Al Awda Hospital, established in 1997, is the largest facility of a larger organisation called the Union of Health Workers Committees. The UHWC was established in 1985 by volunteer doctors in Gaza who provided medical services to communities that did not have any medical coverage.
Starting with very little funding, medical supplies were provided by donations from pharmacies or other medical suppliers. Today, the UHWC is the third-largest health service provider in Gaza. Green Left Weekly's Ali Anderson spoke to Riyad al Adassi, the director of nursing at Al Awda Hospital, who is currently in Australia.
As Adassi explained, Israel's siege of Gaza has presented many problems in the provision of adequate health services, as well as access to essential resources.
"The siege is basically destroying us", al Adassi said. "Gaza is surrounded by fence and wall from the northern, southern and eastern borders. The southern border with Egypt is closed all the time. And on the west we have the Mediterranean Sea with the Israeli navy patrolling in it.
"So it's closed from every direction. There are no resources in Gaza, we cannot manufacture our own goods, and we don't have any raw material to use in workshops and factories. Anything Gaza needs has to come from Israel through four crossings and those crossings are closed most of the time.
"Basically Israel is adopting the policy of 'make them thin but not dead'."
With the election of Hamas in 2006, Israel declared the Gaza Strip a hostile entity and tightened the siege completely. They no longer allowed in construction material, iron, cement, medical supplies or spare parts.
This has had a significant impact on running the hospital. For example, copper tubes were needed for medical gases for the infrastructure of an additional facility in the hospital. It took more than 18 months to coordinate getting these materials through.
If any medical machinery breaks down or requires a spare part, it cannot be fixed.
In addition to the difficulties in accessing materials from outside Gaza, access to clean water within Gaza is also a problem. The water reserve in Gaza is polluted because there is no proper drainage system. People rarely have daily access to clean running water, resulting in an increase of unnecessary, preventable diseases.
Receiving donations has also proven to be problematic, due to anti-terrorist laws and Hamas being on terrorist lists. When asked about outside support, al Adassi said: "Donations are restricted. There are so many laws and regulations involved to get a grant. We are a credible organisation, we have recently signed a partnership with UNICEF because of all the work we are doing with the children.
"To get a grant, however, we need to prove every cent. If we have a gap of even 50 cents, if it is missing we have to prove where it went because of the anti-terrorist laws, despite the [importance of the] work we are doing."
In addition to these problems, politically Palestinian people do not feel like they have any autonomy. "We don't have any control. If Palestinian officials want to travel, they have to get the permit from the Israeli government", Adassi explained.
"What kind of autonomy is this? Several parliamentarians, who were elected by the people, from Hamas and Fatah, are in an Israeli jail. What kind of autonomy is this? When you have ministers who are jailed in Israeli prisons, what kind of government is this?
"They don't have any freedom, of any kind, they have a little bit of freedom of movement but at any given time … they can be arrested, they can be killed, they can be stopped at a crossing, they can be interrogated, they can be stripped naked and they can do nothing about it."
Despite the constant frustrations, UHWC and the Al Awda Hospital continue to strive to provide services to the community. This includes not only medical services but also community programs for children, in order to give them some relief from the hardship and maintain their mental wellbeing, as well as providing educational programs for the broader community.
Al Adassi's firsthand account of the struggle to provide such services highlights the need for the ongoing solidarity campaign to have Hamas removed from terrorist lists and recognised as Gaza's democratically elected government. It also highlights It highlights the need for the boycott campaign to raise awareness and pressure Israel to end the siege.
Al Adassi is temporarily studying in Melbourne and spoke at a Socialist Alliance meeting on January 21.