“Stop This War Right Now”: U.S. Doctor Who Saved Sen. Duckworth’s Life in Iraq, Now Trapped in Gaza

Democracy Now! speaks with Dr. Adam Hamawy, one of around 20 American medical workers trapped in Gaza after Israel closed the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. A plastic surgeon and Army veteran, Hamawy is on a volunteer mission with the Palestinian American Medical Association at the European Hospital in Khan Younis. Like many Gazans, the U.S. medical workers are now facing dehydration and other deadly health conditions. “We’re continuing to do our job. … It’s tiring, but this is exactly what we need to be doing,” says Hamawy, who calls on President Biden to stop supporting Israel’s assault on Gaza. “If my best friend is a serial killer, I’m going to stop being his friend.” Hamaway describes treating “massive” injuries to civilians in Khan Younis, where much of the city has been destroyed and vandalized in Hebrew. “It’s going to haunt all of us. … I’m here. I see it with my own eyes. At some point in time, everyone is going to see it.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As many as 20 American doctors and healthcare workers on a medical mission at the European Hospital in Khan Younis, in Gaza, are trapped after Israel closed the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. The Intercept reported on the Palestinian American Medical Association’s situation Monday, describing, quote, “Monica Johnston, a nurse volunteering at the hospital, said that a primary concern of those who will be leaving is that new humanitarian workers be allowed in, otherwise the hospital campus is more likely to get overrun by the Israel Defense Forces. The plan, she said, is for the U.N. to do a test run from the hospital to the border Tuesday, only carrying U.N. staff. If those staff are not killed by the IDF — as one international employee was on Monday — then on Wednesday two medical staff will be taken to the border, and two new volunteers will be allowed in to replace them, and so on in coming days,” she said.

For an update, we’re joined by Dr. Adam Hamawy. He is a plastic surgeon, Army veteran from New Jersey who’s part of the volunteer mission with the Palestinian American Medical Association at European Hospital in Khan Younis. Twenty years ago, in 2004, he saved the life of Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois when she was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade while serving in the Iraq War, losing both of her legs and partial use of her right arm. She told NBC News Tuesday, quote, “We’re shaking every tree, calling everyone to make sure we do everything we can to ensure safe passage of these doctors to whatever crossing we can get them to,” Senator Duckworth said.

Dr. Hamawy, thanks so much for being with us. Explain where you are and the situation you’re in right now.

DR. ADAM HAMAWY: Thank you very much for having me.

I am in the European Hospital in Gaza, which is in Khan Younis, on the border of Rafah. We’ve been over here over about two weeks now. And we are continuing to work the best we can with the resources we have. There’s no new updates about our status. So far, we have not been cleared to leave. We’ve heard many rumors, on and off, over the last few days about test runs and having, you know, two people leave, like you were just explaining. We were supposed have two people do a test run on Monday, but that did not happen, and I haven’t heard anything since. So we are currently on standby.

We’re continuing to do our job. We came here to help the people, to provide medical care and assistance. And we’re still here, and we’re still doing that. We are doing it with the limited supplies that we have, the limited resources that we have. It’s tiring, but, you know, this is exactly what we need to be doing at this time, because they have nothing else.

We are kind of their hope here in terms of safety. They feel secure that our presence is here, as well as the hospital, because of what happened at places like Shifa and Nasser. They feel that as long as there are foreigners here, that they are protected. They are concerned also that what happens when we leave. So, we completely understand that it’s not just about us leaving. We want to make sure that there’s continuous aid coming here and that we are replaced with another team with more supplies and resources, so that they feel safe and that we can also make this place function like a hospital.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Doctor, could you compare the situation in other war zones you have worked in, such as Iraq, to the situation in Gaza right now?

DR. ADAM HAMAWY: When I was in Iraq, I had the resources of the United States Army behind me. So, we had, you know, a combat support hospital. We had multiple specialists. We had a supply chain. Even though it might have been limited at some times, we continued to have that. And we were dealing basically with combat. You know, I was dealing with people who got injured because they were either soldiers, combatants. There were civilians that were injured, but it’s nothing compared to what I’m seeing right now. Ninety percent of who I see are civilians. And the injuries are just massive.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of your —


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — your ability to access electricity, internet, phone lines and communication to the outside world, what’s it been like?

DR. ADAM HAMAWY: So, we have intermittent internet at times. Electricity also is on and off. Electricity has been even worse over the last, I would say, four or five days, just because the fuel for the hospital is running out and they’re trying to conserve it. So they’ve been cutting off electricity to some of the wards and trying to preserve it for like the operating room and the ICUs in order to make it last as long as it can go. There is — again, I have almost no cellular service. The wireless does get internet in some locations, and it’s like random. So, like, I was having a little trouble before getting on the show, so was a little frantic trying to find a good spot, and finally got it, so I’m glad I’m here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we really appreciate you making that contact with us. If you can describe the situation with the Israeli military moving into Rafah, cutting off the border crossing, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are displaced from all over Gaza now heading back north, and what’s happening in the hospital you’re in, in Khan Younis, and particularly the children that you’re treating?

DR. ADAM HAMAWY: So, most of my patients are children. My average patient is about 12 or 13 years old. They range from — the youngest one I’ve taken care of is about 4. And the age goes up to like mid-sixties or seventies. The people — since the invasion of Rafah, we’ve had a lot of the hospital personnel leave, because they are trying to get their families out of Rafah. Many of them have either moved there from other parts of Gaza, or they have, you know, lived there and are trying to flee.

I just saw a nurse this morning. I met him the first week that I was here. He hasn’t been around for seven days, and I just saw him. He looked dehydrated. He looked completely exhausted. He basically broke down and cried, telling me what he went through. He basically went to take his family out of their home and take them basically along, you know, out into like a clear area that was a designated safe zone. He took his wife. He has two daughters, one that’s 2 years old, another that’s 3 months old. They went to a place that had absolutely no shelter. He basically said it’s like the desert there. He said that they had no tent, they had no water, they had no food. The other day, he had to stand in line from dawn to about sunset just to get a jug of water for the family. He says that he has, like, absolutely no electricity. He has no water. And he basically broke down and cried, because, he said, like, “I feel like an animal. I don’t know what to do. When we go to the bathroom, I dig a hole in the ground, and we go there.” And, you know, he says his family, a week before, like his extended family, his uncle and his cousins, were hit by a strike, an airstrike, during the night, which killed most of them, except one of his nieces and another cousin. So, he said that they all passed away and died, were killed while they were sleeping. He said, “I wish that would have happened to us, because at least we wouldn’t have to go through what we’re going through.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Hamawy, 20 years ago, you provided lifesaving care to now-Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois when she was wounded in Iraq. Have you had conversations with her office about the situation there?

DR. ADAM HAMAWY: Yes, her office has been in contact with me, and I know she’s doing everything she can to try to help us not only leave, but to provide that humanitarian aid into Gaza, as well. I really appreciate everything she’s doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the United States, where you come from? On the one hand, you have President Biden announcing he’s halting a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs because he doesn’t want them used in Gaza. He also said he wants Israel out of Gaza. At the same time, on the eve of today, he announced $1 billion of weapons to Israel. If you could speak with President Biden today, what would you tell him, Dr. Hamawy?

DR. ADAM HAMAWY: I would tell him, like, “What difference is it from a 2,000-pound bomb from a 500-pound bomb?” They’re both going to kill civilians. He could stop this war right now. All he has to do is say, “We are not going to give anything, and you need to stop. I don’t care if you are our friend.” If my best friend is a serial killer, I’m going to stop being his friend, and I’m going to tell him to do something.

This doesn’t — this isn’t who we are. This isn’t our country. This is not how I was raised, not any of us, you know, what we were taught what our nation is supposed to be. We’re supposed to stand for freedom. We talk about that all the time. We claim to be the banner carriers for freedom across the world. And yet we have this foreign policy that is so hypocritical in terms of providing a little bit of aid and a lot of bombs, and we’re supposed to be — you know, we’re supposed to be, like, the United States of America. I mean, really, that’s — this is— it’s disheartening. It’s going to haunt all of us when the truth — you know, I’m here. I see it with my own eyes. At some point in time, everyone’s going to see it.

I went out to Khan Younis, and it is flattened. It looks like a nuclear bomb hit the center of town. There is not one building standing. And every building was entered in after it was bombed and completely vandalized. There’s gunshots. There’s like, you know, graffiti everywhere that was placed after it was destroyed, making it completely uninhabitable. This is not a war against —

AMY GOODMAN: Making it — vandalized by who, Dr. Hamawy?

DR. ADAM HAMAWY: Well, all the words on there are in Hebrew.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds. Why did you go to Gaza? You are risking your life.

DR. ADAM HAMAWY: I am a surgeon. I have skills. I have been in war, and I’ve been on humanitarian missions in the past. I feel that I can make a difference. I’ve been trying to come here, actually, since December. I’ve reached out to many medical organizations, seeing who is coming and who has a slot. And I was offered one, and I came as soon as that opportunity was offered.

This is who we are. You know, we try to help people. This is what I do. I did this, you know, when I was in Iraq. I was proud to be with a team of U.S. Army doctors that took care of everyone that came into our combat support hospital. We took care of U.S. military, we took care of contractors, we took care of Iraqis, and we took care of other nationals. It didn’t matter who they were, because we treat human beings. I had the best job in the country there, and this is what I continue to do. I treat people as humans. And the way I am seeing this war conducted is not how we conduct wars, and this is not how we are taught in the United States, and this is not who we should be supporting.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Adam Hamawy, plastic surgeon, Army veteran, now trapped at the European Hospital in Khan Younis, in Gaza, where he’s volunteering with the Palestinian American Medical Association. Again, 20 years ago, in 2004, he saved the life of now-Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, whose legs were blown off when she was serving in Iraq.

Next up, Palestinians across the globe are marking the 76th anniversary of the Nakba — in English, it’s “catastrophe” — when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes upon Israel’s founding. We’ll speak with a Palestinian historian in Amman. Stay with us.


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