“They are [razing] Gaza to the ground.” With this post on his page on X (formerly Twitter), plastic and reconstructive surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta announced his arrival in Gaza on October 9, just 24 hours after the current Israeli offensive began. Comments and posts such as, “We were waiting for you”, “Be safe”, and “May God protect you” followed one after another.
People in the Arab region and around the world who follow Palestinian and Arab affairs, including Abu Sitta’s over 70,000 followers on X, know that the man whom French newspaper Le Monde dubbed the repairer of “broken faces” in the Middle East will not abandon Gaza and its people during this offensive. He was in the Gaza Strip while a university student in 1987, as well as during all the successive attacks on it since 2000, including in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018, and 2022.
The post that Abu Sitta published upon arriving in Gaza reflects his role that extends beyond the important medical work he does with his colleagues, the doctors and medical teams of the Gaza Strip. He is becoming the voice of Gaza, its people, and their pain in the global media, documenting the genocide and war crimes they are suffering. He is the narrator of the stories of the victims, including children, mothers, fathers, and fellow doctors and medical staff.
His arrival post revealed the extent to which the people had been awaiting him. X subsequently witnessed posts “reassuring” Gazans that the “war doctor” – as multiple media outlets describe him – had arrived that day. Someone commented on one media activist’s post, “He always answers the call of Gaza’s hospitals”. The activist responded, “He comes even before they call him”.
Abu Sitta did not abandon Lebanese victims in 2006 (when he also traveled from London to treat them) or the victims of the wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. So how could he abandon Gaza’s people, to which he himself belongs? “My family were refugees, made refugees in Gaza in 1948… My family’s land is now occupied by a settlement called Nirim and Magen [in the Gaza envelope]”, he told CNN’s chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour when she asked why he had left London and his successful practice there. More importantly, he knows Gaza’s hospitals are “underserved” when it comes to reconstructive surgery during wartime. As for his connection to Gaza, he says that it is an “existential and emotional attachment”.
Anyone who contacts Abu Sitta to check on him will only receive responses talking about others, about the victims in every direction and the new term that the Israeli offensive has created: “wounded child, no surviving family”. It is with this phrase that Amanpour introduced her post containing her interview with him, which received 563,000 views and 3,600 shares within just three days of its publication.
In parallel with his surgical work, Abu Sitta dedicates his social media pages and media appearances to Gaza and its people. He conveys, most importantly, the true image on the ground in the face of global disinformation driven by the Israeli narrative, which gives a green light to the offensive in the name of “self-defense”. Kaitlan Collins, who presents The Source on CNN, announced that she would host him later that day to respond to US President Joe Biden’s statement of distrust regarding the Gaza death toll (“I have no notion if Palestinians are telling the truth”).
Despite the demands of his health role, Abu Sitta does not neglect to counter Biden’s skepticism and efforts to mislead public opinion about the magnitude of the crimes of genocide against Gazans. Despite the challenges of his surgical work to save tens of thousands of wounded – including having to use vinegar as disinfectant and ordinary string to stitch up wounds and surgical incisions – he does not neglect to continue sharing stories documenting the pain and conditions of Gaza’s people, women, and children.
On October 25, he wrote about Annas: “Annas is the same age as my boy. He has full thickness burns involving 50% of his body including his face and both upper and lower limbs. He was just a boy like any other anywhere in the world. He is now fighting for his life. His suffering is unbearable”. A day earlier, he wrote about 13-year-old Halla, whom he tried to console as she woke from anesthesia by saying, “It will be [al]right, the surgery is finished”. She responded, “It will never ever be alright. They killed my mum and dad”. Regarding the circumstances of his colleagues among the medical staff and everyone working in the health sector, he told the Legal Agenda, “They come to work every morning not knowing whether they will find their families and houses when they return… Some find their families or family members among the wounded and martyred”. In another October 25 post about daily life in al-Shifa Hospital, where he enrolls every time Gaza comes under attack, he said, “Death is everywhere. In the early hours of the morning Thabet, one of the OR staff, was told that his mother and father were killed when their house was bombed by the Israelis”.
The man handles himself as though he is immune to the danger surrounding him. He posted a warning about the imminent danger that the offensive poses to al-Shifa Hospital after the al-Ahli Hospital massacre: “Intense bombing close to the hospital. Buildings are shaken to the core”. Twenty minutes later, he published another post relaying, from the chief of surgery at al-Shifa Hospital, that “the number of active ambulances on the road is decreasing because of the fuel crisis”.
How can Abu Sitta possibly find time, amidst all his work, to provide this precise, real-time documentation? In his rare voice message responses to his concerned friends, he says that he does not go outside and sometimes sleeps on the operating table because al-Shifa Hospital is overflowing with tens of thousands of displaced people who see it as a safe haven. Perhaps the question is unimportant, given that everything Abu Sitta does lies at the heart of his “existential and emotional attachment” to Gaza.
Abu Sitta’s testimony shook the world minutes after Israel targeted al-Ahli Hospital. Surrounded by corpses on the ground, he spoke, “We could see bodies of children piled up, both dead, not moving, and wounded. There were several who had been amputated… This is a war crime that the world has seen coming. Israel has been warning the entire world that it was going to attack Palestinian hospitals, and it did exactly that”. He implored the world to stop the Israeli massacres against Gaza and its people and hospitals. That day, Abu Sitta’s family, as well as his followers, initially thought that he was safe from the bombing as he is usually in al-Shifa Hospital. However, he had gone to assist his colleagues at al-Ahli Hospital, where the number of wounded had exceeded the number of beds, and decided to spend the night there so that he and the hospital’s medical team could continue performing surgeries into the morning.
In light of all his documentation of the situation in Gaza and the unprecedented brutality of the Israeli offensive against it, Abu Sitta tells the Legal Agenda, “The incendiary capacity of the Israeli projectiles used in this war exceeds everything we saw in previous wars, in addition to the phosphorus that it also used in the 2009 offensive”.
Abu Sitta is renowned as one of the best plastic and reconstructive surgeons around the world, not just in Arab countries. Unlike other plastic surgeons who focus on commercial cosmetic work, he focuses on reconstruction and the cosmetic aspects related to it. One of his hospital coworkers says that each year, he – along with ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Usama Hamdan – performs 180-200 surgeries pro bono for children born with cleft lip and perforated palates: “After gathering the patients over the year, they perform the operations in one of Beirut’s hospitals. Not only do they forfeit their personal fees, but they also pay the hospital cost, especially for children whose families can’t afford the surgeries”.
A week after arriving in Gaza, Abu Sitta wrote on X, “British counterterrorism police has showed up at my house in the UK and [harassed] my family”. In one of his BBC appearances, he called the incident “bizarre” and “a kind of brutish attempt at harassment… as if my wife did not have enough to worry about”. He said that he would follow up on the matter via his lawyer.
However, he delivered his main response to the police’s effort to interrogate his wife about his activity in Gaza, the department and charity in which he works, and the party that paid for his ticket via X shortly after the incident – a response that reflects his whole life path and expresses a resolute decision: “I will not stop speaking out on behalf of my patients and bearing witness to the crimes that are being [committed]”.
May you stay safe, Dr. Abu Sitta – you, Gaza, and all its people.