The bombing of the Gaza Strip killed far more than 1,000 people, many of them civilians, and wounded some 10,000, many of whom will need follow-up medical and surgical treatment. Half of Gaza’s hospitals were damaged and some destroyed altogether. More than 15,000 residences have been partially or totally destroyed, and entire neighborhoods are inaccessible, blocked by piles of rubble that resemble earthquake debris.
Michele Beck, MSF medical team leader in Gaza, surveyed the scene during a brief mid-August ceasefire.
The scale of destruction is staggering. Yesterday with the truce, we were able to go to Beit Hanoun and Shujayah, small towns close to Erez, the crossing point into Israel. It’s not the same seeing footage of the destruction and to have it in front of you, making eye contact with people who are searching under the rubble for cushions, blankets. They try to get what they can out of the debris but they recover practically nothing.
In Beit Hanoun and Shujayah, there were mostly apartment blocks. The closer to the border, the more impact of the shelling and tank fire you see. These were areas where the Israeli army had told inhabitants to evacuate.
The last block is a skeleton of poles holding a few layers of concrete. People sat in front of the ruins—dazed. They left with their children and the clothes they had on. Now they come back and see that everything is destroyed, burned. These are the poorest neighborhoods of Gaza, because they are the most exposed to shelling and where rent is cheaper. It is the poorest who have lost everything.
In Beit Hanoun, whole streets are no more than piles of rubble. Residents have written on banners or sections of walls that are still standing. “Here I had an ice cream shop,” “Here I had a car garage”, “If you want to help, call ...” In Haiti after the earthquake, I saw the same level of destruction, except here it is not because of a natural disaster.
The Wafa hospital was bombed, the walls of a center for children with Down syndrome have holes everywhere. In contrast, the Kamal Edwan hospital was not affected. During the war, it served as an advanced medical post. It treated minor injuries and transferred the most severe cases to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
We, MSF, had made a donation of solutes, compresses, gloves and mattresses because they also lacked beds. Now they care for those wounded by the conflict, in addition to the usual patients, the chronically ill. The wards are always full and displaced families come to sleep there at night.
IDPs also live in schools, in shops that owners open to their relatives. Others are crowded into apartments. People showed us their homes, well what’s left of them. It’s heartbreaking, but what can we do? It will take years to rebuild everything.