From a Vigil for Health Workers Killed in Gaza

Thank you all for gathering tonight for this vigil for the people of Palestine – to remember the healthcare workers killed or injured in this massacre, this genocide, but also to remember all the 36,000 plus people killed, to think of those 75,000 or so injured and most importantly the two million or so still living in extremely dangerous and extremely difficult circumstances.


Today I would also like you all to join me in thinking particularly of the children in Palestine.


Until my retirement three years ago I worked for nearly 28 years as a doctor locally, at Haywood Hospital. Part of my job was to support the Amputee Rehabilitation Centre where we looked after about 1,000 patients with major amputations at any one time. Roughly 100 new amputations are performed at the Royal Stoke and surrounding hospitals every year. And, because most of our amputees were elderly, about 100 0f our clients died every year.


So over the 28 years I worked, I estimate I looked after possibly 4,000 to 5,000 patients with limb amputations in Staffordshire and Shropshire among a population of roughly three-quarters of a million.


In all that time, I looked after about 10–15 children with major limb amputations, most of whom had amputations due to congenital deformities or due to cancer. I can only recall two or three children with amputations due to trauma. Some children from our catchment area did attend the amputee rehabilitation centre at Birmingham but I would say that over the nearly 30 years to 2021, no more than a dozen children had a limb amputation due to an injury, in our population. Based on that figure, in Gaza, with a population of two million, I would expect there should be no more than 50 trauma-related child amputees.


However, the numbers we’re hearing from Gaza are absolutely horrifying and infuriating. We know that more than 15,000 children, perhaps as many as 20,000, are dead. According to Save the Children, more children have now died in Gaza in the past six months than in all the conflicts put together in the world in the past four years.


But also, even by December there were already more than 1,000 child amputees in Gaza according to the London-based surgeon Mr Ghassan Abu-Sittah, who worked in Gaza during the first months of the Israeli military retaliation. He said that ‘This is the biggest cohort of paediatric amputees IN HISTORY’. We now no longer have a current figure for child amputees in Gaza but considering that there are over 75,000 injured people and many of them have limb amputations it is likely that there could be 2,000–3,000 such children.


It is also heart-breaking that many of the amputations have been performed without or with minimal anaesthesia or pain-killers and sometimes using hot knives to cauterise the wounds after removing gangrenous limbs. Also, almost unthinkable, I have also seen at least two reports of surgeons having to perform amputations on their own child and at least one of them, by Dr. Hany Al-Faisal, on his daughter on the dining table at home without anaesthetic, as they were surrounded by IDF forces even though they lived very close to, I think, Al Shifa hospital.


I am no longer sure that in this 21st century we can call ourselves civilised. The behaviour of the Zionist government in Israel and the acts of violence and depravity of the IDF soldiers is bad enough, but it is really upsetting and infuriating that our own elected government, the opposition leaders and for that matter our very own local MP Mr Aaron Bell cannot see the lack of humanity as well as obvious violations of human rights and international law. They have refused to call for a permanent ceasefire and continue to allow British companies to sell weapons of mass destruction to Israel.


We need to continue to protest even though our calls seem to be falling on deaf ears. We must continue to do so to not only protect Palestine and its people but also for the sake of our own humanity.


I’ll end with excerpts from a few translated poems


1. This poem is by Pash (Avatar Singh Sandhu) a revolutionary Punjabi poets killed at a very young age. Here are a few lines from his poem ‘The most dangerous thing


To remain silent in the face of widespread corruption

is certainly bad

to sit with clenched fists and let time go by

is certainly bad

but not the most dangerous thing in the world


The most dangerous thing in the world

is to become numb like a corpse

to accept everything and not feel the suffering


Leaving home for work

And from work return home


The most dangerous thing in the world

is the death of our dreams


2.  This poem is by Jacinta Kerketta, a poet and journalist from the Adivasi (indigenous) tribal community in India. It’s a very short poem about the dehumanisation of tribal people and is called ‘Waiting (Intazaar)’


They are waiting for us to become CIVILISED

And we are waiting for them to become HUMAN.


3. This last one is by Ne'ma Hasan, a Palestinian poet and author and it is called ‘In Gaza a Mother Never Sleeps


In Gaza a Mother Never Sleeps

She listens to the dark, searches its edges,

sorts out sounds – sound by sound

to select a suitable story to read her kids to sleep.

When they sleep, she stands up to shield them from death.


A mother in Gaza does not cry.

She folds up fear, rage, and prayers in her lungs, and waits

for the hum of warplanes to fade, then exhales.


A mother in Gaza is not like other mothers.

She bakes bread with salt from her own eyes.


She feeds her children to the homeland.


Thank you


Ceasefire now

Free, Free Palestine


Rajeev Singha

Member, India Labour Solidarity