'Every single inhabitant of Gaza, without exception, has suffered in this war'

© Frederic Sautereau/Oeil PublicF

Sana Rajab, left, and Mohamed "Abu Abed" Mughaiseeb who have been working in Gaza proving essential care to victims of the violence.

Throughout the Israeli offensive on Gaza, Sana Rajab and Mohamed "Abu Abed" Mughaiseeb worked at the heart of the emergency health services run by MSF. Sana, a nurse, and Abu Abed, a doctor, are first and foremost Palestinians from the Gaza strip. "Every single one of us, without exception, has suffered in this war," they explain.

It all began on December 27, 2008.

"It was 11 a.m. when the bombing started. It was a Saturday," said Abu Abed. "Within hours, there were lots of casualties. It was chaos. We visited the hospitals to find out what the medical needs were. Because MSF had emergency stocks in the area, we were able to donate drugs and medical supplies."

Even as bombs continued to fall on Gaza City, the MSF medical team reopened its post-operative clinic. The clinic took in casualties who had undergone emergency operations in hospital and who needed medical follow-up.

"Because of the bombings, it was very difficult for patients and MSF staff to move around," explained Sana. "We gave our colleagues emergency medical kits so that they could give medical assistance right in the heart of their neighbourhoods."

Despite the intense fighting, the MSF teams assisted a total of 60 to 70 patients every day in Gaza City. They included injured people who needed medical treatment, as well as many individuals suffering from "normal" or chronic illnesses who could not access their regular treatment in the circumstances.

© Frederic Sautereau/Oeil Public

Twenty two days after the Israeli offensive began, a ceasefire allowed MSF teams to administer more aid across the Gaza strip. A tent-based hospital was set up to provide secondary surgical care and follow-up to those injured during the fighting. Within two weeks, MSF doctors had operated on around 40 people, mainly suffering from burns, infected wounds or requiring orthopaedic surgery.

The aftermath of war

Today, Sana works with the mobile teams that visit areas worst affected by the violence, and the various healthcare facilities to identify and refer patients to the MSF hospital. Abu Abed coordinates MSF medical programmes in the Gaza strip. Both remain shocked at the trauma suffered by Palestinian population.

Sana talks of the time she spent listening at length to an injured man. "He had been shot in the arm. Three of his brothers and his only sister had been killed. He couldn't stop talking. I listened to him, and then kept on listening. It was very painful."

Abu Abed added, "There are stories which are really difficult to hear. During the bombings, the Israeli army decreed a daily three-hour cease-fire. There were children who used to wait for this relative calm to go to the toilet! Can you imagine a child of five, so terrorised that he's holding it in and asking his mother when the lull in the fighting will be so he can go to the toilet?"

The memories keep on coming. The conversation is animated. "If we begin to remember every tragic story, we'll never stop" said Sana.

Today, war has given way to the aftermath of war - to physical and psychological wounds. The MSF mental health programme, which has been in place in Gaza for several years, is now offering psychological support for the emergency medical team staff who found themselves on the front line providing emergency war aid.

"Young or old, rich or poor, black or white, Muslim or any other religion, we've all been affected," Abu Abed concluded. "So many people have been injured; others have lost a brother or a friend; and still others have had their homes destroyed... Every inhabitant of the Gaza Strip, without exception, has suffered in this war."