federal Government “has enough power” to tell Israel to stop the war, and everyone – including Australian healthcare professionals – need to “continue speaking up”.

Mustafa, a paediatric cardiologist based in the ACT, and PANZMA – an association of Palestinian medical professionals and its supporters in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand – are in the process of organising some missions to Gaza with specialised surgeons as well as nurses and ICU specialists.

The first mission – expected for April-May – is called ‘reconstructing the limbs of children’ and is focused on helping children in Gaza who have had limbs amputated.

PANZMA hopes to recruit enough surgeons and other volunteers, as well as funding, to enable more missions to Gaza – one every month ideally, Mustafa told Croakey.

Mustafa told Croakey the main difference between PANZMA and other aid organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières is that it is focused on getting sub-specialties that are not commonly available into Gaza.

“It’s hard to find [many] highly specialised pioneers in the field of orthopaedic surgery” which is greatly needed in Gaza to help “reconstruct the limbs of these children with no limbs”, he said.

Mustafa said he has family in the West Bank and while it is not as bad for them as those in Gaza, they have been attacked twice by Israeli settlers causing damage to infrastructure and cars. He has been able to maintain communication with his family.

Dr Ala Mustafa

Emergency appeals

In addition to emergency appeals and other fundraising events – including their current ‘honey for healing’ campaign (watch this video for details) – to sustain their mission and other activities, PANZMA are looking at Government grants.

However, Mustafa said they had not been successful in obtaining Government grant funding. “We’ve been asked to wait and see, but not positive news yet,” he said.

Since October 2023, PANZMA has tried to support the healthcare system in Gaza where they can, by providing telehealth services to families, as well as personalised education to doctors, based on the PANZMA volunteer’s specialty.

PANZMA is also running a project collecting donated medical supplies – mainly surgical equipment – from hospitals, clinics or labs that they will deliver to Gaza.

Supporting health professionals

PANZMA was established in 2020 to support health professionals in Palestine during the pandemic.

“The health system in Palestine including Gaza, was already falling apart without any wars. It has completely fallen apart now,” Mustafa said.

The organisation has 106 Palestinian members and approximately 600 PANZMA-friends who are medical workers from other backgrounds.

Mustafa told Croakey that while the PANZMA group does not have formal structures in place to support members affected by the war, they have informal chats and for those who do require additional support, doctors in the group are available to call them on a regular basis.

Contact PANZMA if you are interested in supporting them, and/or being part of their missions to Gaza; also on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Witness to War is a multilingual hotline for people in Australia affected by overseas conflicts.

Free call 1800 845 198


Previously at Croakey:

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