Doctors, Back From Gaza Hospitals, Tell Congress of Horrors Amid Cease-Fire Push

The memories are indelible. Screaming families carrying bloodied loved ones through the doors of an overcrowded hospital. A boy trying to resuscitate a child who looked not much older than himself. A 12-year-old with shrapnel wounds to his head and abdomen being intubated on the ground.

What he saw that January day at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza — after a missile strike on an aid distribution site — has haunted Dr. Zaher Sahloul, an American critical care specialist with years of experience treating patients in war zones, including in Syria and Ukraine.

He and other volunteer doctors who have returned from besieged hospitals in Gaza took their firsthand accounts to Washington this week, hoping to convey the suffering to the Biden administration and senior government officials and to press for an immediate cease-fire.

Dr. Sahloul showed American officials — including members of Congress and officials from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and the United States Agency for International Development — a photo of the 12-year-old boy and his death certificate. The child never woke up from surgery after being intubated, the doctor said, and the hospital could not reach his family amid a near-total communications blackout.

Two other doctors in the delegation — Amber Alayyan, a Paris-based deputy program manager for Doctors Without Borders, and Nick Maynard, a British surgeon — said that medical system in Gaza had been wiped out by the war between Israel and Hamas.

“This is the deliberate destruction of the whole health care system,” Dr. Maynard said in an interview.

He described operating on chest injuries from explosions with few anesthetics or antibiotics at the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah in central Gaza in December and January. “The lack of pain relief was particularly disturbing because we saw lots of children with awful burns,” he said.

There was a limited supply of sterile gloves and surgical drapes, and the hospital’s record-keeping abilities had collapsed, rendering follow-up care nearly impossible, he said. Dr. Maynard said he walked through hallways packed with displaced people to check on patients he had operated on and sometimes failed to find them.

Also in the delegation was Thaer Ahmad, a Palestinian American emergency medicine physician. He was with Dr. Sahloul in January as Israeli forces encircled Khan Younis and began closing in on Nasser Hospital, the largest still functioning in the enclave at the time.

“I had to go,” Dr. Ahmad said in an interview. “They’re my people.”

He said that he had a toddler and a 2-month-old baby at home in Chicago when he traveled to Gaza. He contrasted his wife’s experience of delivery — in a safe, well-resourced hospital with an obstetrician she knows well — with the plight of pregnant women in Gaza, who have been starving and giving birth in shelters.

Not long after the doctors left Gaza, Nasser Hospital was raided by Israeli forces in what the military said was a search for Hamas members, weapons and the bodies of Israeli hostages. Before that, fighting had raged around the sprawling hospital for weeks, devastating the surrounding area.

The Israeli military said at the time that its operation was “conducted to ensure minimal disruption to the hospital’s ongoing activities.” Videos from the raid depicted chaos inside the damaged, smoke-filled hospital, punctuated by automatic gunfire and explosions, and health ministry described rapidly deteriorating conditions, and said patients had died from a lack of power and oxygen, and video footage from the scene.

“I will regret, for the rest of my life, leaving when I did,” Dr. Ahmad said.