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Western Slope pediatrician discusses being trapped in Gaza & the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory

Grand Junction pediatrician Barbara Zind was stuck in Gaza for nearly a month after war broke out between Israel and Hamas in October of last year. Zind was in Gaza as a volunteer with Palestine Children’s Relief Fund on a humanitarian mission to treat chronically ill children. That mission was cut short and she ended up spending the next 26 days in an active war zone.

Laura Palmisano: You were in Gaza when the fighting broke out. Can you talk about that?

Dr. Barbara Zind: I arrived in Gaza on October 6th. It was a Friday, which is their holiday day. And on October 7th, I went for a walk on the beach with the program manager for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, and his daughter. That was at 6 a.m. and at 6:30 a.m. while we were still walking we could start seeing missiles, rockets going from Gaza into Israel. We could see the Iron Dome missiles intercepting most of those and we knew things were not going to be good.

Palmisano: You were stuck in Gaza for a while. Talk about your experience in an active war zone.

Zind: It was supposed to be a three-day trip. I ended up getting there on October 6th and leaving on November 1st.

In the beginning, there was another volunteer with the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, and so she and I paired up and were together the entire time. But in the first few days, we stayed in the same hotel and then we joined a group of international aid workers. So there were about 40 to 50 of us. And after that, we moved to UN facilities together.

You have to make sure things are deconflicted. We had to make sure that the Israeli Defense Forces knew what our vehicles were when we were leaving, and when we were driving, just to try to stay as safe as possible.

Palmisano: What did you see in the war zone? Did you see buildings being hit with missiles?

Zind: Mostly hearing and feeling vibrations. When I was in the hotel, the whole windows would vibrate, and the walls would vibrate. You know, they don't have safe places in Gaza. There are no bomb shelters, so you just try to get to the safest place in the room. And then I saw people evacuating like we did. So after three or four days in Gaza City, everyone got texts and messages. All the Gazans got texts and messages from the Israelis that they had to evacuate Gaza City. And we left right away. We didn't have anything to pack up, right? So we went in a convoy to a big school in central Gaza.

And as we were there for several days, people just came in with mattresses, carrying everything they could, and immediately got to the open space in the school. If they could get into a building, they got into a building and created their home. They found bricks and they put a wall around it for their family. Everyone just settled in and found a comfortable place for their families.

Palmisano: Israel is still at war with Hamas. What are your thoughts on the conflict?

Zind: Well, it's a complicated thing, isn't it? And I am not a politician. I'm a pediatrician. And I'm a humanitarian. So what concerns me now is that children are starving. So my contact now is through groups — I'm working with Heal Palestine and have second-hand information on people who have gone in, 2,000 doctors who've gone in.

There are no medications, they don't have IV fluids, they don't have enough operating room suites — we were seeing tons of injuries. And now without antibiotics, people are malnourished, 90 percent of surgeries are ending with infections a few days later, and 90 percent is huge. So right now, the civilians are the ones that are being targeted.

Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.
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