Tucked in the lower floor of a building was Al-Quds hospital in Aleppo, Syria, a small 34 bed facility in the Sukkari neighborhood. Its windows and entrance were fortified with mostly sandbags for extra protection despite the many buildings around it that, in theory, protected it from being attacked.
The hospital was not a rebel-run hospital, despite it existing in a rebel-controlled neighborhood. It was a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and International Red Cross affiliated institution with an emergency room and an 8 bed pediatrics ward. It was as fully equipped as a hospital in times of war could be.
In the rules of warfare, horrifying as such a notion’s existence is, and as dictated by multiple conventions, notably the Geneva ones, attacks on medical institutions by any side of a conflict is considered a severe violation.
A few hours ago, a fighter jet, flying at low altitude, charged a missile through Al-Quds hospital, to the background of a Syrian citizen being killed every 25 minutes over the past 48 hours.
The jet in question was commissioned by the conjoined Assad-Putin forces trying to reclaim their hegemony over Syria, despite what some anti-resistance news outlets would want you to believe, with them taking videos of the government forces attacking and portraying them as resistance fighters doing so.
The above picture is that of Dr. Muhammad Waseem Maaz. He was a man who spent most of his adult life finishing medical school, and then specializing in pediatrics, before spending his days doing the most self-less thing that any man, especially a physician could do, leave his family behind in Turkey while he helped the ailing children in Aleppo. Al-Quds was the hospital where he worked. Aleppo was the city he called home, the city that is now being ravaged by regime forces. He was the last pediatrician in Aleppo.
As regime fighter jets attacked his hospital head on, Dr. Maaz did not run for his life. He ran to the incubators to try and save as many lives as he could. His life was not one of those that made it out of that building alive, along with 27 others.
His death is not a number. Dr. Maaz’s murder is a war crime, plane and simple. The more horrifying part is that this is not a lone event. His death is one of the most worrying trends of the Syrian Civil War, and conflicts of the 21st century. It’s becoming a trend.
In Syria alone, 654 medical personnel have been killed until September 2015, according to the UN, and, in the past year alone, 7 attacks have been reported by MSF against its facilities in the country.
Syria is not the only place where attacks against hospitals and doctors occur. All sides have been attacking healthcare workers and instutions: rebels, armed groups, and governments.
A few months ago, American military led a 30 minute barrage on an MSF-led hospital which they believed to be a Taliban HQ. They killed 42 people. They justified themselves as it being an “intelligence error.” Intelligence must have come a long way not to be able to differentiate between a hospital and a terrorist haven.
MSF reports their hospitals sustaining 106 attacks in 2015, with the loss of countless lives as well as extremely valuable equipment that is, for thousands and hundreds of thousands, the only difference between life and death.
The most dangerous aspect in such attacks is that they’ve begun to be considered as normal, not as a war anomaly, setting a war precedence into them becoming not only more “mainstream” in conflict, but also more deadly and more unchecked.
The more threatened doctors are, the less they will be willing to work in those areas that require them the most. It’s already started. Over 60% of Syrian areas, for instance, have no possibility to access any
We are doctors, not martyr projects. We work at hospitals, not battle ground sites. We save lives, regardless of who those lives belong to, irrespective of green lines and battle sides. Our lives are not worthier than others, that’s for sure, but us dying because of horrifying war crimes in which we are targets means the lives of those who are equally worthy of saving are lost forever.
We are doctors, not martyrs. We promise to go to the extreme of what we can to save anyone who can be saved. Dr. Maaz was one of those doctors who did just that. The hundreds of MSF doctors who have been killed over the past years have also been doing just that. When did medicine become open season? When did the act of warfare become one that plays out in surgical theaters and in pediatric incubators?
Everyone is at fault. The Assad regime was the culprit in this case, but this is something that everyone is doing. The targeting of healthcare personnel cannot be normalized. In a world where war is everyone’s favorite pastime, certain entities should always remain off limits. These are doctors, not martyrs. They save lives without asking for theirs to be saved. Don’t make them need to.
Aleppo is dying. Aleppo is bleeding. With labels such as “humanitarian disaster” becoming way too common, one cannot but wonder: what is causing this particular disaster? It’s not an earthquake. It’s not a natural disaster. It’s missiles, and terrorist regimes, and armed factions and other men who know no morality. The murder of people just because they exist, the targeting of hospitals just because they are, the killing of doctors just because they are doing their job is not a humanitarian disaster. It’s a war crime. Call it as such.