Duke neurosurgeon David Hasan speaks on experience after return from war-torn Gaza

On Dec. 23, Professor of Neurosurgery David Hasan traveled over 6,000 miles to the other side of the world, leaving his wife and seven-year-old daughter in North Carolina to volunteer in war-torn Gaza as a surgeon and medical staffer for a week. 

Hasan, who was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, initially hoped to volunteer in Gaza with his wife Lauren Hasan, a former trauma surgeon, after the conflict had settled down. The couple didn’t think they would be able to go at the height of the war.

However, when the Rafah Border Crossing opened to humanitarian workers, an opportunity presented itself to travel with a non-governmental organization he was a part of. In the span of three days, Hasan and five other doctors from the United States and Canada made their decision, booked their plane tickets and made the journey with Rahma Worldwide.

“It was not a thinking process. It was like a knee-jerk reflex,” Hasan said.  

The doctors first flew into Cairo, where they gathered for dinner, signed legal waivers and caught some sleep before driving to the Rafah Border Crossing with a convoy of about 24 people. Once in Khan Yunis, the doctors alternated between operating at The European Hospital and the Nasser Hospital, the latter of which stopped functioning Sunday amidst an ongoing raid by the Israeli military.

The convoy saw the fingerprints of the devastation left on the city. Once bustling with a population of around 400,000 people, Hasan described Khan Yunis as now covered in rubble, destroyed buildings and a blanket of eerie daytime quiet in anticipation of nighttime bombings. 

After arriving at the hospital, Hasan said he was met with around 50,000 people living inside the hospital, either in tents, on stretchers or in beds. 

Hasan immediately started operating, and as the sun began to set, the bombings started.

While a war raged outside the hospital walls, Hasan remained focused on the patients before him. 

“The energy I had, it was all charged by the ability to give these people hope,” Hasan said. “... Giving people hope was really just an ability to help, even if I was able to make a difference in one in 100 — that always for me is sufficient and very satisfying.”

Hasan described a “perfect storm” for the “complete collapse of the healthcare system” in Gaza. Without food, water, electricity and proper sanitation, his team struggled to care for their patients.

On Jan. 1, Lauren began publishing bits of his journal her husband would send to her on X, writing that they “think it is important for the world to hear what is happening.” He wrote to his wife one day about a “horrible morning,” describing specific casualties he saw on his fourth day.  

“Had to pronounce a toddler dead. No one was with him. All of his family were dead. I named him like he was my son, Jacob. Then I held him & wept for him. Then wrapped him with white cloth,” he wrote

What kept him going was being able to make a difference. His family gave him the support and faith he needed in his efforts in Gaza. 

“My sweetheart daughter (7.5 years old) on her own bought toys & lollipops for the Palestinian kids as Christmas gifts. Gave a few of them to the injured kids & the smiles on their faces were very priceless. They are so grateful,” Hasan wrote to his wife about his second day in Gaza.

Hasan struggled to rest while in Gaza, especially as bombings came within a mile of the hospital.

“I finally fell asleep for 2 hours but woke up every 5 minutes with the violent shaking of the hospital building,” he wrote on his second day.

While in Gaza, Hasan saw innocent civilians facing the effects of the war — a majority of whom were children. Hasan said that seeing people “being used as human shields” in the face of “indiscriminate bombing” made him try everything he could to help, despite being unable to sleep. 

Hasan found that going to Gaza gave him more insight into the war and even more of an emotional connection to an already personal matter, as he witnessed the families of the Palestinian healthcare providers he worked alongside with taken from them while their houses were simultaneously demolished. 

“Just imagine, not only that they’re not paid, the psychological emotion — there’s no food, they come home and their family is just gone,” he said. “They would rather be with their family and die with them.”

At the end of his trip, he found himself feeling guilty and frustrated at the fact that he could leave Gaza and the civilians could not. His wife, while grateful for his safe return, felt the same. 

“He was there for seven days. What about those who have families who live in Gaza…. Who have experienced this anxiety and trauma day in and day out for 90 days? My heart aches for you. I pray for peace and a free Palestine,” Lauren wrote on X

Since leaving Gaza on Jan. 1, Hasan has been “trying to echo the voices of the people in Gaza” to bring light to the dire humanitarian situation in the region. 

This included getting together with a group of 14 doctors, lawyers and humanitarian workers — half of whom were American Israelis and half of whom were Palestinians — to meet with Senator Elizabeth Warren and promote solutions to improving the healthcare landscape in Gaza.

“Here are these two groups spoken in unison and spoken in one language [which] is the humanitarian language,” he said. “We didn’t care about whose fault [it was], we didn’t talk about politics, we just focused on how to rescue the healthcare in Gaza.” 

Hasan wants to prioritize going on medical mission trips, whether back in Gaza or other countries.  

He has since kept himself occupied with work at the Duke Department of Neurosurgery and spending time with his family, as he found the best thing he could do was distract himself.  

“We're physicians, and we're committed to be humanitarian, and we're committed to be unbiased, and we have to be blind to gender, religion, sexual orientation, name, whatever,” Hasan said. “The only thing you can see is that human beings are suffering and need help.”


Aseel Ibrahim

Aseel Ibrahim is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.       

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