TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Taiwanese physician with the Doctors Without Borders organization encountered a “nightmare” in Gaza's hospitals and during his evacuation from the Gaza Strip, as discussed in a CNA interview on Nov. 9.
Hung Shang-kai (洪上凱) worked previously as an emergency physician at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital. He joined Doctors Without Borders in July for six months of service in Gaza, but his tour of duty was truncated following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people.
For one month following the attack, Hung was on the front lines in Gaza. He continued to work at his hospital post in northern Gaza, but after Israel began launching airstrikes, more and more patients poured in.
Doctor Hung Shang-kai. (CNA photo)
On Oct. 10, as Taiwan was celebrating its National Day, Hung was awoken by the sounds of explosions in Gaza. “There will be an air strike in five minutes,” he was told, as he hid with ten others in a small, underground bunker where no one dared to speak.
Then on Oct. 13, Israel suddenly ordered 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate within 24 hours, a move the U.N. condemned. “It is inconceivable that more than half of Gaza’s population could traverse an active war zone without devastating humanitarian consequences,” said the U.N.’s special rapporteur.
Members of non-profit organizations all over the world faced a dilemma, Hung said. Many of those living in Gaza are already refugees, and they do not want to be displaced “yet again.” Moreover, they hoped that the U.N. and foreign workers would not leave them behind.
Hung and his team later took refuge at a U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facility in Khan Yunis. Shortly after they arrived, a riot broke out as locals desperately tried to enter the already overcrowded compound.
“Everyone was furious because they felt the U.N. was supposed to look after them, but the U.N. was, in fact, completely powerless at that time," Hung said. “I think the whole situation was almost out of control.”
Palestinian girl is carried from rubble. (REUTERS photo)
On Nov. 6, Palestinian authorities said the death toll from Israeli strikes had exceeded 10,000, as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Gaza was becoming a "graveyard for children.” Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to reject international calls for a cease-fire on Saturday (Nov. 11), arguing that Israel has a right to defend itself while demanding the release of over 200 Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
On his journey to the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, Hung remembered his fear among the crowd of locals. The once trusted Doctors Without Borders logo that Gazans used to welcome with smiling faces had become a target for anger and blame, he said.
“Since the beginning of the war, we did everything we could to sustain our operations. But the scale of this war is too big,” Hung said. “We were not even able to get from one place to another. Local communications were cut off. We had no way to work.”
He recalled the sad, panic-stricken faces of thousands of Palestinians displaced onto the streets with nowhere to go.
Road of ruins in Gaza. (REUTERS photo)
Despite their harrowing situation, Hung described the kindness and generosity he experienced from Gazans. They would ask me if I was okay and were willing to share what little water or food they had, he said.
“I came to realize that what humanitarian relief workers can achieve is extremely, extremely limited. We are powerless to stop this war,” Hung lamented. “We cannot address the root cause of the issue,” he added.
“Our efforts are more like patching up the holes in the world. But that to me is still very important," he said. "It shows that I or my group still care a lot about those in need."
Hung said that after he returned to Taiwan, he contacted a local colleague in Gaza. She was a mother of three children and wanted to continue working in the hospital until the end of the war.
"I asked her what worried her most: death, air strikes, or lack of food?" Hung said. Unexpectedly, her answer was that she was most afraid of being forgotten by the world, and that one day, people would stop caring about the aftermath in Gaza.