Durban — A Palestinian doctor has gone missing days after he first spoke to the Independent on Saturday about the situation in Gaza and the Israeli Defence Force launched attacks on Rafah where he and his family had fled in search of safety.
The plight of Dr Mahmoud Abujundi was raised by Durban colleague Dr Seshni Reddy, who started a crowdfunding initiative to help get him and his eight family members out of Palestine.
Despite poor telephone networks, she had previously managed to reach him even for a few seconds, but this week the only message she received was that his number no longer existed.
The Independent on Saturday also tried to find him but, with the escalating attacks, has been unsuccessful.
Reddy said she last spoke to him on Tuesday.
“I’m extremely terrified. I’ve seen what they did in the north and now everyone is in the south and they’re going there after telling them to go there. It’s like herding cattle for the slaughter and it’s so scary to not talk to him.”
Reddy said Abujundi had said he was running a fever but he didn’t want anyone to worry about him, although she could hear from his voice that he wasn’t doing well.
“I don’t think in his condition he can manage living as such for much longer,” she said.
Reddy, who studied in China with Abujundi, managed to speak to his sister, who is a nurse at a hospital in Gaza, and his brother, a doctor in Cuba, but they were also unable to reach him or any other members of their family who had sought shelter in a refugee camp.
Reddy said Abujundi had been roaming the streets.
“I heard a blast in the background. He said he’s not safe but he will tell me more when he’s able to. Since then he has been unreachable.”
A week ago Abujundi replied to messages sent by the Independent on Saturday after walking for several kilometres to find a telephone network.
At the time, he said he and his family members had not eaten for a week, that the situation in the refugee camp – which had no water, ablution facilities or humanitarian aid – was so dire that families were turning against each other as they battled to stay alive.
Even he had been assaulted.
On Friday chief Philippe Lazzarini from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said the humanitarian situation in Rafah was increasingly desperate. He said more than 1.2 million people – about half of the entire population of the Gaza Strip – were now crowded into the city, sleeping on the streets in makeshift accommodation. Food and water were scarce.
“There’s a sense of growing anxiety and panic in Rafah. People have absolutely no idea where to go after Rafah.”
Lazzarini said air strikes had hit near its base in Rafah on Thursday, heightening tensions and fear among civilians, and putting into doubt the agency’s overall relief effort.
The agency chief said the situation was worsening throughout southern Gaza, where police were becoming increasingly reluctant to provide escorts for aid trucks because of civil disorder.
Desperate Gazans were mobbing convoys in search of food.
“They’re saying, ‘enough is enough’.”
Lazzarini had previously warned that the lives of at least 300 000 people in central and northern Gaza were at risk because of a lack of food but UNRWA was unable to get to the region. The last time the agency was allowed to deliver supplies to the area was on January 23.
On Friday Reddy said they had beefed up efforts to get Abujundi out of Gaza and found a therapist who would be able to assist him with the trauma, but he could not be reached.
She said other doctors who also studied with them in China had also started fund-raising for another Palestinian colleague.
Israel has ignored an International Court of Justice order to stop its military from committing acts of genocide against the Palestinians and to allow them access to humanitarian assistance. The ruling was made after South Africa made an application to the ICJ.
Independent on Saturday