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Japanese Doctor who Saw Horrors of Gaza Emergency Room Calls for Ceasefire

Courtesy of Doctors Without Borders
Physician Yuko Nakajima, center, examines an injured infant in an operating room in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on Nov. 20.

Physician Yuko Nakajima, a member of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) who recently treated patients in Gaza, recounted the destruction and civilian deaths she witnessed at a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Among the victims Nakajima treated was a 10-year-old girl who was brought to the hospital with burns all over her body. The girl was in critical condition, unable to breathe properly. Her legs were gradually decomposing, and they had to be amputated if she was to live. But the operating room was already crowded. The surgery was not performed, and the girl died.

Nakajima said she entered southern Gaza’s largest city, Khan Yunis, on Nov. 14 as part of a 13-member team that also had doctors from France and Spain. She worked in the emergency room at a general hospital in the city, dealing day after day with a flood of injured people.

Nakajima, 48, said she was in danger herself. She recalled the deafening roar of an airstrike on the night of Nov. 23, and at her lodgings, the windows, which had been blocked up with a mattress, showed cracks. “I might die tonight,” she thought.

After a large air strike, as many as 20 patients would be brought in to the hospital at once. “I saw many babies and children as young as 3 or 4 years old who were the sole survivors of their families,” Nakajima said tearfully.

The bombing did stop for a time — during the seven-day truce between Israel and Hamas from Nov. 24 to 30. The physician said the city was filled with children’s laughter then.

However, when the fighting resumed on Dec. 1, the hospital again saw waves of some 20 new patients at once. Nakajima left Gaza on Dec. 7 as fighting in Khan Yunis made it impossible for the charity to keep running. During her little more than three weeks in Gaza, Nakajima said she saw some 100 patients die.

The trip showed her just how cruel war can be.

“I felt there was a limit to what could be done to save lives there,” she said. “There should be an immediate ceasefire.”