Indonesian staff at Gaza hospital ‘resigned to fate’ as Israelis close in | Israel-Palestine conflict News

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Medan, Indonesia – This time of year should be strawberry season in the Gaza Strip.

Instead, the fields that were traditionally planted with strawberries in September and harvested from November onwards are now battlefields.

One of the most fertile regions for the famous Palestinian strawberries is Beit Lahia, with its good climate, rich soil and high-quality water resources.

Beit Lahia, located in northern Gaza, is also home to the Indonesia Hospital, where medical volunteer from Indonesia Fikri Rofiul Haq is stationed with the Indonesian humanitarian organization, the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (MER-C).

“Israeli forces have bombed fields in the Gaza Strip and many crops have died,” Haq told Al Jazeera.

“This year there won’t be the usual produce like strawberries even though it is the winter season,” he said.

Amid the horrors of Israel’s war on Gaza, the destruction of the Palestinian strawberry crop seems insignificant.

But for Haq – one of three Indonesian MER-C volunteers at the Indonesia Hospital – the memory of Gaza strawberries helps him cope. Every day is now a matter of survival in the area, where Israel is now concentrating its attacks on hospitals.

“At the beginning of the war, we could still get some goods from the hospital area, such as vegetables and instant noodles, but now it is impossible to get fresh products such as onions, tomatoes and cucumbers,” he said. to Al Jazeera via WhatsApp voice messages.

“At Indonesia Hospital, staff now only receive a meal once a day at lunch, which is provided by (the neighboring) Al-Shifa Hospital. For breakfast and dinner, the staff eat cookies or dates,” he said.

The Indonesia Hospital in Gaza during peacetime (File photo courtesy of MER-C)

Conditions in both Indonesian and Al-Shifa hospitals, as well as other hospitals in Gaza, have seriously deteriorated since Al Jazeera last spoke to Haq on Friday.

Dr. Mohammad Abu Salmiya, the director of Al-Shifa Hospital, warned on Saturday that hundreds of injured people and newborn babies needed to be urgently transported to an operational medical facility as his hospital was crumbling under the pressure of a lack of fuel and medicine – as well as Israeli bombings.

“It’s a tragedy. The dead bodies – we can’t put them in freezers because they don’t function, so we decided to dig a hole near the hospital. It is a very inhumane scene. The situation has gotten completely out of hand. Hundreds of bodies are decomposing,” Abu Salmiya told Al Jazeera.

Atef al-Kahlot, the director of Indonesia Hospital, said his facility is only operating at 30 to 40 percent of capacity and he appealed to the world to help.

“We call on the honorable people of the world, if there is anyone left, to put pressure on the occupying forces to supply the Indonesian hospital and the rest of the hospitals in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Before the war

Before the war, food supplies for Indonesia Hospital were mostly sourced from nearby areas, Haq said. At the beginning of Israel’s all-out blockade and attacks on Gaza, MER-C volunteers hunted for supplies in hospital-provided ambulances, which were considered safer than civilian vehicles.

Now the fighting has come so close to the hospital that it is too dangerous to go outside.

Haq told Al Jazeera that he had been feeling particularly shaken recently, after an excursion about two weeks ago to retrieve medical supplies for the hospital from civilian homes in the surrounding Al-Jalaa district during which he thought he was going to die.

He and other volunteers from Indonesia were only about 20 minutes from the hospital when the bombs started falling about 200 meters away.

“That was when I felt most scared and resigned to my fate because we were in buildings owned by locals and, as we know, the Israeli army is destroying civilian homes,” he said.

“There was no guarantee for our safety. I felt an extraordinary fear, but by the grace of God we were protected.”

As a result of the trip, Haq was able to find some medical supplies for the hospital and distribute food parcels to the medical staff.

But since that near miss with Israeli shells and rockets, he and the other volunteers have remained on the hospital grounds, sleeping in the doctors’ quarters.

“The trauma we experienced was so great, but if we stay on the hospital grounds, I feel safe because the Israeli army has not directly attacked the hospital yet,” he said.

“The area around the hospital is constantly being bombed and when that happens I feel a very human fear,” he added.

Over the past week, areas around Indonesian and other hospitals in the Gaza Strip have been targeted by intensified Israeli bombardments.

Israeli tanks have moved closer, surrounding the medical facilities where tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians have taken refuge, as Israeli bombardment flattens entire neighborhoods in Gaza. More than 11,000 people have now been murdered in the area.

Haq says the Israeli bombardment was so close that the hospital building was shaking and part of the roof had already collapsed.

“Normally the hospital building wobbles when bombings occur, but on November 9 it felt like the hospital was being lifted off its foundations,” he said.

“It just terrified us.”

Treating wounds and documenting tragedy

Haq told Al Jazeera that when the bombing began, he and other staff took refuge in the basement of the hospital. Their daily work schedule fluctuates depending on the significant needs of staff and patients.

“Some days I work from 11am to 4pm the next day and just sleep for a few hours where I can. The other day I slept from 7am to 8am and then started again,” he said.

In 2011, MER-C organized donations for the construction of the Indonesia Hospital, which was officially inaugurated in 2016 by the then Vice President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla.

MER-C employees are technically medical humanitarian volunteers. Now one of their main duties is to document the sick and injured who come to the hospital and monitor the attacks around the facility.

Haq and his colleagues are also helping with medical treatments, especially as the situation continues to deteriorate and doctors at the hospital are overwhelmed with patients pouring in from surrounding areas.

“Last Wednesday, when patients rushed to the hospital, we helped treat minor wounds because there were not enough doctors to treat all the patients,” he said.

As Indonesia works to evacuate some of its nationals in Gaza, Haq told Al Jazeera he would not be one of them.

“God willing, I and the two other MER-C volunteers have decided to stay in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

“We very much appreciate the Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s assistance in evacuating Indonesian citizens from Gaza, but that is our decision,” he said of his choice to remain in Gaza.

“We hope that we can continue to help Gazans find fuel, food and medical supplies, and treat them at the Indonesia Hospital. That is our motivation to continue.”

Al Jazeera has had no contact with Haq since midnight on Friday.

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