The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Former student in Gaza fears for her life while saving others

Palestinian medical student Nour Alshaer, ’22, is helping wounded and starving Gazans. Alumni asking the administration to support her are met with silence
Nour Alshaer, 22, is from Gaza and returned there to attend medical school.
Nour Alshaer
Nour Alshaer, ’22, is from Gaza and returned there to attend medical school.

Since October, Nour Alshaer, ’22, has been working 24-hour volunteer shifts in the emergency room at Al Najjar Hospital. 

Al Najjar is one of just a few remaining hospitals in the Gaza Strip, according to the World Health Organization. The dead bodies of Palestinians killed by Israel are regularly sent there. That includes the bodies of several of Alshaer’s cousins. 

The former Washington and Lee student is supposed to be enrolled in her fourth year of medical school. Instead, she is taking care of hundreds of patients and delivering aid to families while Israel bombs the Gaza Strip.

She urges the Washington and Lee community to do anything possible to help suffering Gazans.  

“This is a deliberate killing of a population, [an] ethnic cleansing,” she told the Phi. “If you want to be in the good part of history years from now, I need you to hear this message. I need you to actually play an active role in stopping this.” 

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Israel has killed 33,000 Palestinians in its siege of Gaza since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. Tens of thousands more Palestinians have been injured and thousands are still under rubble, officials say. 

Alshaer said she fears for her life every day. 

“I have no idea if I could be targeted at any second,” she said. “Health workers are a target.” 

Growing up in Gaza under Israeli occupation, Alshaer has already lived through several wars, in which she lost family members and friends. 

Alshaer studied neuroscience at Washington and Lee. She wanted to become a doctor so she could help cancer patients and find new treatments for them. 

To continue her education, she will have to leave what’s left of her home.

The medical school she attended, part of the Islamic University of Gaza, was bombed in October. Several of her professors — as well as the university’s president — were also killed by Israeli strikes, she said. 

Alshaer said she has survived so far because of “mere luck.” But at times, she and other Gazans think of the dead as the lucky ones. 

“They’re resting. Us, we’re not,” she said. 

Alshaer has been committed to helping others even as her own life is at risk. She and other alumni have raised money on GoFundMe for the nonprofit Pal Crisis Relief. 

So far, they have received about $60,000 of donations. 

With that money, Alshaer purchases and distributes food, water and emergency supplies to displaced Gazans. She said they have been able to help 80,000 families. 

Her personal GoFundMe raised about $12,000, which funded her younger brother and sister’s evacuations to Egypt. 

But Alshaer is still in Rafah, a city in south Gaza where civilians have been told to evacuate to since October.

 Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says that Israel is planning to invade Rafah soon, even though more than 1.5 million displaced people are sheltering there. 

Scenes of suffering in the hospital 

Alshaer describes the suffering she has witnessed as “unimaginable.” 

One of her Instagram posts features an image she took of a patient’s leg that had been blown to pieces. The caption: “Sara—7 years old.” 

She said she has helped mothers as they cried over their dead babies. 

“What am I supposed to do about the huge loss of [their] family members?” Alshaer asked. “As a doctor, I feel so helpless all the time.” 

Al Najjar Hospital has been overwhelmed. It admits around 250 patients each day despite only having 63 beds, she said. 

“The beds are not enough. I’m literally treating people on the floor,” she said. 

Alshaer said that Palestinians are not just dying from bombings. 

“Some died [from being] starved. Some because our health system is just so broken that it can’t treat people with chronic illnesses,” she said. 

One such person was her 45-year-old cousin, Mohammed Alshaer, who had diabetes. He died last Monday because he couldn’t get proper medical treatment. 

Most of the patients Alshaer treats are women and children, she said, and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. 

“A lot of them had to go through C-sections without anesthesia,” she said. “Others had to go through a hysterectomy because… doctors just couldn’t find enough time to stop bleeding and complications that they had.”

Institutional silence 

Alshaer’s friends and alumni have tried to get the university to recognize or support her. 

Stanton Geyer, ’20, said he has reached out to school and faculty pages on Instagram. Other alumni have tagged @wlunews on Instagram posts of her GoFundMe. 

Alshaer said a few of her former professors have reached out to her since October. But there has been no response from the administration. 

No one has even asked me if I was okay, or if I was alive, or if my family was still alive,”  she said. “It makes me feel abandoned.” 

University Spokesperson Drewry Sackett did not respond to a request for comment. 

Mourad Berrached, ’20, a friend of Alshaer, said the university community supported him when Hurricane Harvey struck his home state of Texas. But he doesn’t think the same has been done for Alshaer. 

“W&L is an institution that really prides itself in its alumni connections and being like a family,” Berrached said. “We have a student who is literally existing in a genocide. And to see the school not saying anything about it… it is deeply disappointing and, quite frankly, disgusting.” 

Geyer also expressed frustration with the university’s silence. 

“I think statements should come out regularly about Nour’s situation, and the plight of any students working in humanitarian or conflict settings, so the community can come together,” he said. 

Berrached said that Alshaer is a strong advocate for her community.

But most of all, he said, she’s a person who loves to laugh. Recently, the two spoke about their future plans. 

“I can’t wait for the day when this is over. We can get together again and just dance and have fun. She’s someone who deserves to laugh and smile,” Berrached said. 

Nour Alshaer, ’22, and Mourad Berrached, ’20, on a trip to Cairo two years ago. (Mourad Berrached)
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