Indonesian staff at Gaza hospital ‘resigned to fate’ as Israelis close in

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Fikri Rofiul Haq, left, is one of three Indonesian volunteers at the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza. The hospital is seen in the background during peacetime in the Palestinian enclave [File photo courtesy of MER-C] (Restricted Use)

Indonesian medical volunteer in Gaza, Fikri Rofiul Haq, says he will remain at the hospital and will not evacuate.

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

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

One of the most fertile regions for Palestine’s renowned strawberries is Beit Lahia, with its good climate, rich soil and high-quality water supplies.

Located in north Gaza, Beit Lahia is also the home of the Indonesian Hospital where medical volunteer from Indonesia Fikri Rofiul Haq is based with the Indonesian humanitarian organisation the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (MER-C).

“The Israeli forces have been bombing fields across the Gaza Strip and a lot of 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 horror of Israel’s war on Gaza, the destruction of Palestine’s strawberry harvest  may seem insignificant.

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

“At the beginning of the war, we were still able to get some goods from the area around the hospital, like vegetables and instant noodles, but now it is impossible to get fresh produce like onions, tomatoes and cucumbers,” he said, speaking to Al Jazeera through WhatsApp voice messages.

“At the Indonesia Hospital now, staff only get a meal once a day at lunchtime, which is provided by [the neighbouring] Al-Shifa Hospital. For breakfast and dinner, staff eat biscuits or dates,” he said.

The Indonesia Hospital in Gaza during peacetime [Photo courtesy of MER-C]
The Indonesian Hospital in Gaza during peacetime [File photo courtesy of MER-C] 

Conditions at both the 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 as well as newborn babies needed to be urgently transported to an operational medical facility as his hospital was crumbling under the strain of a lack of fuel and medicine – as well as Israeli bombardments.

“It’s a tragedy. The dead bodies – we can’t put them in freezers as they’re not functioning so we decided to dig a pit in the vicinity of the hospital. It’s a very inhumane scene. The situation is totally out of control. Hundreds of bodies are decomposing,” Abu Salmiya told Al Jazeera.

Atef al-Kahlot, the director of the Indonesian Hospital, said his facility is operating only at between 30-40 percent of capacity and he made an appeal for the world to help.

“We call on the honourable people of the world, if any of them are left, to put pressure on the occupation 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 the Indonesian Hospital were usually sourced from nearby areas, Haq said. At the start of Israel’s total blockade and attacks on Gaza, MER-C volunteers would go out to hunt for supplies in ambulances, provided by the hospital, which were considered safer than civilian vehicles.

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

Haq told Al Jazeera that he has been feeling particularly shaken lately, following an excursion about two weeks ago to source medical supplies for the hospital from civilian homes in the surrounding Al-Jalaa district, during which he thought he might die.

He and other volunteers from Indonesia were only about 20 minutes from the hospital when bombs started to fall some 200 metres (218 yards) away.

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

“There was no guarantee of our safety. It made me feel 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 hand out food packets to medical staff.

But since that near-miss with Israeli shells and missiles, he and the other volunteers have stayed within the hospital grounds where they sleep 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 military has not directly attacked the hospital yet,” he said.

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

In the past week, areas around the Indonesian and other hospitals in the Gaza Strip have been the targets of intensifying Israeli bombardments.

Israeli tanks have closed in, encircling the medical facilities where tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians have sought shelter as Israel’s bombardment flattens entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. More than 11,000 people have now been killed in the territory.

Haq recounts the Israeli bombing being so close that it made the hospital building shake and part of the roof had already collapsed.

“Usually, when there are bombings, the hospital building sways but on November 9, it felt as if the hospital was being lifted up off its foundations,” he said.

“It just made us terrified.”

Treating wounds and documenting tragedy

Haq told Al Jazeera that when the bombing starts, he and the other staff take refuge in the basement of the hospital. Their daily work schedule fluctuates according to the significant needs of staff and patients.

“Some days I work from 11am until 4pm the next day and just sleep 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 organised donations to build the Indonesian Hospital, which was officially inaugurated in 2016 by Indonesia’s then-Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

MER-C staff are technically medical humanitarian volunteers. Now, one of their primary roles is to document the sick and injured who come to the hospital and monitor the attacks around the facility.

Haq and his colleagues also assist with medical treatment, particularly as the situation continues to deteriorate and doctors at the hospital are overrun with patients streaming in from surrounding areas.

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

While Indonesia has been working to evacuate some of its nationals in Gaza, Haq told Al Jazeera that he would not be one of them.

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

“We really appreciate the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs helping to evacuate Indonesian citizens from Gaza, but that is our decision,” he said about choosing to remain in Gaza.

“We hope we can keep helping citizens of Gaza to find fuel, food and medical supplies, and treat them at the Indonesia Hospital. That is our motivation to keep going.”

Al Jazeera has been unable to contact Haq since midnight on Friday.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

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