From the time Israel began bombing Gaza following Hamas’s October 7th attack, the charity Médecins Sans Frontières—which is often referred to as M.S.F., or by its English name, Doctors Without Borders—has been documenting the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, where more than eleven thousand people have already been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. I recently spoke by phone with Anne Taylor, the head of mission for M.S.F. in Palestine; she’s based in Jerusalem. She discussed what her organization has witnessed, and what life is like for her staff on the ground. Taylor has been with the organization for two decades, and has worked in a number of conflict zones. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed the conditions for M.S.F. employees in Gaza, how the organization tries to avoid politics, and what makes this conflict different from others Taylor has witnessed.
Before October 7th, what was Doctors Without Borders’s role in Gaza?
We’ve had a program there for many years. We worked in various hospitals supporting the Ministry of Health. We did some secondary health care, including surgical work with burns. And we worked in Al-Shifa hospital, in Gaza City. We also had our own private clinic. We had a couple of other clinics that were run alongside the Ministry of Health. And at Al-Awda hospital, and we worked down in the south, at the Nasser Medical Center. So there were various hospitals that we were associated with and some of our own primary health-care facilities as well. That was all before the dreadful things that happened on 7th of October, which seems a long time ago.
And since then it’s just been a very catastrophic situation for the people of Gaza, who are already living in difficult circumstances, and who have been suffering under a strict blockade for sixteen years. They’ve always been under pressure and occasionally have had bombs dropped on them, but it was usually over a period of a few days or weeks. In the current situation, the Israeli military started bombing a very heavily populated area, Gaza City. We have to remember—it’s a small place, around forty-five kilometres in length and between six and twelve kilometres wide, and with over two million people there.
How many of your people are now in Gaza doing medical work?
Right now we have got an existing staff of about three hundred Palestinians. And we rotated back in some international staff. We actually have a team of about thirteen international staff here working in Nasser Medical Center down in the south, a surgical team. So they’re doing work there at this present time.
Have any of your employees been hurt or killed in the bombing?
Yes, we’ve lost current and former employees, and many of our employees have lost family members. It’s been very, very traumatic. There have been a lot of collapses of buildings, so some of our staff have lost families in that way. It’s a very tragic situation.
I know very few people are actually leaving Gaza at this point; I wonder if some of your international employees are trying to get out. Maybe that’s not possible.
When the 7th of October happened, we had twenty-two expats there. So we rotate. We actually took them out, because it was a pretty traumatic experience. And then we brought in a new team. And the idea is that we’ll continue to complement that new team. But you have to understand that Gaza is very, very insecure at the moment. And also there are huge problems around the supply of food, electricity, water, and fuel. We are having real trouble in the north; it’s just being ripped apart at the moment. And, in the south, we are having to try and work around very, very difficult . . . The supply of these things is just not enough. It’s not enough.
Doctors Without Borders has been present in a lot of horrific conflict zones, and I’m wondering how what you’re dealing with now is similar or different from other places you have experienced?
It’s different. And yes, I have worked in conflict zones. And they’re always very nasty. But this is a particularly brutal thing because of the huge number of civilian casualties. And they can’t escape it. They can’t move. They’re told to displace down south. But are we talking about just reducing the area from forty-five kilometres to twenty kilometres in length and trying to put two million people in there, which is . . . It’s just an extraordinary situation. And no, I haven’t seen it.
They haven’t stopped bombing. They’re still bombing. They’ve got troops in there with tanks. And it’s just consistent. It’s well documented. We are seeing it all over the world in all the newspapers and television. So it’s like people know exactly what’s happening. And yet it doesn’t stop. I haven’t seen that before.
Where else have you been stationed?
I’ve been in Congo, I’ve been in Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire. Gosh. Many. Do you need more?
No. There has been a lot of large-scale violence against civilians in the past two decades in many of these places. So you saying that this is still different is notable.
It’s notable in the sense that to have such a volume of people—civilians—that can’t move very easily. And they’re being bombed and shot at. And I just haven’t seen that type of violence. We are also talking about a population that’s around seventy per cent women and children. And so the figures that we’ve seen around mortality are at more than ten thousand deaths. But with the Ministry of Health now being really decimated, it’s very difficult for them even to track it. But then you know that with ten thousand deaths, that seventy per cent are probably women and children, according to the Ministry of Health. And the number of wounded is very, very high. And there’s also people under the rubble, and we can’t get them out. So the figures are just astounding.