The growing tendency of nation-states to ignore medical neutrality will bring a dark age upon human civilization
Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza was bombed on the evening of October 17, 2023, killing between 100 and 300 individuals including caregivers and civilians who were either patients or escorting them. Just like in Yemen and Ukraine before no one was held accountable. No official was legally or administratively disciplined even for the sake of optics. Just a hollow and shallow performance of grief not even a condemnation from leaders of nation-states. In Gaza, multiple health care facilities have been hit by airstrikes. Danger looms over every hospital that is still functioning, including Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza. Electric, fuel, drugs and water supply have been cut off to hospitals that have not been bombed yet. Strategic targeting of medical infrastructure is being used as a force multiplier to increase casualties of war.
Violating the rules universally agreed upon and established in the Geneva Conventions, this attack goes against the most sacred of the laws of men, that is the law of Medical Neutrality and Immunity. Hospitals and medical centres have always been a refuge for the injured seeking help and escaping the violence in surrounding conflict zones, it is important for the future of humanity that they remain so. This is not an isolated incident but only the recent one in the long list of brutal deaths of civilians like medical personnel and journalists that resulted from the direct actions of official government militaries instead of nonstate entities, either due to malfunction or malintent.
More than 8000 are dead, more than 70% of that number are children, women and elderly. More than 20000 injured need trauma care. This number is additional to the regular disease load that exists in any population like infants requiring incubators, kidney patients requiring dialysis, diabetics requiring insulin and various conditions requiring emergency surgeries in addition to the trauma cases being brought in because of airstrikes. Medical resources are stretched thin and grossly inadequate concerning increased needs. Medical workers have been working without respite, clean water, developing skin and gastro-intestinal infections.
Killing of Medical workers and bombings of hospitals further aggravate the situation. The blood of the injured who survived the bombing of their houses only to be killed in airstrikes on ambulances and hospitals will stain our collective conscience for a long time to come, as will the decision of the Indian government to abstain from the resolution of the ceasefire forwarded by Jordan. Collateral damage is not a magical word that makes the wanton murder of non-combatants trapped in a conflict zone legitimate or any less abhorrent. All human life is precious, more so to those who swore an oath to save it. Medical communities across the globe should question this growing tendency of governments to ignore these old but wise laws of humanity. Citizens of the world need to hold their elected representatives accountable who are letting it happen, lest Gaza become another Auschwitz.
These governments are carelessly and irresponsibly attacking this foundational pillar of human ethics and values on which human civilization as we know it stands. Terrorists are non-state actors but when nation-states and countries ignore established rules of engagement that keep us devolving into savages during conflicts, it brings us one step closer to a dark age that may be high-tech but still darker than any that mankind has suffered before. An age when the red cross of hospitallers, a shared symbol of identity and purpose for medical caregivers across the world and a sign of hope and relief for the sick and injured, a symbol holier to us than any God will cease to have any meaning.
(Dr Siddharth Tara is from Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, views are personal)