Gaza: A doctor’s story

Published: 30 January 2009 0:00 CET

Samar Al-Gamal in Cairo, Egypt

On his return from a humanitarian mission in Gaza, an Algerian Red Crescent doctor tells of his day-to-day work amid the bombing.

It was the end of the day when Mohammed Abed Khouidmi arrived in Gaza in the company of an Algerian Red Crescent colleague. "The area was being bombed but we had coordinated our entry to the Gaza Strip with the Palestine Red Crescent Society,” he explains.

Since the military operations started, the Algerian Red Crescent has been in permanent contact with its Palestinian counterpart and with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), with a view to supporting the humanitarian operation during the conflict.

Khouidmi started at Khan Younis hospital, but in view of his specialization in emergency and disaster medicine, the Palestinian doctors decided he should go to Al-Shifa hospital. "It was necessary to negotiate my entry to Gaza City again, which was, by then, surrounded" he recounts.


A convoy of 13 ambulances, two of them Algerian, had been stuck at a roadblock for more than three tense hours. "Finally we were given the go ahead to proceed to the hospital," continues the doctor.

"The hospital was in a terrible state. Medicines and equipment, even the most essential items, were in short supply. The 400-bed facility was full to overflowing, as it tried to attend to some 1,000 injured people," recalls Khouidmi.

The next day, a team of doctors began a reconnaissance mission in other hospitals in Gaza, with a view to transferring some of the wounded to free up Al-Shifa to deal with the more serious cases.

Humanitarian work

With the devastating bombing of the Gaza Strip, home to around 1.5 million people, it was becoming more and more difficult for Palestine Red Crescent personnel to carry out their humanitarian work.

"They had been working around the clock for around ten days. We suggested that they take a rest, but the situation made that impossible. Everyone was under a lot of pressure, and the days were interminable,” adds Khouidmi.

For 11 days, Khouidmi ran the emergency room. "There was a continuous stream of wounded people arriving at the hospital. Some had had their lower limbs blown off and needed amputations; others were badly burned. We never left the operating theatres."

Before the cease-fire

The last 48 hours before the cease-fire were the worst, he said, because the Al-Quds hospital had been hit.

"Dozens of Palestinians took refuge in the hospital. For them, it was the safest place to go to escape the air raids. The traumatized families crowded into the courtyard, in spite of the lack of blankets," explains Khouidmi, wiping away his tears.

The 90 doctors at the hospital were always on the alert, always ready to intervene in spite of the risks. Khouidmi praises the remarkable work of the Palestine Red Crescent Society doctors and relief workers.

Evacuate victims

"Everything was in short supply, but in spite of this, I was impressed by their excellent organization. They coordinated the evacuation of the wounded to Egypt, managed the ambulances, met the needs of the hospitals and negotiated relentlessly to be allowed into the bombed areas to evacuate victims," he says.

As the days passed, the delivery of medical aid via the Rafah border post and the arrival of more doctors made the mission a little less difficult. It was time for Khouidmi, the first Arab doctor to arrive in Al-Shifa, to go home.

He joined the Algerian Red Crescent in 1990. His previous mission abroad was in 2006 in Lebanon. With this war in Gaza over, Khouidmi returns to Algeria, with disturbing memories but with the hope that "there will not be a new war any time soon".