Palestine Children’s Relief Fund: Israel Is Threatening to Bomb Gaza’s Only Pediatric Cancer Unit

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel is threatening to bomb a children’s hospital in Gaza that houses the enclave’s only pediatric cancer unit. Earlier today, the Israeli military ordered the immediate evacuation of Al-Rantisi Children’s Hospital in Gaza City. Israel already shelled the hospital two days ago.

This comes as Palestinian health officials say the Israeli bombardment of Gaza has killed over 10,000 Palestinians, including 4,000 children, since October 7th, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing up to 1,400 people while seizing about 240 hostages.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his call for an immediate ceasefire.

SECRETARYGENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children. Hundreds of girls and boys are reportedly being killed or injured every day. More journalists have reportedly been killed over a four-week period than in any conflict in at least three decades. More United Nations aid workers have been killed than in any comparable period in the history of our organization.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with two guests. Steve Sosebee is the president and founder of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an organization that provides medical and humanitarian aid to Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank. The fund runs the pediatric cancer unit inside Al-Rantisi Children’s Hospital. He splits his time between the occupied West Bank and Kent, Ohio, where he joins us today.

And we’re joined by Dr. Barbara Zind, pediatrician who traveled to Gaza October 6th to support the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. After nearly a month trapped in Gaza, she was finally evacuated through the Rafah border crossing and arrived back home Monday. She’s joining us from Grand Junction, Colorado.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Steve Sosebee, let’s begin with you. Can you talk about what’s happening at Al-Rantisi Children’s Hospital in Gaza City and the overall collapse of the medical system in Gaza? We saw a tweet of yours a few days ago asking, had the hospital bombed? You have a ward there, the only one for children with cancer.

STEVE SOSEBEE: Yeah. In 2019, we opened the first and only pediatric oncology department in the Gaza Strip, based on the fact that every child prior to that, every single child in Gaza with cancer, had to travel outside for care that they couldn’t get locally. And that was a problem, because that required permits from the Israeli military, which were often either delayed or not provided for these kids with cancer. So we opened. We started a campaign through grassroots fundraising and raised enough money to open a cancer department in the main pediatric hospital in Gaza City, where, since 2019 until October 7th, hundreds of children had had life-saving care, professional care, through local services and through the support of our international teams coming in. We provide chemotherapy drugs, child life services, and training for doctors and nurses in that department, in addition to any other support those kids possibly need.

Now, since October 7th, obviously, due to the conflict on the ground in Gaza, the services there have been disrupted significantly; however, the department itself is full of children, full of patients with cancer, and, in addition, their families, who are seeking refuge. Many of them have had their homes destroyed and have no other place to go. So the department itself and the hospital itself is full of refugees, full of people seeking shelter and seeking aid.

And in addition to that, the doctors who provide — the oncologists who work at that hospital had to flee Gaza City or have not been able to access the hospital on a regular basis to provide therapy and treatment for the patients. And some of the nurses themselves have had their homes destroyed and family members killed, and they continue to provide services as much as they can.

However, two days ago, there was a threat to Gaza, to the hospital itself, and it was struck yesterday. About 30 hours ago, it was struck by a rocket, and the floor above the department was destroyed, and part of the department itself was destroyed, killing some children and — not in the department itself, but in the hospital — and destroying part of the department that we had built. Now, as of today — and some of the family members have fled. But, unfortunately, there’s no — we’re trying to get them south, out of Gaza City, so possibly evacuating them out of Gaza and getting them continued care in Egypt or in Jordan. But, unfortunately, Gaza itself is encircled.

And now, as of now, there was a report this morning from the Israeli military that they are demanding the evacuation of the hospital because they consider it a combat area. And, unfortunately, a lot of the families have no place to go. They have no place to be evacuated to. And there are still literally hundreds of children and patients within that hospital and the increasing sound of bombings and shootings around the department, around the hospital, is increasingly making it difficult for anybody to leave at this time.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Steve Sosebee, could you talk about what the lack of medical care was for the children in Gaza even before October 7th and before the beginning of this horrific round of Israeli attacks?

STEVE SOSEBEE: Yeah. So, we started our organization over 30 years ago during the First Intifada to provide medical care for children who were getting — who were being injured on the ground as a result of the uprising and the use of force against the civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza, and over the years evolved into an organization that brings volunteer medical teams in on a regular basis to the Gaza Strip and West Bank to provide free specialized medical care to those kids. And over the last few years, we’ve been the main organization on the ground in Gaza bringing in international teams of volunteers with — providing a variety of different kinds of specialized surgical services and medical services, including pediatric oncology, pediatric cardiac surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, general pediatric surgery, orthopedic, so on and so forth, which don’t exist or are underdeveloped within the health sector in Gaza, in an attempt to fill the significant gap of children not having access to quality specialized care and not being able to access that care that may exist in the West Bank or may exist outside of Gaza. We were developing those services locally within the Gaza Strip and treating thousands of children a year in Gaza with these very specialized services. Unfortunately, and this is how Dr. Zind got stuck in Gaza, is that we have teams rotating on a regular basis in Gaza from all over the world, and she was there at the time of the closure, along with another specialist who was developing artificial limbs for amputees, children who are amputees.

And unfortunately, there are literally thousands of kids in Gaza, in addition to those who are being injured now — and we already know that number is graphically high — that there’s thousands of kids in Gaza who have nontrauma-related injuries who need medical care, kids who are born with congenital defects, kids with heart problems, kids with cancer, kids with cystic fibrosis, kids on dialysis. These are children, in addition to those thousands of kids who have been injured over the past month, who need specialized care they can’t get in Gaza. And as a result of the hospitals now running out of fuel and not able to provide services, as a result of hospitals running out of drugs and services, as a result of specialists being killed and being injured or not able to access the treatment centers, as a result of hospitals closing, thousands of children in Gaza, in addition to those who are being injured, are going without specialized care, and many of them are even dying. And that’s actually a huge concern to us. And we hope that we’re able to get these kids out as quickly as possible to provide them care outside if they cannot get care within Gaza. But, of course, we’re asking, more importantly, for a ceasefire and enabling our medical teams, who are standing by, ready to go to Gaza and continue to provide services there — we have several surgical missions ready to go at a moment’s notice if we can access Gaza and be able to relieve the doctors there and provide those services directly to those kids.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring in Dr. Barbara Zind, a pediatrician who traveled to Gaza to support the relief efforts of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Dr. Zind, could you talk about your experience while you were there during this Israeli bombardment?

DR. BARBARA ZIND: Yeah. I had arrived on October — November? I can’t remember which month. October 6 for a three-day mission to see about a hundred children that the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund is sponsoring with chronic diseases. And then, the morning after I arrived, I was just walking along the beach and saw those missiles fired, and, after that, ended up joining other humanitarian aid staff and volunteers going — over the next month going to, you know, three different U.N. sites for safety, and finally one last place, and then getting there the day that the Rafah border opened with our names on a list to exit.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barbara Zind, talk about why you got involved with Palestine Children’s Relief Fund and then what it was like, if you can take us on that journey. You were one of a number of foreigners, specialists, humanitarian relief workers inside Gaza as the bombardment began. Can you talk about where you went, whether you were able to get clean water, more importantly, everyone around you — not more importantly, but equally, everyone around you, how you took shelter? You were on TV. We saw you as a bomb went off next to you. You jumped.

DR. BARBARA ZIND: Well, yes. I mean, I was fortunate, much more fortunate than the Gazans themselves, in that we were able to — we had administration. The Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund worked with other humanitarian organizations, and they could see safe places to move.

I’ve been with this organization since 2010, going over to the West Bank and Gaza almost every year, except for the years I couldn’t because of COVID. And it’s because of all the great things that they do. It’s because the children that I see — I’m not a surgeon, but I fill — they help fill in the gaps, medications, special schooling, everything that these children with chronic diseases can’t get through the Ministry of Health, and that includes just diabetics getting insulin, and so, really, life-saving medications that can’t be fully provided through the governmental services and health services that are there.

So, throughout that month, we went — we started in Gaza City and with continuous bombardment, and then everyone was supposed to go to the south. We went to another U.N. facility in the south. That one was just thousands of people coming in the gates. Usually people go to U.N. schools, but the U.N. schools were already full when they ordered the evacuation of the northern part of Gaza, and so people just went to this — it was a vocational school. So it really didn’t have facilities. And those people started building things right away. They took wooden pallets. They took bricks. They just started just building a place for their families. And these are extended families, so they are large families. Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund has a staff member who’s in the last U.N. facility that we were at, and he’s with 150 family members. He has eight children. He has 19 siblings. So, his close relatives are 150 people, and they are living in that southernmost camp.

We were fortunate in that we had clean water delivered, but for — and we had 50 people using one toilet versus 400 to 600 people per toilet. I mean, even in our group of a lot of medical workers, we had an outbreak of diarrhea. I can’t imagine what it was like outside of our camp as far as that. They had limited water. They had a certain amount of drinking water, which ran out. Our drinking water started to run out. Definitely, our water for washing and running the toilet was running out right before we left. We were fortunate to have food, but at the last few days, we ended up computing how much food we needed for 50 people. And at 800 calories a day, we had enough for two days, until we were able to have a driver go all the way to Gaza City, a dangerous drive, to bring some other foods. But I don’t know what — but we knew that the grocery stores were going to be empty. But out in the camp, they were giving one pita bread per person and, initially, a can of meat for two people. And then that went down to four people while we were there. So, the United Nations was supplying some food, but so limited for those people.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Zind —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dr. Zind, I’m wondering — I’m wondering about the issue not just of the life-and-death travails that the Palestinian people are confronting with this bombing, but also if you could talk some about what you see in the terms of the mental health, the long-term — we’re talking about a population, a complete population, that’s been traumatized now for years, and now especially with this bombing. Your sense of what the mental health needs of these children will be for years to come?

DR. BARBARA ZIND: Well, I think a lot of times I’ve described Gaza on a good day. So, in these other missions that I’ve gone to Gaza, they’re just constantly, constantly under siege, really. I mean, food is limited a lot. I mean, fishermen can only go out so far, and that’s — they can’t go to the international water boundaries for fishing. And so, food is always limited. Medications are limited. Sixty-five percent of Gazans are on humanitarian aid all the time. So, when we talk about humanitarian aid coming in, it’s not just for this conflict. I mean, they’re always needing humanitarian aid based on limitations of food and clean water. There’s no surface water. So these children live under that stress all the time. They’re wonderful, resilient people, but I can’t imagine, you know, what it’s like to be a child and be with a family that’s moving around, has really no place to go that’s safe.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Steve Sosebee back into the conversation. This is Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan, who was interviewed on CNN on Sunday.

GILAD ERDAN: There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In coordination with the U.S. and the U.N., we allowed a number of trucks entering Gaza now with food and medicines to reach almost 100 trucks every day. So we don’t see the need for humanitarian pauses right now, because it will only enable Hamas to rearm and regroup.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to this, Steve Sosebee? He doesn’t see — this is the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. He doesn’t see a humanitarian crisis on the ground right now. And if you can also weave in, for example, the children in your cancer ward? How are they possibly getting chemotherapy right now?

STEVE SOSEBEE: Well, that’s an interesting point of view. It’s coming from a political perspective and not a realistic one and not based on reality. The fact is, on the ground, that there is an obvious humanitarian crisis. This is described not only by people on the ground there, but by the United Nations and by other, let’s say, objective points of view.

The humanitarian crisis is obvious. There is no fuel that’s been delivered to Gaza since October 7th. And what does that mean? Well, all of the hospitals in Gaza, every single one of them depends on fuel to run generators. They’re not connected to the electrical grid, because the electrical grid’s shut down since October 11th, so that, then, even when it was operating, it only provided electricity for three or four hours a day, as we all know, prior to October 7th. So, therefore, the hospitals are running out of fuel. They’re not able to operate. They’re not able to provide ventilation for children in the intensive care unit who are severely injured, and there’s hundreds of them. They’re not able to provide electricity for babies in incubators in the neonatal units increasingly. The fuel is running out. We know that in Shifa Hospital, there’s only one generator working now. The Indonesian Hospital has run out of fuel. And other hospitals have closed. And so, I don’t know what humanitarian crisis he’s not seeing.

In addition to that, as Dr. Zind just mentioned, children and people there are on a significant calorie diet, and that’s affecting the entire population. One-point-five million people in Gaza out of 2.2 [million] are displaced. They’re living in warehouses, in tents, in other — in makeshift places, in U.N. schools. And those schools are being hit. There are no safe places in Gaza. We’ve seen the casualty toll, as you mentioned at the beginning of this program, of over 4,000 children who have been killed so far in one month. Four thousand children, that would be hundreds of thousands of American children, if that was compared to our population in the U.S. And that’s not counting the over 1,000 children who are buried under rubble, some of them alive right now, slowly dying. And that’s not a humanitarian crisis. The lack of medication, doctors are operating on children without anesthesia, without pain medication. That’s not a humanitarian crisis. There’s over 200 children who are burned from bombing of their homes, and the doctors don’t have dressings. They don’t have anesthesia. These kids are getting Tylenol, while they have third-degree burns all over their bodies. That’s not a humanitarian crisis. I don’t know what world he’s living in or what world he’s watching, but for those of us who are actually watching with open eyes and open hearts and open minds, this is a humanitarian crisis that we’ve never seen before, and it’s 2023. This is unacceptable that this is happening in this modern world. And it’s happening with modern weapons, and these modern weapons are being paid for by our American tax dollars.

Now, your question about the children in the cancer department, they are running out of drugs. They’re running out of chemotherapy. They’re running out of adequate treatment. The kids who were in remission are falling out of remission. There’s literally dozens of children in Gaza with cancer who are not getting adequate care, not because they don’t have the facility to get that care. We built that and opened it in 2019, and it’s an excellent facility. They’re not getting care, not because the doctors there aren’t qualified and the nurses aren’t qualified to treat them. They are. They’re not getting care because their hospital right now is under attack. It’s been hit by — it was bombed two days ago. The doctors don’t have access. The nurses don’t have access.

The children themselves are living in a state of absolute terror, as was mentioned earlier. If we want to talk about the mental health situation, it’s affecting the entire population in Gaza Strip, and it’s going to be a generational conflict, or a generational issue. How do you solve an entire population that’s been exposed to conflict and war — children — over 1 million children have been traumatized now, and they’re going to live the rest of their lives with this trauma, and it’s impossible to treat it. Why? Because the source of the trauma is not going away. It’s not post-traumatic stress disorder; it’s current traumatic stress. And we can’t solve it. We have a mental health program. We can’t heal these children. We can’t heal their hearts, we can’t heal their souls, and we can’t heal their bodies, until this conflict stops. And it’s not going to stop until there’s a political will on the part of everybody who believes in peace, in justice, in freedom, in equality to take a stand and put an end to this situation once and for all.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Sosebee, I want to thank you for being with us, president and founder of Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, speaking to us from Kent, Ohio, and Dr. Barbara Zind, pediatrician who traveled to Gaza October 6th to support the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. She was finally evacuated through the Rafah border crossing weeks later and arrived back home in Grand Junction, Colorado, this week.

Next up, we’ll look at how President Biden’s refusal to support a Gaza ceasefire could impact his reelection chances next year, as his support among Arab Americans is plummeting. Back in 30 seconds.

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