Meet rescuer Ayman Shahwan

Originally posted here

AR-140719728.jpg&MaxW=960&imageVersion=defaultFor 15 years, Ayman Shahwan has raced his ambulance through the death and destruction of Gaza’s seemingly unending war with Israel.

Braving the threat of air strikes and shelling, he has ferried scores of wounded men, women and children — and presumably fighters — to hospital from the wreckage of bombed-out Gaza homes. Often, he arrives to the grim aftermath of body parts that he must also collect for the authorities to identify.

“Sometimes you think this could be the end of your life. But you have to do this because there is no one else who will,” Mr Shahwan, 42, said during a short break at Gaza City’s Tel Al Hawa neighbourhood ambulance station.

Taking advantage of a lull in the bombardment, he and a dozen colleagues from the Palestine Red Crescent Society fought of exhaustion by watching television news and discussing the war’s latest developments. Drowsy from their Ramadan fast and having only two hours sleep the night before, they did their best to resist the urge to doze, knowing that at any moment they could be called to the scene of the latest attack.

During peace time they provide emergency medical care, such as CPR and administer life-saving drugs, while also shuttling patients to hospital, like emergency responders the world over. But unlike their counterparts in other countries, these Palestinians have endured three wars in six years — 2008-2009, 2012 and now.

Since the most recent flare-up with Israel began on Tuesday, 18 of Mr Shahwan colleagues have been wounded in attacks, according to the World Heath Organisation.

To many here, their courage under fire makes them heroes, including during the current onslaught that has killed at least 135 Palestinians, many of them civilians, and injured hundreds more.

“I’m here in the hospital treating all the victims that these people risk their lives to rescue, and I have to tip my hat to them,” said Youssef Jarboa, a paediatric surgeon at Gaza City’s Al Shifa Hospital. “Many more people would die if these people didn’t risk their own lives to bring victims to us as quickly as possible.”

Red Crescent officials say Israel inhibits their ability to respond to attacks and other emergencies during peace time by denying them permission to enter the buffer zone inside Gaza that extends metres from the wall Israel built around besieged territory, along with refusing to allow them to import communications equipment.

Despite being focused on only humanitarian work and not holding any political affiliation, sometimes the emergency responders are hit by Israeli attacks.

Khalil Abou Foul, the Red Crescent’s director of disaster management in Gaza, said three of his emergency responders operating in the central part of the territory were wounded by debris from an air raid during the first days of fighting.

In the northern Jabalia refugee camp, more than a dozen more were wounded on Wednesday by an air raid that also damaged three emergency vehicles.

Mr Abou Foul said he was concerned about the safety of his 120 full-time emergency medical technicians and 250 volunteers. Despite coordinating with the Israelis, providing them names, IDs, vehicle-number plates, he said his personnel are at great risk.

“There is no respect for ambulance workers on the Israeli side,” Mr Abou Foul said.

Activists reported that at least five Israeli projectiles struck a geriatric hospital in Gaza City on Friday, while the WHO has reported attacks that either targeted or damaged at least three other medical clinics and hospitals in the territory. One of those included an attack on the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Younis that injured a nurse and damaged the facility’s intensive care unit.

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