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Why one American doctor chose to stay in Gaza despite an offer to evacuate

Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti with children in Gaza. (Courtesy of Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti)
Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti with children in Gaza. (Courtesy of Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti)

After numerous discussions with Israeli authorities, the Biden administration facilitated the evacuation of a group of 17 American doctors from Gaza on Friday. The doctors had been in Gaza on a medical mission, but weren’t able to leave on their original departure date last week due to the Rafah border crossing being closed.

With no new medical convoys currently being allowed in to replace those doctors, their withdrawal has left one of the last functioning hospitals in Gaza understaffed and in dire need of additional medical assistance.

Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti is a neurologist originally from Toledo, Ohio. Through the Palestinian American Medical Association (PAMA), she arrived in Gaza at the beginning of May and has been treating patients at the European Hospital in southern Gaza. She’s been focusing on her patients with chronic conditions and how they’re faring through the war.

Dr. Al-Hinti is among three American doctors who refused to evacuate because it would mean leaving behind the rest of her team, which is made up of 14 foreign health care workers and permanent U.S. residents who weren’t given the opportunity to evacuate.

“I felt that it is unfair for us American citizens to leave and use our American citizenship privilege and leave our teammates behind us,” she says.

5 questions with Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti

Why did you decide not to evacuate?

“We came as a team consisting of 19 healthcare workers… from different parts of the world… as a team under an American organization. I couldn’t do this and leave my teammates here. I didn’t feel it was right. At the same time, knowing that the other teams waiting to enter Gaza are not guaranteed to enter, I felt that it is my responsibility to stay and help as much as I can until we figure out something.

“The healthcare system here is below zero and it’s strained. And just leaving just because I have the chance to leave because I’m an American citizen would not be the right choice for me.”

Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti with a patient. (Courtesy of Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti)

How are patients in the hospital are feeling after many American doctors evacuated?

“As soon as they heard that a big part of the team left, they started asking questions: ‘When are you leaving? Did they tell you anything? Is anybody else coming in?’ They always say, ‘As long as you’re here in this hospital, we are safe. After you leave, we don’t know what will happen to us.’ They are scared that whatever happened to Al-Shifa Hospital, to Nasser Hospital, to all the other hospitals, will happen to them here at the European hospital.

“Everybody is on edge — especially [now] that the bombing is becoming closer every day.”

Have any patient cases over the last few days stood out to you?

“One of them is a patient who came with his dad, and this patient had CP — cerebral palsy. He used to be able to crawl and talk before the war… Right now he is like bone and skin. He has contractures in all his limbs. You can’t spread his arms, they’re just contracted in a horrible way. And his dad said, since the war started, there has been no help whatsoever. No physical therapy, nothing. And he just ended up with those contractures. Now, you can’t fix that.”

How do your husband and children back in the U.S. feel about your decision to stay?

“My husband was not very happy for me to stay, but finally he agreed. My kids were okay. My son told me, ‘Do what you need to do. Don’t worry about us and we’re with you.’ And that really, really gave me a big boost and relief in my heart.

“I try to talk to them as much as they can. They text me. They ask, ‘What did you eat today? Did you drink enough water?’ They’re very concerned about my health. Actually, my son graduated from high school yesterday. I had to watch it on a video.”

What do you want President Biden to know about the situation for medical professionals in Gaza and about your decision to stay?

“I need him to know that there is no infrastructure. Health care is done in Gaza. The European Hospital probably is the last standing hospital and it’s strained to the max.

“Doctors, nurses, everybody, they have been through horror stories and they still volunteer and come to work every day. They are exhausted. And stopping the missions to come to these hospitals would be devastating. Patients with chronic illnesses, acute illnesses, injuries… they need help. And the situation in the hospital is very bad.

“As soon as they get us all out together, not leaving anybody behind, I will go out.”

Hafsa Quraishi produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Michael Scotto. Quraishi adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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