Letter from Gaza

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Israel's war led to the deaths of 1,434 Palestinians. Dr Nafaz Abu Shaban, Gaza's leading burns specialist, explains the deadly siege of Gaza and the use of white phosphorus on civilians.

I have very bad memories of the war. We've seen whole families burned to death by the Israelis.

One of our patients saw four of her grandchildren and her husband burned to death. She came to us with massive burns, and told us that her house was first bombarded by rockets from an Israeli jet before it was hit with white phosphorus shells. Her children were in flames. For more than a week before she came to the hospital, every time they went to her house, they found her crying, "Help my children. They are burning. They are dying!" Finally her psychiatrist took her to the graveyard to show her that they were dead now. This is only one example of what happened.

We didn't have experience of white phosphorus, so we were dealing with the burns as we would any burn. We would send the victims home with what seemed to be simple burns. But we found that most of them came back to us after a few days with burns that had become deeper and wider. Some of them died despite only 2 percent of their body being burnt.

Some of our international colleagues said they had experienced this in the 2006 war on Lebanon. They said the burns were very similar to those that result from white phosphorus. From that point if we saw a patient with such burns we would take them immediately to the operating room and remove all the particles of white phosphorus.

White phosphorus continues to burn until consumed or deprived completely of oxygen, so it causes very deep burns, sometimes right down to the bone. Many children have come to us after the war with burns on their feet because the white phosphorus burns through their shoes.

We keep asking the international community to send weapons experts to investigate what types of weapons have been used, so we can know what kind of injuries we are dealing with. There were weapons which the Israelis used with depleted uranium. We have complaints from many patients with strange symptoms.

Weapons experts should investigate the level of radiation. We have remnants here of the rockets. Almost all were made in the US. We feel like we are guinea pigs as the Israelis use different types of American weapons.

Every night I didn't expect to survive to the following morning. When I go home I take my kids and sleep under the stairs. We feel it may be safer. When I hear the jets bombing, I fear that one of them will hit our house.

They say they have sophisticated instruments to hit their targets exactly. Why did they hit civilian areas? It would be very easy to take these people to the war crimes court. I have never seen any militants here at the hospital. All the victims were civilians.

For 22 days Israel bombed us and demolished houses onto people's heads, yet no government put pressure on Israel to stop. If we were goats bombarded for 22 days Western governments would put pressure on Israel to stop bombing goats. We feel our people are cheaper than goats.

We have been under tight siege for two years. They smuggle food through the tunnels. Much of the medical equipment here is broken and we need spare parts. People are dying because of the siege.

My mother had lung cancer and needed radiotherapy; she had to go to Egypt or Jerusalem. For more than two months we waited for a permit from the Israelis or the Egyptians, but she died. My mother was 75 years old. Was she a danger to the state of Israel? Can you imagine how many are killed like this? Can you imagine 1.5 million people living in a big prison?

The Israeli government is a group of terrorists, and Western governments should stop supporting it. I know Western people have changed their point of view - I have seen many demonstrations all around the world.

I want people to put pressure on their governments to lift the siege. We don't need them to send aid - just give us our freedom and then our people can manage ourselves.


Dr Nafaz Abu Shaban is the head of burns and plastic surgery at Shifa Hospital, Gaza City. This article is an edited extract from the forthcoming film, The Road to Gaza.