-‘WWII air raids reminded me of what my grandmother in Japan told me about what war is in my childhood,’ says Maiko Shirane-‘Civilian places, such as healthcare facilities, should not be bombed. They must be protected even in wartime. Nothing can be done without a ceasefire’
Maiko Shirane, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Japan representative, returned from Gaza, saying G7 ministers’ call for a “humanitarian pause” is inadequate.
Maiko evaluated to Anadolu her mission in the Gaza Strip from May to November this year and the evacuation process from the region due to continuous bombardments since Oct. 7.
Maiko, who has served in Ukraine and Afghanistan, worked in MSF Japan’s human resources and accounting departments while on assignment in Gaza from May to November this year.
She, expressing that they addressed chronic diseases in Ukraine and pediatric needs in Afghanistan, mentioned that she had a period in Gaza in 2018-2019 and was redeployed in May this year.
Gazans live life similar to those in Japan
Aware of Gaza’s conflict-ridden history and regional tensions, Maiko said she was surprised to find Gazans leading a peaceful and normal life similar to the Japanese people when she entered the region.
Contrary to the daily depiction of Gaza as a conflict zone, Maiko stressed that people in Gaza lead normal lives, going to school, taking walks, socializing in cafes, and spending time with family on weekends.
Maiko noted feeling a weekend-like atmosphere every Friday afternoon, adding that she spent time with colleagues and friends, played volleyball with representatives of other local aid organizations, and had dinner on the beach after work.
She shared how they watched the sunset over the Mediterranean, enjoyed falafel and hummus in breakfasts prepared by local staff, and discussed family and weekend plans.
Recalling grandmother’s words during WWII
Maiko woke up to missile sounds on the morning of October 7. Seeing the missiles from her balcony, she felt the war had started and quickly went to the basement shelter.
In the initial stage, Maiko said she thought it would last “a few days like previous conflicts. However, widespread airstrikes changed everything.”
Feeling intense fear as her building shook, she reflected on her grandmother’s stories about the war in Japan during World War II, realizing the gravity of the situation.
She noted that the airstrikes reached their building’s vicinity, lasting from morning to midnight.
She said, “MSF couldn’t continue its activities. This marked the start of the war, and as a foreigner, I didn’t take sides between Hamas and Israel or ponder which one was right.”
‘We couldn’t do anything, despite our desire to provide medical support’
Maiko mentioned suspending MSF’s regular activities and starting the evacuation process, acquiring information in coordination with contacts in Jerusalem.
She stressed that during the evacuation from the north to the south of Gaza, the bombardments continued incessantly.
Emphasizing the devastating impact of bombings on innocent civilians, she said:
“Without a ceasefire, we couldn’t do anything. Hospitals were being damaged in the bombings, and most healthcare workers were getting injured or killed. No matter how much we wanted to help and provide medical support, we couldn’t do anything. There was no supply, no medical equipment, and no fuel to run the generators.”
Maiko highlighted the negative impact of repeated interruptions in the internet and landlines on their lives.
“We lacked communication networks, sometimes had no internet access, and experienced cut-off landlines. From October 7 until the morning of Nov. 1 when we were evacuated, we genuinely didn’t know when or how the evacuation would happen,” she said.
Calling for immediate ceasefire
Maiko, evacuated from the Rafah Border Crossing on November 1 and back in Japan, emphasized the need for an immediate ceasefire.
She stressed that healthcare facilities and civilian places, like schools, must be protected and called on the international community to continue discussions on a ceasefire for the sake of innocent civilians.
G7 ministers’ call for a ‘humanitarian pause’ falls short
Maiko addressed the G7 Foreign Ministers’ joint statement in Tokyo, chaired by Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko, which called for a “humanitarian pause” in the Gaza Strip amid the conflicts.
A “humanitarian pause” for delivering aid to civilians in the conflicts is not enough, she added.
She also stated that a brief pause is “insufficient” to save lives and stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire to effectively protect civilians and halt the loss of human lives.
Maiko wants to go to Gaza again for medical support
Maiko expressed her desire to inform the Japanese society about the situation in Gaza, saying:
“I want to do everything I can for Gaza, but currently, my options are quite limited. I cannot return to Gaza right now as the situation is extremely dire. At the moment, I can only bear witness. I want to loudly convey what I have experienced and what is happening in Gaza to the Japanese community.”
She added that, given time and opportunity, she wishes to return to Gaza to continue providing medical support.