'I couldn't just stand by': UAE hospital volunteers to help injured in Gaza

Team of 160 will provide care for children able to leave Gaza via Rafah crossing

UAE medical volunteers prepare to help Gazans

UAE medical volunteers prepare to help Gazans
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Two Gazan medics have said they will be happier to be among their people, close to a war zone, than watch the conflict from afar in the UAE.

They are part of a medical volunteer team of 160 who will provide emergency care for children who have escaped the war in Gaza.

UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Response Plus Holding (RPM) have joined forces with Egypt’s Cleopatra Hospitals Group to provide care at a 60-bed field hospital near the Rafah crossing.

Registered nurse Ilham Altarabeen, 31, from Gaza, only recently started work in Abu Dhabi.

I've seen kids lose their speech from shock and helpless mothers grieving over their dead children
Ilham Altarabeen, volunteer

"I don't think I could stand by and not volunteer," she told The National. "I want to be next to my people. They need all the help they can get."

Ms Altarabeen, one of 10 siblings who are all in Gaza, has not told her parents that she has volunteered. "I don't want them to worry," she said.

Volunteering isn't new to Ms Altarabeen, who has previously assisted at a women's hospital in Gaza.

"I've seen and been in difficult situations," she said. "I've seen kids lose their speech from shock and helpless mothers grieving over their dead children.

"I understand that what I'll see in Gaza is much worse than what we are seeing on TV but this is the best decision that I have ever made."

Sheikh Mohamed on Sunday ordered the Ministry of Defence to begin a humanitarian mission to support civilians in the Gaza Strip, named Gallant Knight 3.

He said doctors registered with the Ministry of Health and Prevention and the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi could volunteer.

Mohammed Ghaben, 25, also a registered nurse who has been working at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi for almost a year, said being away from his family has been far harder than being in Gaza.

"When I am able to talk to them, that is what I tell them. They don't know how hard it is that I am away from them," he told The National.

"If anything happens to them, at least I'll be with them so it won't matter."

Mr Ghaben, one of eight siblings, said he hasn't been able to make contact with his family, who are all in Gaza, for a few days. He lost a cousin three days ago in the war, as well as a few of his friends.

"I am very excited to go back to volunteer. This is not only a medical duty but a humanitarian one as well," he said.

"The people of Gaza are in the most dire need of assistance – how can I not rush to their help?

"I am not worried [about my own safety]. This is a UAE mission that is being managed and directed by the government and if anything happens, I will have died in the line of duty. There is no bigger reward. I'll be home."

Also among the volunteer medical team is anaesthetist specialist at Life Care Hospital in Abu Dhabi, Dr Syed Shimar, who has a six-year-old son.

He said the images of children suffering in Gaza have been a motivating factor behind his decision to volunteer.

"I know that the UAE and my hospital will put my safety first, so I am not really worried about safety and am more focused on the assistance I can provide," the Indian citizen said.

"Every time I see the images of the children suffering, I think of my own son. Yes, I'll miss him when I am gone but these children in Gaza deserve more from the world."

Dr Neil Nijhawan, head of palliative medicine at Burjeel Hospital, described the decision to volunteer as "the natural thing to do".

"I think all doctors generally volunteer because we want to help," said Dr Nijhawan, who is from the UK.

"I think if you sit on enough medical school interviews and you ask people why they want to be a doctor, it's generally because they want to help.

"So when everything started happening and the call came, it was the natural thing to do."

Dr Ayat Al Hawajreh, an obstetrics and gynaecology consultant at Burjeel Medical City, said she feels it's part of her medical oath to help the people in Gaza.

"Every time you leave the house, you don't know if you will come back or not," the Jordanian mother of three said.

"Yes, we are going and we don't know what to expect.

"I know that this will be harder than anything I have ever seen, but I am looking at this as a mother first and as a medical professional – this is a humanitarian crisis, and these innocent children, mothers and civilians need us."

Separately, the UAE is constructing a field hospital inside Gaza which will have 150 beds and be established in several stages, housing several departments focused on the care of adults and children.

Updated: November 08, 2023, 1:05 PM