Faces of heroism in Gaza: Doctors, taxi drivers, journalists

Doctors working 21 hours a day, journalists doubling up as rescue teams, taxis serving as wartime ambulances – Gaza professionals who refuse to quit in the face of conflict have become lifelines for residents of the besieged strip.

As Gaza residents face an Israeli military offensive in which officials say 8,500 people, including more than 3,450 children, have been killed, these professionals say their duty to provide services to their community outweighs the increasing risk to their own lives – even as they suffer personal losses.

And in the eyes of many, these service providers are becoming local heroes, even, perhaps, the closest thing Gaza civilians have to a government.

Amid a war that is confronting the Palestinian residents of Gaza with so much loss, the conflict’s heroes are those serving the community at great risk to themselves, saving lives at hospitals, ferrying refugees, and sharing Gaza’s story with the world.

Since Gaza’s Hamas rulers ignited the war with the Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,400 people in Israel, the World Health Organization reported 59 attacks on Gaza’s health care facilities – while health care workers toiled with limited supplies and overwhelming numbers of wounded people.

One of these sleepless doctors is Ahmed Mofeed Mokhalati, a plastic surgeon who in February returned to the Gaza Strip from his adopted home of Ireland to give back to his community.

Now, as head of the burns and plastic surgery department at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Dr. Mokhalati treats dozens of patients with burns, head trauma, or abdominal wounds daily on three hours of sleep – on good days. He is working in what he describes as a living “nightmare.”

The obstacles, at times, seem insurmountable.

There is a lack of trained staff and electricity – with Dr. Mokhalati and others often performing emergency surgeries guided by mobile phone flashlights. Amid dwindling supplies, the hospital is rationing anesthesia for only the most severe cases.

“Honestly, it is exhausting,” Dr. Mokhalati says in a phone interview between seeing patients. “The number of doctors who have specialized expertise is limited. Therefore, those who remained at the hospital” have to work twice as long.

Doctors’ relatives among the dead

The number of wounded people streaming into the hospital far outnumbers its capacity; officials and staff say Al Shifa is receiving 500 to 1,000 patients per day, despite its 600 beds already being full.

“With the huge influx of casualties, we cannot recognize the huge losses we are witnessing,” he says. Some of his colleagues have discovered relatives among the dead people arriving at the hospital.

Then there is the lack of safety. Seventy health care workers have been killed in Israel’s military campaign, the Health Ministry says.

Israel has warned staff to vacate Al Shifa, where, it says, Hamas has positioned key installations.

Amid the bombing of residential areas, Dr. Mokhalati relocated his wife and children to the hospital and now fears for their safety.

“We as doctors are not safe, and our families are not protected,” he says. “However, there are many people who are in really dire need of our help. I do not want them to lose hope.”

His thoughts often go to his colleague, Dr. Medhat Sedim – “my teacher, brother, and an icon for everyone who wanted to study plastic surgery” – who went home for a nap this month after 10 straight days at the hospital. A few hours later, his body returned in a white shroud; he was killed in his home by a missile strike.

“At the end of the day, we are human. We differ in our levels of endurance. But I feel this is part of my resistance. As long as I have breath, I should work,” he says, shortly before going into another surgery.




Adel Hana/AP

Journalists, too, have found themselves on the front lines.  

As of Oct. 31, the Committee to Protect Journalists confirmed that 26 Palestinian journalists have been killed covering the war in Gaza; Al Jazeera cites a Health Ministry statement stating that 34 journalists have been killed.

Few have embodied the sense of duty more than Al Jazeera bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh, who was on air when he learned that an Israeli missile strike killed his wife, son, daughter, and grandson.

They had been sheltering in a residential building in Nuseirat camp, in central Gaza, where he sent them on Oct. 13 after Israel warned civilians to evacuate the impending war zone in the northern part of the strip.

Still wearing a press vest, moments after burying his family, Mr. Dahdouh resumed reporting.

Capturing “true face of war”

The example sticks with photojournalist Ashraf Abu Amra.

Armed only with a camera, a vest, an extra battery, and a bottle of water, he navigates the war zone to capture moments he hopes speak “directly to the soul.”

“This war is totally different from all the coverage I have done in my entire life due to its intensity, fierceness, and scope,” says Mr. Abu Amra, who freelances for several foreign news outlets. 

He has not seen his wife and six children, ages 3 to 14, since the conflict began. His first thoughts and messages when he wakes up in the morning are to them.

He describes his work as a calling. With each click of his camera, he aims to humanize the statistics and challenge what he believes is an apathy that often surrounds distant conflicts.

“I believe that the world needs to see the true face of war, to bear witness to the stories of those affected,” Mr. Abu Amra explains.

But he says he is finding himself more often acting as a first responder, trying to rescue children trapped under rubble with his bare hands, assist wounded people into ambulances. He has helped save some who survived, others who have not.

Often, he plays the role of consoler, giving his camera to children to play with to give them a moment to forget the war and be kids again.

“I strongly believe it is my duty to provide them solace, to offer reassurance that everything will be alright,” Mr. Abu Amra says.

Yet he believes “the world has turned a blind eye.”

“I am shocked the world remains silent even though we have produced many photographs showing the harsh realities,” he says.

Rescue by taxi

With the outbreak of the war, Sobhi Abu al-Hussein’s fleet of four taxi cabs was transformed into rescue vehicles, bringing Palestinians fleeing northern and central Gaza to Rafah in the south where residents have been told they may find safety.

After he stored his own supply of fuel in jerrycans, for several days his taxis have been among the few operating in Gaza.

At a moment’s notice, he has received frantic phone calls to evacuate families – at any price.

At times the veteran driver has packed 13 people in his taxi, luggage atop the roof, and navigated rubble-strewn streets and rocket fire overhead.

The lack of safe areas and safe routes has transformed the way he sees his home.

“I no longer recognize Gaza. It’s a frightening place. There’s no mood for talking or chatting with passengers,” Mr. Abu al-Hussein says. “Even the routes that used to feel quick now seem endless.”

As of Monday, his fuel was gone and his fleet grounded.

Residents are showing their appreciation the few ways they can. Journalists in vests and press badges are ushered to the front of the line at bakeries and at times given free bread. Some are given free dates and other food by supermarkets.

“Journalists and doctors are the unsung heroes of this war,” says Kamel al-Bourdini, who distributes bread for Al Baladi Bakery, one of four bakeries still operating in the strip, and serves journalists first. “They risk their own safety to bring us the truth and provide essential care to those in need. They deserve our deepest gratitude.”

By Ghada Abdulfattah Special contributor

Special correspondent