Palestinian doctors and nurses who have stayed behind in Gaza Strip are heroes who know they are going to die but have chosen to stay anyway, a US nurse rescued from the Ground Zero of war has said. Emily Callahan, nurse activity manager with Doctors Without Borders, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an interview that “there is no safe place in Gaza” right now.
Ms Callahan returned to the US over the weekend after being evacuated from Gaza last Wednesday. Asked how it feels to be back, she said, “I obviously have a sense of relief that I’m home with my family and feel safe for the first time in 26 days. (But) I’m having a really hard time finding any joy in any of it. Because me being safe is the result of having to leave people behind,” she said.
Hamas’ October 7 terror attacks on Israel cities that left about 1,400 people dead sparked a brutal counterstrike in Gaza Strip. The retaliatory attack has killed over 10,000 people in Gaza so far, according to UN estimates.
Ms Callahan said they had to relocate about 5 times in 26 days due to security concerns. “One of the places we wound up was at the Communist Training Centre. There were 35,000 internally displaced people. There were children with just massive burns down their faces, necks, all over their limbs. Because the hospitals are so overwhelmed, they are being discharged immediately,” she said,
Describing the condition of the relief camps to shelter those displaced by Israel’s airstrikes, Ms Callahan said a camp with over 50,000 people has four toilets that get water supply for four hours in a day. “And they have these fresh open burns and wounds and partial amputations walking around in these conditions. Parents are bringing their children to us, saying, ‘Please can you help?’ And we have no supplies,” she said.
The nurse said they had to leave one of the camps because “we were starting to be harassed”. “Desperate people who are losing loved ones right and left are angry. And they would point at me and scream ‘American’. They would yell things in Hebrew to see if we were Israeli. They accused our national staff of either being traitors or said, ‘you are pretending to be Arab’,” she said.
Ms Callahan said their Palestinian colleague stayed with them the whole time. “We said to them that they don’t have to stay. They said, ‘you’re family too’ and ‘we’re not going anywhere’.”
The nurse said they would have died within a week if the local staff did not protect them. “There’s bombs going off all around us because there’s no safe place in Gaza. They didn’t leave our side for a second,” she said.
At the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, she said, it was the national staff who spoke to officials, got them onto buses. “We’re watching these incredible men who have sacrificed everything for us, who have sacrificed time with their families, their own physical safety, their own water supply. And we’re watching them fight to get us across the border, knowing that we were not bringing them with us,” she said.
Asked if she would go back to Gaza, Ms Callahan replied, “In a heartbeat. My heart is in Gaza, it will stay in Gaza. The Palestinian people I worked with were some of the most incredible people I’ve met in my life.”
The nurse said that whenever she asked the national staff if they got out, the only answer was “this is our community, our family, these are our friends. If they’re going to kill us, we’re going to die saving as many people as we can”.
Ms Callahan said there is an “idea being pushed right now that anyone that stayed behind is going to be considered some kind of a threat”. “I want to remind people that people who stayed behind are heroes. They know they’re going to die and they’re choosing to stay behind anyway,” she said.