The World Health Organization is warning the crisis in Gaza is getting worse by the hour as Israel intensifies its ground and air assault across all parts of the Gaza Strip, including surrounding the Jabaliya refugee camp and bombing Khan Younis, where many had fled to from the north. With Israel’s attack killing close to 16,000 Palestinians, Shaina Low from the Norwegian Refugee Council describes the “hectic, chaotic, desperate” conditions on the ground and says she can barely get in touch with her colleagues in Gaza, let alone coordinate a humanitarian response to the destruction. “If they can’t get in touch with each other, our operations come to a standstill,” says Low. “We desperately need a ceasefire in order to be able to finally address these dire needs.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates at the U.N. climate summit.
The World Health Organization is warning the crisis in Gaza is getting worse by the hour as Israel intensifies its ground and air assault across all parts of the Gaza Strip. UNICEF says there’s, quote, “no safe zones” remaining in any part of Gaza, where the death toll from the Israeli bombardment is approaching 16,000. Israeli troops have reportedly encircled Jabaliya, the largest refugee camp in Gaza. A spokesperson for the Gaza Health Ministry said hospitals are struggling to cope with the surge of patients.
ASHRAF AL-QUDRA: [translated] The wounded and patients are on the floor. There is no life-saving health service in the hospitals of southern Gaza Strip, hence hospitals in southern Gaza have totally collapsed. They cannot deal with the quantity and quality of injuries that arrive at the hospitals. It is difficult for the ambulances to reach the injured in the targeted areas. The Israeli occupation targets ambulances that move in the southern areas of the Gaza Strip. It prevents them from reaching the targeted places.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, traveled to Gaza.
MIRJANA SPOLJARIC: I have just visited the European Gaza Hospital. And the things I saw there, it’s beyond anything that anyone should be in a position to describe. What shocked me the most were the children with atrocious injuries and at the same time having lost their parents, with no one looking after them. We are facing a situation here that will not be healed by sending in more trucks. We need to provide protection to the civilians in Gaza, to the women and children, to the elderly people that I saw today that have nowhere to go. The majority of people I met today have been displaced several times. I met people who have lost limbs because they needed to evacuate between treatments, and they lost a hand or a foot because they couldn’t be treated in the hospital where they arrived first. I was told today that the north has lost its entire surgical capacity.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric.
We begin today’s show in Jerusalem, where we’re joined by Shaina Low. She’s a communications adviser in Palestine for the Norwegian Refugee Council, has spent much of the last 15 years working in Palestine.
Shaina, thanks so much for joining us in this very desperate time in Gaza. Can you describe the overall situation to us?
SHAINA LOW: What we’re hearing from our staff on the ground in Gaza is just that day after day things are getting more and more hectic, chaotic, desperate. We’re hearing about massive influxes of people fleeing Khan Younis, fleeing south and west to barren areas of land where there’s no facilities able to accommodate them. We’re hearing about shelters that are overwhelmed and bursting at the seams and cannot house any additional people. We’re hearing about people being so desperate that they are sleeping on the streets, trying to salvage whatever materials they can find in order to build a makeshift shelter. Yesterday our office lost internet connection because people had actually cut the internet cable in order to use that to help make a shelter. This is the level of desperation that we’re getting at.
Stores have shut down because there’s no food available or no stocks available to be sold. Yesterday our staff survived on eating crackers, because there was nothing else available. Day after day, the situation is getting more and more desperate. About 1.9 million people out of 2.3 million, over 80% of Gaza’s population, is internally displaced with nowhere to go. We desperately need a ceasefire in order to be able to finally address these dire needs, because we cannot address them while there are ongoing hostilities. It is simply impossible.
AMY GOODMAN: So much of the population has moved from the north to the south, Khan Younis and even more south. These are places that they went to because the Israeli military said they would be safe. Now they’re saying in order to destroy Hamas, they must bomb those places, as well. Where are they telling them to go, Shaina?
SHAINA LOW: You know, they’re telling people to go not to safe places, but to so-called safer places. But what we’ve been seeing for the last eight weeks in Gaza is that there simply is no safe place in Gaza. There’s no place that’s safe from bombardment, from land, air and sea. We’re seeing that there’s no safe place for people to seek shelter, not only because of the ongoing bombardments, but simply because there aren’t facilities able to accommodate so many people. People are being exposed to the elements. They’re in overcrowded shelters where there’s diseases spreading. We’re already hearing about hepatitis A being detected inside some of the U.N. shelters. There really is no safe place.
We have been calling on Israel to stop these directives calling on people to flee. These directives are violations of international humanitarian law, because Israel is neither guaranteeing the safe passage of people to reach areas of safety, they aren’t guaranteeing safety in those areas, and they aren’t guaranteeing people the right to return home once hostilities have ended.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what is happening in the hospitals? And also, how many staff do you have in the Norwegian Refugee Council in Gaza? And what has happened to their families?
SHAINA LOW: Well, what we’re hearing about the situation in hospitals is that there is a desperate need for additional beds. There are about 1,500 beds, I heard from the World Health Organization yesterday during a briefing. There’s an estimated need of around 5,000 beds. There used to be 3,500 beds in Gaza, so we’re seeing — as needs increase, we’re seeing the number of beds decrease. Of course, there’s a shortage of — chronic shortage of medical supplies, medicines, clean water just to make sure that places are sterile and that patients can be treated safely. We’ve been hearing for weeks reports of maggots coming out of people’s wounds because they cannot be properly cared for and treated.
We have a staff of 54 currently inside of Gaza. And thankfully, all of our staff has stayed alive. But I cannot say that they are safe or unharmed. Multiple members of our staff have lost family members. We had one staff member, Amal, who had followed Israel’s directives to flee from the north, as she fled her home in northern Gaza and ended up in Rafah, where the home she was seeking shelter in was bombed, killing her only child, her 7-year-old son Khaled, and killing 10 other members of her family. Just this week, we had another colleague who was injured in an airstrike on Rafah, allegedly one of those safer places, and two of her family members were killed. We have staff who are sleeping on the streets because they have no place to go, including one staff member who has a 2-month-old baby. They are unable to find shelter. People are desperate. We are doing the best that we can not just to support people, ordinary people, in Gaza, but to support our staff. But we are increasingly finding our hands tied and are unable to do things because it’s not safe for us to operate. We cannot reach the aid that we have stored in warehouses in Gaza, either because the roads are cut off or because it simply isn’t safe for us to access them.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you been able to reach people in Gaza? We’ve been trying all morning. People we have been able to reach in the past, we cannot reach today.
SHAINA LOW: I was able to be in touch with my colleague Yousef this morning. He told me that he was on his way to go and check on the rest of his family, who are staying in Khan Younis. Unfortunately, because connectivity is very difficult, I hadn’t been able to get in touch with him since the early morning. I reached out to one of our security managers, because I was concerned that I hadn’t heard from him. And thankfully, about 10 minutes before I came on the air, I got notice that, yes, Yousef was safe and had reached our office, returned to our office.
But this is the difficulties and challenges that we’re living with, where we’re wondering not just if our staff is OK, but wondering if we’ll be able to connect with them. It’s not just worrying on a personal level, because these aren’t just our colleagues. These are our friends. These are the people that we work with day after day. But also it’s impossible for us to have any type of humanitarian response without being able to coordinate that, neither coordinate between our office in Jerusalem and our office in Gaza, but also with our staff in Gaza who are trying to manage this response. If they can’t get in touch with each other, our operations come to a standstill.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about a comment of State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, who said it’s too soon to judge whether Israel has been doing enough to protect civilians in Gaza. He was challenged by a veteran Palestinian journalist, Said Arikat. This is a clip.
SAID ARIKAT: And you don’t think that Israel intentionally kills civilians?
MATTHEW MILLER: We think far too many people —
SAID ARIKAT: When you bomb — when you bomb neighborhoods —
MATTHEW MILLER: I have not seen evidence that they are intentionally killing civilians. We believe that far too many civilians have been killed. But again, this goes back to the underlying problem of this entire situation, which is that Hamas has embedded itself inside civilians —
SAID ARIKAT: Come on.
MATTHEW MILLER: — inside civilian homes, inside mosques, in schools, in churches. It is Hamas that is putting these civilians in harm’s way.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to what State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said?
SHAINA LOW: From what we’ve been seeing and hearing, it seems that Israel is not proportionate in its response, is not adhering to international humanitarian law. While there may be legitimate military targets, the principles of humanitarian law of distinction, proportionality and precaution still apply. When 70% of those who are killed are women and children, it seems that proportionality is not being taken into consideration.
Just yesterday, it was reported that Israeli military officials said that they would start employing technology to try and lower the number of civilian deaths. The fact that they’re realizing that they need to lower, and have the ability to lower, the number of civilian deaths would indicate that prior to that, that they were not taking those appropriate precautions. They were not making sure that their attacks were proportionate according to international humanitarian law. And it seems that with the indiscriminate bombardments that are happening, it’s impossible to distinguish between civilian and military objectives.
AMY GOODMAN: Shaina Low, we want to thank you for being with us, communications adviser in Palestine for the Norwegian Refugee Council, has been an daily touch with her colleagues in Gaza, usually several times a day when connectivity allows, has spent much of the last 15 years in Palestine.
When we come back, we look at the link between war, militarism and the climate crisis. Stay with us.