I would have died without Palestinians: US nurse who returned from Gaza

Emily Callahan, nurse activity manager for Doctors Without Borders, shares her harrowing experience in Gaza

Nurse Emily Callahan shares gripping Gaza ordeal: survival, sacrifice, and unsung heroism amid chaos (photo: @dancohen3000/ X)
Nurse Emily Callahan shares gripping Gaza ordeal: survival, sacrifice, and unsung heroism amid chaos (photo: @dancohen3000/ X)

NH Digital

In a recent CNN interview, Emily Callahan, an American nurse who has just returned from Gaza, opened up about her challenging time in Gaza during the conflict. Asked about her feelings upon leaving, Emily expressed relief but admitted the difficulty of finding joy, knowing she left people behind.

Emily vividly described the scenes in Gaza, where they were relocated five times in 26 days due to security concerns. She particularly spoke about her experience at the Khan Younis Training Centre (KYTC) run by the UNRWA, and how what it was like to live with 35,000 internally displaced people with limited medical resources, no water and dire living conditions.

Among the other challenges, Emily also spoke about how they faced accusations and verbal attacks, emphasising the challenges her team faced. Here are some key quotes from her interview:

I have a sense of relief, I'm home with my family and I feel safe for the first time in 26 days but I am having a had time finding joy in any of it, because me being safe is the result of having to leave people behind.
There were children with just massive burns on their faces, down their necks, all over their limbs and because the hospitals are so overwhelmed, they are being discharged immediately to these camps with no access to running water. 50,000 people were at that camp and it had just four toilets which would get two hours of water every 12 hours.
The patients with fresh open burns, wounds and even partial amputations, were just walking around in these conditions. Parents would bring their children to us saying 'please can you help', but we had no supplies.
At KYTC, the reason we had to shift was because we were being harassed. Desperate people who are losing loved ones left and right were angry. They would point at me and scream 'American' while walking past and at that point, we had no idea what was coming in the next few days. They would yell things in Hebrew to see if we were Israeli. They even accused our national staff of either being traitors or pretending to be Arab. Our staff had to defend themselves over and over again.

Commending her Palestinian staff's unwavering commitment, she recounted how they never left her side.

I said to my staff, 'we understand if you want to leave us' and they just said 'you are family too, we aren’t going anywhere'. We would have died within a week without them (Palestinian staff). They are the only reason we are alive.
If not for the national staff, we either would have starved to death or run out of water. They were the ones who negotiated all of that. Gaza is a small city so everyone knows everyone and they would call in favours and drive all over to find water. When we ran out of bottled water in Gaza they were the ones who figured out that the water truck timings. In the moment of absolute desperation of civilians, they were steadfast and calm and talked to them. They were able to talk them down with love and kindness, there was no violence in their hearts.

Reflecting on their passage through the Rafah border crossing, Emily praised the national staff's sacrifices, highlighting their resilience amid personal losses.

They (the Palestinian staff)  didn’t leave our side for a second. They made sure they were standing between us and desperate people. They were talking to every official that they could find, trying to push us through. We were sitting there and seeing these incredible men sacrifice everything for us, who have sacrificed their time with their families, their own physical safety, their own water supply (they were giving it to us) and we are watching them fight to get us across the border knowing that we were not bringing them with us. And they didn’t waver.

Despite the hardships, Emily expressed her desire to return to Gaza, emphasising her attachment and admiration for the local heroes who chose to stay behind.

I would go back to Gaza in a heartbeat, my heart is in Gaza, it will stay in Gaza. I would like to send out a reminder that there are civilians still seeking shelter there and that my doctors and nurses didn’t leave there out of loyalty to their community and I know that there is an idea being pushed right now that anyone that stayed behind is going to be considered a threat, I want to remind people that the people who stayed behind are heroes, they know that they are going to die and they are choosing to stay behind anyways.

You may watch the interview here.

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