Durban — A Durban doctor is raising money to help a Palestinian colleague and his family escape the “unimaginable horrors” they’ve endured since Israel launched its attacks in Gaza in October.
Dr Seshni Reddy from Durban started the online Back-a-Buddy account to assist her friend Dr Mahmoud Abujundi and his eight family members who have been surrounded by non-stop bullets, bombings and bloodshed for three months.
The two met at medical school in China in 2019 and while Abujundi learnt to save lives there, these days he can only watch how people die from wounds of war and starvation, without being able to help.
Reddy said she tried to stay in touch with the Abujundi family but the first few weeks after the initial invasion of Gaza were harrowing. All communication networks were down and their home was bombed, forcing them to flee in search of safety.
“They were in their home in Khan Younis and the Israel Defense Forces surrounded them and started shooting at all the houses and bombs rained down around them. They survived by hiding.
“In the morning they gathered whatever they could and started walking in the rain to the Rafah border, about 5km away. As they were walking, whoever stopped or was too slow was getting shot at by the army. People all around them were being killed and there was no way to stop and help or they would also be shot.”
Reddy said as they were fleeing, Abujundi had to throw away the food and other essentials he was carrying because it was slowing them down.
“He is now in the refugee camp and they’ve made makeshift tents with clothes but he is afraid and he does not think he can survive for much longer,” she said.
While Reddy is raising funds for Abujundi, other doctors in China have started an “Alipay” initiative to collect money for another Palestinian doctor who also studied with them. The money is to help them cross the border to safety but the border security guards allegedly demand payment of anything between $5 000 (about R93 000) and $10 000 a person to cross.
Reddy said during their student years it was obvious that the Palestinians suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Abujundi would shake every time they were in class and a plane flew overhead, and her other friend was terrified to sleep alone at night. She said when agitated, Abujundi loved to listen to the music of legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, but since the start of the war, it no longer brought him comfort: for him, the music has stopped.
When they managed to connect by phone at the start of the attack she made him promise to stay alive. He has since told her he might not be able to keep that promise.
This week the Independent on Saturday made several attempts to reach Abujundi in Gaza, and amid the mayhem he managed to walk for 5km before he was able to pick up a network signal and connect to a call.
“I’m fine but you know the situation,” he said.
At 25 he is the eldest son in the family and responsible for ensuring that everyone is safe in the war zone, that he finds food for them even though pickings are slim and prices impossibly high. Canned meat is all they’ve managed to buy but they are running out of funds and humanitarian aid has not reached them yet. Food poisoning is common and exacerbated by the lack of toilets, running water and medication.
Abujundi said his family were scattered around the refugee camp in Rafah which, according to international news agency reports, came under bombardment again this week.
“It’s hard to see them or to know about it but I will try to reach them asap,” he said in a text message when the call disconnected. “Some of us sleep and stay in hospital trying to find a safe place, some of us sleep and stay in a tent. Some of us, mainly brothers and I, are sleeping in the streets.”
Last week the International Court of Justice, after an application by South Africa, ordered Israel to stop its military from committing acts of genocide against the Palestinians and to allow them access to humanitarian assistance. Despite the ruling the onslaught on Gaza continues.
In a statement released globally The Elders said: “The ICJ’s legally binding decision is a moment of the utmost gravity.”
It called on Israel to immediately comply with the ICJ’s provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza from acts of genocide.
It also urged Israel’s allies to publicly affirm their respect for the court’s ruling, and to use the political, military and financial leverage at their disposal to get Israel to comply with the court’s provisional measures.
“Israeli forces have killed more than 25 000 Palestinians in Gaza, destroyed homes and infrastructure across the territory and displaced up to 1.9 million people.
“The Elders share the court’s judgment that this scale of devastation risks causing irreparable harm to the people of Gaza,” it said.
In the meantime, if Abujundi and his people survive the war, they might yet die of hunger.
Devex, a media platform for the global development community, this week wrote that “Gaza is barrelling toward famine at a stunning speed.
That term, when invoked by United Nations and humanitarian officials, has a very specific meaning – it’s the most severe form of a food crisis as laid out in the five-level system used by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, which assesses global food insecurity and malnutrition.”
Devex said an initial IPC assessment found that between December and February the entire population of some 2.2 million people would be in phase 3 “crisis” level or above and at least 1 in 4 households would be in phase 5, “famine” level.
To assist Abujundi and his family you can go to https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/seshni-reddy-5819497812519346646
Independent on Saturday