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‘In Gaza, dying is a blessing, being wounded is a death sentence’

Canadian eye surgeon Dr Yasser Khan has volunteered twice in Gaza since October, he tells MEMO that he has seen the ‘slow genocide’ unfolding

May 5, 2024 at 11:33 am

Without hesitation, Dr Yasser Khan, a Canadian ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, left for a medical mission to Gaza the second the opportunity arose.

“After scrolling endlessly online witnessing the horror, it was an instinctive thing to do. I said yes right away,” says Dr Khan. It was an impulsive decision that would shape his purpose for months to come.

He had accompanied a team of physicians from Canada and the United States heading to Gaza for an 11-day visit as part of non-profit organisation Rahma Worldwide’s aid efforts in the Strip in January and returned once again in March. The team provided medical assistance at the Nasser and European Hospitals in Khan Yunis.

“The first thing when you get to Gaza, you hear the 24-hour humming of drones,” Dr Khan recalls. This omnipresent noise, he says, became so ingrained that even back in Toronto, he would mistake mundane sounds for the buzzing of drones, a chilling reminder of Israel’s ongoing military onslaught and surveillance of Palestinians in Gaza.

But the most striking observation on the ground is the deliberate targeting of children, women and innocent civilians. Dr Khan notes the indiscriminate bombing feels like collective punishment, with children arriving injured, limbs dangling or abdomens open as a result of the explosives.

READ: US surgeon in Gaza says nothing prepared him for scale of injuries

“Children are being targeted by the most accurate snipers in the world, which is the Israeli Defense Forces. So they’re not gonna miss a target, not with not with the weaponry that they have… When I was there, I saw horrific shrapnel injuries, I mean the Israelis have been using experimental weapons to battle test them… The whole Gaza Strip has become an experimental testing ground for weapons that have not been used in combat before. That makes these weapons battle tested, increasing their value,” he explains.

The drones, he describes, are specifically engineered to cause unique and maximum damage as the drones scatter shrapnel everywhere, causing widespread destruction.

“I saw it all for myself,” Khan continues…

Of the more than 34,000 Palestinians who have been killed since October 2023, more than 72 per cent are women and children. In addition to this, 10,000 civilians are missing, presumed dead after being trapped under the rubble after rescue teams were unable to reach them as a result of the continued bombing campaigns and the lack of necessary equipment.

Khan vividly recounts the tense atmosphere, where the sound of bombs signalled imminent mass casualties. “Every hour, every two hours, bombs are going off so close that the whole building would rattle.” Amid this turmoil, healthcare workers braced themselves for the influx of injured civilians, knowing that within minutes, a wave of trauma cases would flood the hospitals.

“They would all come into the emergency room just like you’ve seen in the reports on social media,” he recounts. Women and children lay injured on the floor, bloodied and in agony, as healthcare workers scrambled to provide care amidst overwhelming conditions.

“I’m an eye surgeon and so I saw a lot of eyes just eviscerated or with shrapnel stuck in them. I saw for myself the horrific injuries of shrapnel stuck in people’s legs and abdomen that took surgeons hours to take them out because shrapnel as big as my hand was stuck in the abdomen of two-year-old children.”

The majority of the patients I treated were anywhere from ages two to 13

he adds.

He recalls a heart-wrenching incident involving a young child left unattended for hours in the emergency room, his mother undergoing surgery elsewhere in the hospital. “Being wounded in this setting is a death sentence,” Dr Khan explains, highlighting the grim reality faced by survivors of bombings.

READ: Gazan children suffer from ‘devastating levels of stress’: UN agency

Dying is a blessing. Being wounded in this setting is a death sentence, because if you survive the bombing you often get amputated, you’ve lost your entire family. So either you’ve lost all your children, or you’ve lost your parents.

Beyond the immediate trauma, Khan reveals the devastating long-term consequences suffered by the people of Gaza. Chronic illnesses go untreated, exacerbating health complications. “People come in with complications such as heart diseases or not having their dialysis done and kidney failure. And they come in at the very end when they’re about to die because no one’s taking care of anything routine,” he explains, underscoring the dire healthcare situation which has resulted from the complete siege imposed on the Strip by the occupation authorities.

“It’s like a slow genocide,” he laments, further pointing out the systematic destruction of homes, hospitals, and livelihoods.

Only weeks ago, Palestinian authorities said mass graves were discovered at the Nasser Medical Complex, the main medical facility in central Gaza, containing nearly 400 bodies. The mass grave was uncovered after Israeli occupation forces withdrew from the city of Khan Yunis on 7 April following a four-month ground offensive.

Many Palestinians, including children, were found with their hands bound behind their backs and were killed execution style. A number of bodies were too decomposed or mutilated to be identified.

“Back then, people were not talking about it,” reflects Khan. “People were not talking about how Israeli snipers are specifically shooting at nurses and doctors in the hospital from the windows – that they were taken by the IDF and then tortured and shot. I mean, those are real stories now. But these are all coming out now. I worked with surgeons who first hand saw this all happen at Nasser Hospital, which was open when I was in Gaza the first time but forcibly shut down by the time I returned the second time.”

Despite the overwhelming despair, he found solace in the unwavering resilience and faith of Palestinians in Gaza. He recounts the story of a seven-year-old girl who, after losing her family in a bombing, soothed herself by reciting verses from the Quran.

Khan takes a moment, his eyes reflecting the weight of not just his experiences, but also of the Palestinians. This resilience, he believes, stems from their deep connection to the land and their unwavering faith. “They’re still surviving when the rest of us would have collapsed and the fundamental reason is because they’re the indigenous people of the land,” he says. “There’s no stronger people than the Palestinians of Gaza, they’re there to stay.”

READ: Injured Palestinians have nowhere to seek medical care in Gaza City