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What is happening to Christian and Muslim Palestinians in Gaza and how can we help them?

Justice & Advocacy

“As a doctor, it is amazing to see how efficiently resources are mobilised here in Australia when an unwell or injured child comes into our emergency departments…But no resources are accessible to Palestinian children in Gaza — hospitals have been intentionally destroyed and humanitarian medical aid intentionally blocked. Children in Gaza are being left to die hungry and in pain. Why? Because Israel and its allies deem it acceptable since these children were born Palestinian. As a Palestinian and as a doctor my heart breaks every day I am unable to stop this from happening to my people,” says Dr Ahmad Abou-Sweid

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Please be aware that this reflection may be distressing for some readers.

I am a Muslim Palestinian doctor who was born outside of my homeland to the first generation of the diaspora of the Palestinian people.

My parents were raised in refugee camps in Lebanon. I was born in the United Arab Emirates, moving to Canada at the age of six, along with my family.

Even as a child I understood what it was to be a refugee — to be displaced. I recall vividly one night when I was only nine years old asking my family what it meant for a country to be free, enquiring  “Is Palestine free?” That night my family explained to me what freedom meant, and why my people and my homeland are not free. While the stories and history my family shared with me that night brought about feelings of sadness, anger and confusion, they also instilled in me a sense of resilience, pride and attachment to my homeland.

My full name is Ahmad Yaseen Abdullah Fayoor Qasim Abdullah Abou-Sweid. In my name are the names of my forefathers who lived peacefully as shopkeepers and farmers for generations in the towns of Hittin and Lubya in Palestine’s far north.

In the establishment of the state of Israel, our villages were ethnically cleansed through fear, violence and countless massacres, at the hands of armed Zionist forces as part of the ongoing Nakba that commenced in 1948. “Al Nakba” means “the catastrophe” in Arabic and refers to the mass murder, dispossession and displacement of thousands of Palestinians. Between 1947 and 1949, 750,000 Christian and Muslim Palestinians from a population of 1.9 million fled seeking safety. Seventy-eight per cent of historic Palestine was seized. For us Palestinians the Nakba continues — we continue to be oppressed, persecuted and dispossessed by Israel to this day. The anniversary of the Nakba is commemorated on 15 May, including by the United Nations.

Over the last seven months you may have heard from people far more eloquent and knowledgeable than myself speak or write about the ongoing brutality inflicted upon Palestinian people in Gaza — speakers and writers from all walks of life and faiths denouncing these attacks on humanity.

You may have heard about the more than 34,000 civilians murdered by the so-called Israeli Defense Forces in the last seven months alone. More than 14,000 of these are children, with UNICEF describing Gaza as a “graveyard for thousands of children”. Those who have survived now endure famine. Israel’s illegal 17-year blockade on Gaza has extended to the deliberate blockading of food aid into Gaza and the targeting of aid workers, with the death of World Central Kitchen aid workers, including Australian Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, last month. More than 200 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since October.

You may have heard about the places of worship being targeted — many are some of the world’s oldest mosques and churches. While some media may portray this as an assault on Muslims, our Christian brothers and sisters are suffering just the same, with hundreds of Christians sheltering in remnants of churches in northern Gaza, surviving on leaves and grass. Israeli missiles and infantry do not distinguish between peoples’ faiths.

You may have heard about the 1.5 million displaced Palestinian Christian and Muslim civilians forced into a small sliver of land in Rafah, a city usually inhabited by around 250,000 people, since October. At the time of writing, 360,000 of these people have subsequently fled Rafah as Israel defies the United Nations, and even its closest ally the United States, intensifying its missile attacks and continuing to threaten a full-scale ground assault. They have fled to an area of coastline already so overwhelmed by other displaced Palestinians that diseases are spreading due to lack of sanitation.

You may have heard the United Nations chief Martin Griffiths in February describe Gaza as “the worst humanitarian crisis” he’s seen in his five-decade career “because people can’t escape — they are blocked in.”

You may have heard that United Nations Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese, who has investigated what has been happening in Gaza since October, recently report that “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide…has been met.”

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also released a statement in February describing “credible allegations of egregious human rights violations”, including allegations against Israeli forces that “…include extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children”, “arbitrary detention of hundreds of Palestinian women and girls”, “degrading treatment”, “rape and sexual violence”.

You may also have heard that the United Nations Security Council recently adopted a resolution, by a vote of 14 in favour to none against (with one abstention — by the United States), “demanding an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan.” The resolution was also adopted during Lent when pious Christians of the Holy Land were also fasting. Israel blatantly ignored this ceasefire resolution and continues to bomb Gaza indiscriminately.

You may have heard the stories of brutality and targeting of innocent Palestinian children in Gaza by Israeli forces, like Hind Rajab a beautiful six-year-old girl who was murdered crying for help from a car under Israeli fire surrounded by her murdered family members.

You may have heard the story of heroism of the paramedics, Yusuf Al-Zeino and Ahmed Al-Madhou, who were targeted in the ambulance trying to save her. They were later found dead in their burned-out ambulance, just metres from the bullet-ridden car where the bodies of Hind and her family were discovered.

You may have heard about the doctors who are putting their lives on the line, like Dr Amira Al Assouli, who bravely ran crouching from Israeli snipers to save a patient while volunteering at Nasser Hospital. Or about the siege on al-Shifa hospital, with evidence emerging of the mass execution of staff and civilians. Mass graves have been found at both hospitals, most recently at Nasser Hospital where 283 bodies were found (including of “older people, women and wounded”), some “tied with their hands…tied and stripped of their clothes,” as reported by the United Nations.

As a doctor, it is amazing to see how efficiently resources are mobilised here in Australia when an unwell or injured child comes into our emergency departments. Medications, specialists, ambulances and even helicopter retrievals are all easily accessible. But no resources are accessible to Palestinian children in Gaza — hospitals have been intentionally destroyed and humanitarian medical aid intentionally blocked.

Children in Gaza are being left to die hungry and in pain. Why? Because Israel and its allies deem it acceptable since these children were born Palestinian. As a Palestinian and as a doctor my heart breaks every day I am unable to stop this from happening to my people.

But what have we heard from most of our elected leaders? In February this year alone, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade data shows that Australia directly exported over $1.5 million in “arms and ammunition” to Israel. In the same month, it was reported that the Australian Government awarded Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems a $917 million defence contract.

Therefore Australia’s Prime Minister politely calling for a ceasefire this far along is not enough — it will not stop the massacre of the more than one million Palestinians still sheltering in Rafah if Israel launches a ground assault there.

The Australian Government should immediately cease military exports with Israel and implement sanctions on Israel, as it would any other genocidal state. In her recent report, titled “Anatomy of a Genocide”, United Nations Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese, “urges member states to enforce the prohibition of genocide in accordance with their non-derogable obligations” and to “[i]mmediately implement an arms embargo on Israel…as well as other economic and political measures necessary to ensure an immediate and lasting ceasefire and to restore respect for international law, including sanctions.”

The Australian Government only reinstated life-saving emergency UNRWA funding after strong community pressure. And, community pressure helped with Australia’s backing of Palestine’s bid for full United Nations membership at a United Nations general assembly vote late last week.

As a man of faith and as a doctor, I ask readers to remember all who have died since October in this war, especially the children and women, whose deaths I grieve.

I especially ask people of all faiths to remember the Palestinians of Gaza in their prayers as a ground invasion of Rafah is imminent.

Due to the ongoing Nakba, including the illegal Israeli settlements, many of my generation, the children of the displaced, are being denied the right to return to the homes of our parents and grandparents. However, this denial will not stifle our love for our homeland. Through my father’s hands I have felt the rich soil. Through my grandmother’s eyes I have seen the beautiful ancestral fields of olive trees.

In our hearts we Palestinians keep the memories of our ancestors alive.

ACSQ Justice Unit note: Here are three things you can do to help the Palestinian people in Gaza:

  1. Join in a ceasefire prayer vigil co-hosted by the Anglican Church Southern Queensland. Fifty recognised faith leaders led the second “Praying for Gaza” inter-faith vigil, which was held on Saturday 27 April. The next inter-faith prayer vigil will be held at 3pm on Sunday 9 June 2024 in the Brisbane CBD. See ACSQ Facebook and the anglican focus Events page for more information. 
  2. Contact your elected representatives asking that military exports to Israel be suspended at the very least (noting that Canada, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, as well as the Japanese company Itochu Corporation, made this common sense decision moths ago) and to implement appropriate sanctions, in line with the Genocide Convention, which calls for member state signatories to actively “prevent genocide”.
  3. The Anglican-run Arab Ahli hospital in Gaza was hit in October by Israeli strikes — if you are able, please donate to the Anglican Board of Mission AID Gaza hospital emergency appeal.

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