Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of The Gift of the Givers Foundation, has appealed for negotiations, compromise and peace in the Middle East. The respected South African aid organisation has had a presence in Gaza for nine years.
Gift of the Givers doesn’t have an office in Gaza. Instead, the team of three people moves around distributing medical supplies, food and water. They are also involved in a women and child care centre, a health facility, and schools.
Sooliman says the organisation wants to send more people. “We are preparing to send medical teams but only if it’s not any risk to them.” He says a ceasefire or safe corridor is needed before the teams can enter Gaza. The organisation has 40 medical personnel ready to go in, Sooliman told GroundUp.
On Sunday Gift of the Givers reported that the team has been under severe physical and mental stress.
In 2014 Israel attacked Gaza for seven weeks. Sooliman said his team is reporting that this time it’s completely different. “They said it’s so difficult to move around. There’s so much anxiety and so much fear. The amount of bombs being dropped has never happened before.”
On Tuesday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that 4,200 people have been killed, and over one million people displaced, in just ten days, while large areas of the Gaza Strip have been reduced to rubble.
The death toll includes a large number of women and children, as well as at least 11 Palestinian journalists, 28 medical staff and 14 UN workers. It also includes over 1,300 Israelis, mostly civilians, killed by Hamas on 7 October.
Sooliman said that Gaza’s people face challenges with access to food and water. “Because there’s no electricity, the sewage plants don’t work. Because they can’t do burials, the decomposed bodies are going to cause infections. Because hospitals don’t have antibiotics, there’s a threat of infection there.
“They managed to do some mass funerals yesterday. As the bodies are coming in they are doing it straight away. There are thousands of bodies lying under the rubble that they can’t reach. They don’t have the equipment, they don’t have the personnel, but above all, it’s bloody dangerous to get there,” said Sooliman.
Sooliman said that he had a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador and South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Department on Monday in an attempt to get a humanitarian aid corridor open. “We are also looking at flying supplies on a cargo plane from South Africa and sending trucks to the border in Cairo.”
“This is not a thing about Jews against Muslims; it’s human against human. – Dr Imtiaz Sooliman”
Asked how this situation compared to other humanitarian relief efforts the organisation had been involved in, Sooliman responded: “This is the worst situation in the world because there is no exit route. You can’t get out. The area is so small. It’s so easy to bomb it … Nobody can have a safety plan. Where are you going to hide? There’s no such thing as safety in Gaza.”
Gaza is only 350km2. It could fit into Cape Town nearly seven times, yet it has half Cape Town’s population.
Sooliman described Israel’s call to evacuate more than one million people from the north to the south of Gaza as “quite ludicrous”. “How can you move 1 million people in 24 hours when there’s no fuel and no cars? Where are you going to go to? Everything is bombed. How do you move an intensive care unit patient?”
He also called for restraint from both sides. “Civilians cannot be attacked in a war and that applies to both sides … At the end of the day, both sides must remember that there is no winner in war. Everybody loses out. The only way to solve this problem in the Middle East is to make peace, act rationally and make compromises.”
“This is not a thing about Jews against Muslims; it’s human against human. It’s not a religious thing, it’s a human thing … it’s about humanity. It’s in the interests of all parties to make compromises. The only way to solve the problem is to do what is just,” he stressed.
“When you act justly you will have peace, prosperity and peace in the entire region. Nobody loses out. Actually, everybody gains more. They should go to the negotiating table, make compromises and give a just solution. If you do that then we never have to send any more supplies to the Middle East again,“ Sooliman added.
He said Gift of the Givers were accepting donations for their work in Gaza.