“There is no safe place in the Gaza Strip,” says executive director of MSF in Brazil

In an interview with Conectas, Renata Reis details the humanitarian situation in Gaza and talks about the role of international pressure in the conflict

Renata Reis diretora-executiva do MSF no Brasil. Foto: Luiza Trindade/MSF Renata Reis diretora-executiva do MSF no Brasil. Foto: Luiza Trindade/MSF

The latest stage of the conflict between Hamas and Israel has taken the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip to catastrophic levels, says Renata Reis, executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Brazil. She has been following developments of the conflict through colleagues working in Palestine.

In an interview with Conectas, Reis, who also serves on the Board of Trustees of Conectas, describes the devastating reality facing the population of Gaza, characterizing it as an acute and brutal crisis on top of an already chronic crisis. MSF has been working in the region since 1989, focusing on responding to needs resulting from violence, trauma surgery, burns and mental health, in a context marked by the embargo that has been in place for 15 years. 

Reis, who has headed the humanitarian organization in Brazil since 2022, points out the violations of International Humanitarian Law during the conflict, highlighting the disrespect for health facilities, health professionals, patients and ambulances. The price of this war, she says, falls on the civilian population, demonstrating the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire. After negotiations involving several countries and more than 14,000 deaths, a ceasefire is finally expected to begin in the region on Friday, November 24, with the release of prisoners and hostages on both sides. 

Read the full interview with Renata Reis, of MSF: 

Conectas – How would you define the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip at this moment of the conflict? 

Renata Reis – The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip right now is catastrophic. It is an unacceptable, dramatic situation that our teams have been monitoring daily since the 7th [of October]. I should say that Doctors Without Borders has been working in this context for a long time, so we consider that this crisis is an acute and brutal crisis on top of an already chronic crisis. Doctors Without Borders has been working in Gaza since 1989 and our efforts in this region have always involved the issue of violence, including surgery for trauma and burns, and mental health treatment, considering the suffering that this population has been subjected to for so many years, a region under blockade for 15 years, which has a very delicate health situation, due precisely to this difficulty of obtaining equipment and medicine and of living without humanitarian aid. It is a region completely dependent on humanitarian aid and it has now been massively attacked, daily, since the 7th, with many civilian deaths, most of them women and children. Hospitals are being bombed constantly, every day, health professionals are being killed and suffering all manner of violence, unable to do their work properly, while ambulances are being blown up… So, from the point of view of humanitarian aid it is dramatic for health, but it is dramatic for all other areas too. The region has a major water problem, involving access to drinking water, and the lack of fuel means the water cannot be desalinated. More than 90% of the population today lives in a state of absolute poverty, without access to the basics for survival, with a massive forced relocation from the north to the south of Gaza. This also exponentially increases the risk of other health problems related to the appalling conditions of hygiene, nutrition and personal care to which these people are currently being subjected. And I am only speaking here of Gaza, because the situation is also not easy and is extremely complex and violent in the West Bank too.

Conectas – What are the challenges facing humanitarian aid in the context of war?

Renata Reis – The humanitarian challenges in a context like this are multiple, especially considering this area we are talking about is a tiny piece of land for 2.2 million suffering people, there is no safe place in this area and at the moment there is no way to leave, no guarantee of return, no pauses, no ceasefire, despite countless requests and outcries from Doctors Without Borders and countless other organizations to this effect. The context is desperate because there is nowhere to escape, there is no way for these people to support themselves… There is no way… The population is being denied humanitarian aid, in a context where humanitarian aid was crucial. A context where 500 trucks, on average, entered Gaza per day, to address a chronic situation, before this desperately acute moment. So, the amount of trucks and humanitarian aid that can enter Gaza today is nothing compared to the desperate needs of the population. It is necessary to take into account that International Humanitarian Law has been broken in this war, it is not the first war, but in this particular war there is no respect at all for health facilities, health professionals, patients or ambulances. This population is being punished collectively, with the civilian population paying the price of the war. So, what MSF reiterates is our urgent request for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and for humanitarian aid to desperately be permitted entry because the situation is so serious. The situation in the hospitals is unimaginable, the reports we receive from our colleagues are of patients being hit inside the hospitals, machines necessary for keeping people alive are being turned off due to lack of fuel, and operations and surgeries are being performed on the hospital floor, without anesthetics, on children. So, what we are witnessing in Gaza right now is unimaginable and should not happen even in extreme situations, since even wars have rules! This war in particular has not been respecting the rules, the parties have not been respecting any of the rules, especially Israel in relation to Gaza given the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population, children, women and health facilities.

Conectas – In addition to humanitarian aid, how can civil society in other countries, including Brazil, help alleviate the humanitarian crisis? Can international pressure help?

Renata Reis – Well, Doctors Without Borders is an organization that was born from a combination of medicine and journalism. It was doctors and journalists who came together to create this organization and one of our principles is to denounce, to speak openly and widely about what we see and witness in the areas where we work. So, Doctors Without Borders is an organization that does this. We believe that international pressure is relevant, it is important. We believe that the voices of organizations like ours both from civil society and from countries, as well as international organizations, are absolutely necessary at this time. You cannot watch a massacre of civilians without raising your voice. I think this is a historic call, not only for MSF, but for all organizations that are active in the field of human rights and humanitarian aid. We believe that without pressure this massacre will continue for a lot longer. So, what else can we do at this time, besides sending in our teams, putting our colleagues at risk? And this is the reality we face today, since there are no safe conditions, there are no safe places in Gaza. Our colleagues are at risk. This is the reality. The only other way to help is through pressure, without a shadow of a doubt, for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the escalation of civilian deaths, due to the massive bombardment of the civilian population.

Conectas – What concrete measures are needed for humanitarian aid to reach the people in this conflict?

Renata Reis – With regard to concrete measures, most important is an immediate ceasefire. It is also necessary to open the borders for the passage of humanitarian aid, these being the two most urgent and necessary actions. It is imperative to stop the massacre, the escalation of civilian deaths and the attacks on hospitals. Furthermore, it is crucial to immediately permit the mass entry of humanitarian aid to the population of Gaza, who are facing acute suffering, as they are being bombarded daily and deprived of access to food, drinking water and basic necessities. It is not possible to enter with all the medicines and health supplies that are essential for performing surgeries. Recently, MSF sent 26 tons of medical supplies, enough for 800 surgical interventions, although it is insufficient to cover all the needs in Gaza right now. It is crucial for a much larger amount of humanitarian aid to be permitted. The average daily number of injured people is 800 to 1000, of those who make it to a hospital. It is important to note that there is no fuel at people’s homes and no electricity. The people who make it to the hospitals arrive in very serious condition, and the hospitals are completely out of supplies. As such, the situation in Gaza is a humanitarian tragedy, and it is vital to establish an immediate ceasefire and permit the mass entry of humanitarian aid.

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