Russian Roulette: Doctors w/out Borders Demand Immediate Ceasefire as Hospitals turned into “Morgues”

Doctors without Borders (the French volunteer organization Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF]) has written a poignant letter to the United Nations Security Council imploring for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

They took this step after Israeli troops deliberately attacked MSF rescue vehicles and destroyed them with tank fire.

Making the shotMaking the shot: MSF Convoy Vehicles Destroyed in Gaza: Doctors Without Borders / MSF-USA

The organization wrote to the UNSC, “My colleagues and I, like so many people around the world, were distressed and shocked by Hamas’s attack on Israeli civilians. Now, after 58 days, words fail us to describe the absolute horror being inflicted on Palestinian civilians by Israel as it carries out incessant and indiscriminate warfare in Gaza for all the world to see.”

Note that indiscriminate warfare harming innocent noncombatants is a war crime.

MSF accused the Israeli authorities of showing “a blatant and total disregard” for the protection of clinics and hospitals. The Rome Statute brands a war crime “Intentionally directing attacks against . . . hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives.” One of the reasons for the apparent Israeli hoax that medical facilities in Gaza were Hamas command centers was to allow them cover for destroying health care in Gaza’s north as a way of forcing the population to relocate to the south.

The physicians say that they are “watching as hospitals are turned into morgues and ruins. These supposedly protected facilities are being bombed, are being shot at by tanks and guns, encircled and raided, killing patients and medical staff.”

They note that the World Health Organization (WHO) has a file of 203 Israeli attacks on medical facilities that have killed at least 22 doctors and nurses and injured 59.

MSF reports that physicians have been having to amputate badly burned childrens’ hands, arms or legs, without anesthesia or the ability to sterilize their scalpels.

Four of the volunteer doctors who went into Gaza for the organization were killed by Israeli fire, while several others have been injured. They report that other volunteer organizations have also seen members killed by the Israelis. They say they tried to send in an extra support team, but it was able to accomplish very little given that Gaza is a free-fire zone where it is impossible to move around securely and where no place is safe.

They note the Israeli cut-off of potable water, food aid, and fuel to the civilian population, declaring, “We are witnessing the fundamental principle of humanity being openly disgraced.”

Israel’s campaign is, they say, a total war on noncombatants “waged at any cost,” and not a precision strike at Hamas fighters. In International Humanitarian Law, the law governing actions during warfare, any military response must be “ proportionate.”

Instead, the doctors say, Israel’s whole military strategy in Gaza is “based on disproportionality.” They decry the statement of the spokesman for the Israeli army that its emphasis would be on “damage and not accuracy.” MSF calls the Israeli campaign a “flagrantly excessive reprisal.”

Northern Gaza, they say, is being “erased from the map.”

(Juan here: I can remember when an Iranian president was accused of saying he wanted to erase Israel from the map and that this goal was taken as a very bad thing [it isn’t what he said].)

Back to MSF. They announce “The health system has collapsed.” They add that “more than 15,500 people have been killed, half of whom are children, according to Gaza’s health authorities. That’s one out of every 200 people in Gaza.”

They say that Israel is bombing squalid refugee camps where the wounded risk deadly infections, so that if the bombs don’t get them diseases will.

As for the south, they write, “Our emergency team in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, has reported massive influxes of wounded after intense bombing. Last Saturday, 60 dead and 213 injured people arrived at the emergency room of Al-Aqsa hospital.”

(In an interview with the American Broadcasting Corporation, one MSF doctor described living under the constant Israeli indiscriminate bombing as playing Russian roulette:

ABC: “‘Russian roulette of how you want to be killed:’ Doctor on situation in Gaza”

In the letter, they complain that the Israelis are forcing the population ever further south, but that then they are bombing the south as well as everywhere else, so that no place is safe for noncombatants.

They conclude by shouting in bold:

Indiscriminate and relentless attacks must stop now. Forcible displacement must stop now.

Assaults on hospitals and medical staff must stop now. Restrictions on aid and the siege must stop now.


Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on December 5, 2023, on Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion, a website featuring commentary by Professor Juan Cole.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Professor Cole.

Image Credit: ABC News

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