Volume 35, Issue 1
COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
Palestine Think Tank
Free Minds for a Free Palestine
The Wounds of Gaza
Guest Post Feb 4th, 2009
Two Surgeons from the UK, Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah and Dr Swee Ang,
managed to get into Gaza during the Israeli invasion. Here they
describe their experiences, share their views, and conclude that
the people of Gaza are extremely vulnerable and defenseless in the
event of another attack.
By Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah and Dr. Swee Ang
The wounds of Gaza are deep and multi-layered. Are we talking about the
Khan Younis massacre of 5,000 in 1956 or the execution of 35,000
prisoners of war by Israel in 1967? Yet more wounds of the First
Intifada, when civil disobedience by an occupied people against the
occupiers resulted in massive wounded and hundreds dead? We also
cannot discount the 5,420 wounded in southern Gaza alone since 2000.
Hence what we are referring to below are only that of the invasion as
of 27 December 2008, Over the period of 27 December 2008 to the
ceasefire of 18 Jan 2009, it was estimated that a million and a half
tons of explosives were dropped on Gaza Strip. Gaza is 25 miles by 5
miles and home to 1.5 million people. This makes it the most crowded
area in the whole world. Prior to this Gaza has been completely
blockaded and starved for 50 days. In fact since the Palestinian
election Gaza has been under total or partial blockade for several
On the first day of the invasion, 250
persons were killed. Every single police station in Gaza was
bombed killing large numbers of police officers. Having wiped out the
police force attention was turned to non-government targets. Gaza
was bombed from the air by F16 and Apache helicopters, shelled
from the sea by Israeli gunboats and from the land by tank artillery.
Many schools were reduced to rubble, including the American School
of Gaza, 40 mosques, hospitals, UN buildings, and of course 21,000
homes, 4,000 of which were demolished completely. It is estimated that
100,000 people are now homeless.
used apart from conventional bombs and high explosives also include
unconventional weapons of which at least 4 categories could be
Phosphorus Shells and Bombs_
The bombs dropped were described by eyewitnesses as exploding at high
altitude scattering a large canopy of phosphorus bomblets which cover a
During the land invasion,
eyewitnesses describe the tanks shelling into homes first with a
conventional shell. Once the walls are destroyed, a second shell – a
phosphorus shell is then shot into the homes. Used in this manner
the phosphorus explodes and burns the families and the homes. Many
charred bodies were found among burning phosphorus particles. One area
of concern is the phosphorus seems to be in a special stabilizing
agent. This results in the phosphorus being more stable and not
completely burning out. Residues still cover the fields,
playground and compounds. They ignite when picked up by curious kids,
or produce fumes when farmers return to water their fields. One
returning farming family on watering their field met with clouds of
fumes producing epistaxis. Thus the phosphorus residues probably
treated with a stabilizer also act as anti-personnel weapons
against children and make the return to normal life difficult without
Surgeons from hospitals are also
reporting cases where after primary laparotomy for relatively small
wounds with minimal contamination find on second look
laparotomy increasing areas of tissue necrosis at about 3
days. Patients then become gravely ill and by about 10 days those
patients needing a third relook encounter massive liver necrosis. This
may or may not be accompanied by generalized bleeding, kidney failure
and heart failure and death. Although acidosis, liver necrosis and
sudden cardiac arrest due to hypocalcaemia are known to be a
complication of white phosphorus it is not possible to attribute these
complications as being due to phosphorus alone.
There is real urgency to analyze and identify the real nature of this
modified phosphorus as to its long-term effect on the people of Gaza.
There is also urgency in collecting and disposing of the phosphorus
residues littering the entire Gaza Strip. As they give off toxic fumes
when coming into contact with water, once the rain falls the whole area
would be polluted with acid phosphorus fumes. Children should be warned
not to handle and play with these phosphorus residues.
_The use of DIME (dense inert material explosives) was evident, though
it is unsure whether depleted uranium was used in the south. In
the civilian areas, surviving patients were found to have limbs
truncated by DIME, since the stumps apart from being characteristically
cut off in guillotine fashion also fail to bleed. Bomb casing and
shrapnel are extremely heavy.
Fuel Air Explosives_
Bunker busters and implosion bombs have been used. There are buildings
especially the 8 storey Science and Technology Building of the
Islamic University of Gaza which had been reduced to a pile of rubble
no higher than 5-6 feet.
People in Gaza described a silent bomb which is extremely
destructive. The bomb arrives as a silent projectile at most with
a whistling sound and creates a large area where all objects and living
things are vaporized with minimal trace. We are unable to fit
this into conventional weapons but the possibility of new particle
weapons being tested should be suspected.
Survivors describe Israeli tanks arriving in front of homes asking
residents to come out. Children, old people and women would come
forward and as they were lined up they were just fired on and killed.
Families have lost tens of their members through such executions. The
deliberate targeting of unarmed children and women is well documented
by human right groups in the Gaza Strip over the past month.
Targeting of Ambulances_
Thirteen ambulances had been fired upon killing drivers and first aid
personnel in the process of rescue and evacuation of the wounded.
The first patients wounded by cluster were brought into Abu Yusef
Najjar Hospital. Since more than 50% of the tunnels have been
destroyed, Gaza has lost part of her lifeline. These tunnels contrary
to popular belief are not for weapons, though small light weapons could
have been smuggled through them. However they are the main stay
of food and fuel for Gaza.
beginning to tunnel again. However it became clear that cluster bombs
were dropped on to the Rafah border and the first was accidentally set
of by tunneling. Five burns patients were brought in after
setting off a booby trap kind of device.
As of 25 January 2009, the death toll was estimated at 1,350 with the
numbers increasing daily. This is due to the severely wounded
continuing to die in hospitals. 60% of those killed were children.
_The severely injured numbered 5,450, with 40% being children. These
are mainly large burns and polytrauma patients. Single limb
fractures and walking wounded are not included in these figures.
Through our conversations with doctors and nurses the word holocaust
and catastrophe were repeatedly used. The medical staff all bears the
psychological trauma of the past month living though the situation and
dealing with mass casualties which swamped their casualties and
operating rooms. Many patients died in the Accident and Emergency
Department while awaiting treatment. In a district hospital, the
orthopedic surgeon carried out 13 external fixations in less than a day.
It is estimated that of the severely injured, 1,600 will suffer
permanently disabilities. These include amputations, spinal cord
injuries, head injuries, and large burns with crippling contractures.
The death and injury toll is especially high in this recent assault due to several factors:
No escape: As Gaza is sealed by Israeli troops, no one can escape
the bombardment and the land invasion. There is simply no escape. Even
within the Gaza Strip itself, movement from north to south is
impossible as Israeli tanks had cut the northern half of Gaza from the
south. Compare this with the situation in Lebanon 1982 and 2006, when
it was possible for people to escape from an area of heavy bombardment
to an area of relative calm – there was no such is option for Gaza.
Gaza is very densely populated. It is eerie to see that the bombs
used by Israel have been precision bombs. They have a hundred percent
hit rate on buildings which are crowded with people. Examples are the
central market, police stations. Schools, the UN compounds used as a
safety shelter from bombardment, mosques (40 of them destroyed), and
the homes of families who thought they were safe as there were no
combatants in them and high rise flats where a single implosion bomb
would destroy multiple families. This pattern of consistent
targeting of civilians makes one suspect that the military targets are
but collateral damage, while civilians are the primary targets given
the quantity and quality of the ammunition being used as described
above and Gaza’s lack of defense against the modern weapons of Israel.
She has no tanks, no planes, and no anti-aircraft missiles to use
against the invading army. We experienced that first hand in a
minor clash of Israeli tank shells versus Palestinian AK47 return
fire. The forces were simply unmatched.
absence of well-constructed bomb shelters for civilians was also a poor
match for bunker busters possessed by the Israeli Army.
Taking the above points into consideration, the next assault on Gaza
would be just as disastrous. The people of Gaza are extremely
vulnerable and defenseless in the event of another attack. If the
International Community is serious about preventing such a large scale
of deaths and injuries in the future, it will have to develop some sort
of defense force for Gaza. Otherwise, many more vulnerable civilians
will continue to die.
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