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‘Women in Gaza are being raped and this is not being investigated or reported’

Canadian doctors volunteering in Gaza have reported women being sexually humiliated by Israeli occupation forces in front of their families, one woman was raped for 2 days until she was unable to speak, yet nothing is being done about it, Clinical Professor of Medicine Dr Aliya Khan tells MEMO.

March 24, 2024 at 10:00 am

The bodies of 6 people, including women and children, who died on the Israeli attack the Dhair family home, are buried in Shabura camp cemetery after funeral prayer at Mohammed Yousef El-Najar Hospital in Rafah, Gaza on December 22, 2023 [Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency]

In some ways, the horror of Gaza is exemplified by its staggering statistics. According to the Ministry of Health, the death toll since 7 October surpasses 32,000, half of whom are babies and children. The United Nations reports that 1.9 million civilians in Gaza have been forcibly displaced. Seventy-five per cent of the population is facing famine and has no access to clean water. Additionally, UNICEF has reported children dying from starvation and suffering from malnutrition.

These statistics are reinforced by haunting footage exposing Israel’s relentless barbaric massacres of a civilian population with complete destruction and the collapse of its healthcare infrastructure. Two-thirds of the hospitals and over 80 per cent of all health care clinics have been destroyed. More than 400 healthcare workers have been killed, along with more than 100 journalists. The destruction is enormous and beyond any degree of proportionality.

“What really strikes me is that when we saw the injustices in Ukraine, the global community was united and was speaking out loudly against these injustices as we needed to. But when we see the atrocities, the war crimes, the genocide unfolding in Palestine, the world is silent,” says Dr Aliya Khan, a clinical professor of medicine and a board member of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), which provides medical relief in war zones.

“There is clearly a double standard, and this is wrong. We need to be speaking out to save all lives, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their religion, regardless of their background and the political structure in which these lives are being lost,” she adds.

Khan highlights the contrasting responses of the global community to the conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine, pointing out the hypocrisy of Western governments and the prevalent double standards. Condemning the paralysis of the United Nations, which has failed to take meaningful action to address the ongoing suffering and destruction in Palestine, she emphasised the daily bombings in Gaza and the brutality of the daily massacres in the Strip, in which more than 70 per cent of the victims are women and children. Children are dying horrific deaths – being burnt to death, dismembered by the bombs or crushed under buildings. In addition, the dire humanitarian situation is exacerbated by Israel’s blockade of life saving supplies of food, water and medications and children are dying from dehydration, starvation and diseases.

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Israel has killed more than 14,000 children in Gaza since 7 October while others are suffering from severe malnutrition and “don’t even have the energy to cry”, says the United Nations Children’s Fund. Gaza has become a graveyard not only for children, as described by James Elder the chief spokesperson for UNICEF, but also a graveyard for international humanitarian law. All principles of international law have been and continue to be repeatedly violated by Israel.

“Every child is precious,” says Dr Aliya. “Whether it’s a child that is being harmed or killed in Ukraine or a child that is being harmed or killed in Palestine, and over the past five months we have seen more Palestinian children and civilians killed than any other conflict in this time. But the world and the response of the global community to the war in Ukraine has been very different to the response to the war in Gaza.”

Fadi Al-Zant, a 6-year-old cystitis patient, is being treated at Kamal Adwan Hospital under harsh conditions due to lack of access to medicines, and is suffering from malnutrition due to the ongoing Israeli blockade in Beit Lahia, Gaza on March 10, 2024. [Mousa Salem – Anadolu Agency]

Reflecting on her visit to Palestine before 7 October, Khan says her journey through the occupied West Bank revealed a stark reality: Palestinians are forced to navigate through an oppressive system reminiscent of living in a prison. She recounts the sight of the Separation Wall, the numerous checkpoints and the everyday human rights abuses and challenges endured by Palestinians just to access basic necessities like education and employment.

Furthermore, she witnessed first hand the lack of protection for Palestinians by law enforcement, emphasising that Israeli occupation forces are often deployed to safeguard illegal settlers rather than the indigenous population, exposing the systemic injustices imposed against Palestinian society, including arbitrary arrests and prolonged detentions without trial, including against minors.

“Violence is very significant. Children can be targets going to school and can be arrested and held without charge in Israeli jails for years. Their parents could be shot in front of them. Their houses could be raided at night, by Israeli forces terrifying small children,” Khan explains. “The police are there to protect the illegal settlers, not the Palestinians, who are living under brutal military occupation for the past 56 years. And since 7 October, we’ve seen more than 1,000 Palestinian people have been driven off their land and hundreds have been killed in the West Bank.”

Tensions have been running high across the occupied West Bank since Israel launched a deadly military offensive against the Gaza Strip in October.

The ongoing war against Gaza has not only led to the loss of more than 32,000 Palestinian lives, but has also resulted in a dire shortage of essential supplies, with tens of thousands of aid trucks blocked from entering Gaza.

Very few humanitarian aid trucks have reached the towns in northern Gaza since November, causing a man-made famine. Condemning this blockade, Khan highlights the devastating consequences it has on the population, particularly children and the vulnerable.

And despite the desperate circumstances, Khan’s colleagues in Gaza continue their work with unwavering dedication, even as hospitals face repeated military strikes by Israeli occupation forces. Tragically, healthcare workers themselves have become targets, with reports of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals being kidnapped, tortured and killed, in clear violation of international law.

“Women in Gaza are being raped and it is not being investigated or reported,” Khan notes. “No one is speaking about this in the Western media. I just received a report from our Canadian medical colleague on the ground in Gaza that the Al-Khayr hospital, which is next to Nasser Hospital, has been attacked.”

The paramedic informed the physician that a woman was raped for two days until she lost her ability to speak. Another woman at the Nasr Hospital was stripped of her clothing by Israeli soldiers in front of her husband and brother, and when one of them took their clothes off to cover her the Israeli soldiers killed both her brother and husband.

“These are credible reports from Canadian physicians serving in Gaza.”

“We call on our leaders and the UN to investigate these war crimes,” she adds, “the International Court of Justice has confirmed that genocide is plausible, and has asked Israel and the United States to stop these attacks immediately. However they have not only  continued the assault on the civilian population in Gaza but have intensified it in complete  disregard of the International Court of Justice.”

In January, the ICJ ordered Israel to refrain from any acts that could fall under the Genocide Convention and ensure its troops commit no genocidal acts against Palestinians in Gaza. Israel, however, described the allegations as baseless, maintaining its mantra that it has the “most moral army in the world”.

Highlighting the urgent need to lift the blockade on vital resources such as food and water entering Gaza, Khan concludes, “we have failed the people of Palestine.”

Read: Women and children make more than 70% of Gaza death toll