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Volunteer Surgeon In Gaza Describes Situation After Violent Clash


Well, we spent some time today working the phones to Gaza, reaching out to hear the stories of people who were there yesterday as the worst of the violence unfolded. You're about to meet three people. And the first is not Palestinian. He is British. Richard Villar - he's an orthopedic surgeon and Red Cross volunteer. He got a call to come help, and he hopped on a plane from the U.K. on Sunday. He was driven to the European Gaza Hospital that's midway between Gaza City and the Egyptian border. He was told, get ready; you're going to be operating on wounds from gunshots, shrapnel; you name it.

RICHARD VILLAR: So there I am, the first thing just out the door only yesterday morning going into the hospital, the whole of Gaza up here deserted. And I remember saying to the guy I was driving with, is this the quiet before the storm? But it really was. And we get to the hospital. The hospital has been emptied in preparation for what is anticipated to be a major crisis. By 11 o'clock in the morning, the first casualty comes in. And that was a gunshot wound to the lower limb. Then about 20 minutes later, in comes the next. Then two becomes four. Four becomes eight. Eight becomes 16. Sixteen becomes 32. And before you know it, the hospital is flooded.

KELLY: Do you have any idea how many patients are in there right now?

VILLAR: Well, there are more than 200 in there as we speak and more still to do. I'm delighted to say that every patient that came into the operating theater has gone out alive. Nobody has died under our care, if that makes sense. I'm not saying nobody has died. But once they got to us, they've gone out again.

KELLY: How close is the hospital to the Israeli border, to where these protests are actually unfolding?

VILLAR: A maximum of 3 kilometers, probably less.

KELLY: Oh, really? I mean, so people are...


KELLY: You're right there near the front.

VILLAR: Oh, you're right there. Gaza is very thin. There are very few places which are very far from the border.

KELLY: And of the people who you've operated on, is there a person, a story that will stay with you?

VILLAR: Yes. I think the thing that stays with me is actually the one patient came - coming down the corridor towards me. He'd been shot through the femoral artery. There was blood shooting between the trolley and the ceiling. And to stop an artery bleeding, you press on the artery. Somebody had pressed on that artery from the moment he had been wounded, and that somebody was still pressing on the artery the whole way on the ambulance ride. He was pressing on the artery on the patient's trolley. He was kneeling on the trolley on top of the patient until he delivered him to us and we could get a clip on the artery.

And then the guy just disappears. And I thought, surely this guy needs a medal or the world's biggest pat on the back. Who is he? Who was the guy who saved this patient's life - 'cause he clearly did. He clearly did. And that's a single act of medical heroism that I'm sure was repeated a hundred times. I had the privilege of seeing it.

KELLY: That is Ricahrd Villar, an orthopedic surgeon with the Red Cross. After him, we reached one of the protesters, a 29-year-old named Amer Abu Al Qumsan. He's got a degree in social work, but he's currently unemployed. Qumsan says he is not Hamas, the group that runs Gaza and that has been urging Palestinians to protest. He told us he's not tied to any political organization. He is just mad. He's been protesting since last December, ever since President Trump announced he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Our producer Alina Mohammed (ph) speaks fluent Arabic, as you're about to hear, and she translated as we interviewed Qumsan from Gaza.

Have you been to Jerusalem?

LINAH MOHAMMED, BYLINE: (Speaking Arabic).

AMER ABU AL QUMSAN: (Through interpreter) I have never visited Jerusalem. But it is my right to visit Jerusalem. And it's my right to pray in Jerusalem. But Israel doesn't allow me to do so.

KELLY: Explain to me why a city that you have never visited is important enough to you that you risk your life to protest for that right. Given dozens of Palestinians killed, thousands wounded, does it feel worth it today to take that risk to protest?

MOHAMMED: (Speaking Arabic).

QUMSAN: (Through interpreter) It is enough to me that Jerusalem is still in all of our hearts. We wish to even get the chance to just pray there. Like, I wish that I would die on this land fighting for Jerusalem. We are prepared to lose our lives, shed our blood and sacrifice our souls in defense of Jerusalem.

KELLY: I pressed him next, asked him to respond to the point that Israeli officials make that they are defending their border against deliberate provocations.

Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

MOHAMMED: (Speaking Arabic).

QUMSAN: (Through interpreter) These are our borders. This is our land. And this is our country. Israel is not a legitimate state. It was created on occupied land. The Israelis are saying that we're provoking them, and that's not true. We are peacefully protesting. And that's evident. Look at the injuries. There are no Israeli soldiers injured.

KELLY: Will you protest tomorrow?

MOHAMMED: (Speaking Arabic).

QUMSAN: (Through interpreter) You will see me at the border every day. What happened yesterday didn't scare us, and it won't stop us from joining these peaceful protests today and every day. I am going to go to the border every day until we get all our rights back.

KELLY: That is Amer Abu Al Qumsan, one of the protesters at that border fence between Israel and Gaza. Last, we called Haneen Abu Saud (ph). She's 24, born and raised in Gaza. She told me she has not been out protesting. Her husband wouldn't let her, she says, and she's worried about her safety. But does she believe these protests should be happening - yes.

HANEEN ABU SAUD: The world has been really silent about Gaza and what's been happening in Gaza. So we needed to make the world notice Gaza and just do something about these occupations and these punishments on Gaza. You understand what I mean?

KELLY: I do. I want to know, what is it that you want the world to hear? What do you want the world to know about Gaza?

SAUD: I just want the world to know that Gaza is suffering a lot - like, the salaries, like, the movement and borders, just, like, everything. People are just worries of just making food for the next day. That's it - like, to think about, where are you going to eat tomorrow? Oh, I don't have money to buy that 'cause I can't have a job. There's no jobs, actually. Gaza is just a big volcano which about to explode.

KELLY: Abu Saud is a mom. She's got two kids - a daughter, age 4, and a son, age 2 - the future of Gaza. Except she says it's hard to think of it that way.

SAUD: We don't think about the future. Oh, I want to be, like, a singer. I want to be a ballet dancer. Oh, I want to be an actor. No, we don't think that way. Like, we only think, are we going to live tomorrow? Like, there's a war this month. I heard there was a war. That said, that's the only thing that Gaza lives for. Oh, or is there a salary in the bank or not yet? Did you find the right job? Like, there's nothing in Gaza. It's, like, just like that. The people are living that way in just a damn dead circle.

KELLY: That is Haneen Abu Saud. We also heard from Amer Abu Al Qumsan and Richard Villar, three voices on the protests and the violence in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF HALIM EL-DABH'S "BLUE CORAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.