Hatem’s Gaza Daily Update

Hatem’s Gaza Daily Update

GAZA: 15 January
 
I am stuck in my house. Things are very difficult today as tanks are in the area next to where I live and where my colleagues have family.

My colleague is writing my words down as I am unable to get to the office and use my computer.

Many people have left the area and are moving in with relatives deeper in Gaza City.

When I look out of the window I can see people leaving with small bags – many of those leaving are with their families. There are many women and children.

I hear a loud explosion a few metres away. The shelling is becoming more intense and rockets are also falling.

I can see smoke from a building that is behind my house.

The Unrwa (UN relief agency) building is close by and my colleague has told me that it has been hit.

Shelling is going on. Explosions are shaking the house. My family are gathered in one room and we make sure everyone is OK and the house is OK.

My mother shouts out to make sure we are all with her in the room.

Children crying

My sisters-in-law are with us and the children, and we crouch down in case glass from the windows shatters and hits us. I can hear the neighbour’s children crying and shouting.

My sister called earlier and said she will try to make it to our home.

She has three young daughters and a son but we don’t think she will make it as it is not safe to travel.

Some family friends are now on their way to a UN shelter. They wanted to stay with us but it was simply too dangerous for them to make their way here.

Thick black smoke is getting thicker and blocking the sun. The fighting is coming closer to our homes and the soldiers are now in urban areas. What scares me is that our homes could come under attack and there will be more death and destruction.

When I meet people I find that they have almost become indifferent to death, as we know death is not far away 
 
I was supposed to be out distributing aid to hospitals around Gaza with Islamic Relief’s emergency relief team.

Yesterday we managed to deliver hospital trolleys, heart machines and first aid equipment including bandages, disposable gloves and syringes to five hospitals around Gaza.

We were supposed to deliver more aid today but our work has been suspended due to the intensity of the attacks in the centre of Gaza.

Aid is entering Gaza through Israel and Egypt but people can’t collect the food and medicine as it is not safe for them to leave their homes.

A few days ago Islamic Relief was able to receive 20 ambulances through the Rafah border which will be donated to the main Shifa hospital and other smaller hospitals.

Hopes dashed

Today is the 20th day of the attack. Every day we hope that this will be the last day but the attacks go on and people feel depressed and scared.

Gazans feel that this won’t end any time soon. When I meet people I find that they have almost become indifferent to death, as we know death is not far away.

In the past 20 days more than 1,000 people have been killed, many of them women and children. Death has come close to the average Gazan.

My colleague is asking me how I am coping with the situation and how I overcome my fear.

I take a deep breath and try to explain as best I can.

During the day when I am out working with the Islamic Relief team I stay strong and never show exhaustion or fear.

I am there to help people who in many cases have nothing.

When I get home I try to stay strong for my family especially my nieces and nephews who are very young and frightened.

At night when I read the evening prayer I can’t control myself and I cry and cry all night.

In the morning I leap up and force myself to shake off the despair and hurt and get ready to go out and try to help the people of Gaza.

Gaza 13 January

The water situation in Gaza is dire. Those people who are lucky enough to have any water in their storage tanks are trying to save as much as possible. Many people have had their tanks destroyed by the bombing and shooting.

Most homes in Rafah, Khan Younis and in the middle and northern areas of Gaza have almost no water or electricity. Eighty per cent of people in Gaza are dependent on international aid. Most Gazans can’t afford to buy water.

Only today my colleague, Diya Skaik, returned to his home which he was forced to leave 10 days ago due to the intensive bombing.

“The water tank which is the only source of water for my small family is crushed,” he told me.

“I went to the roof and just had a glance. I had to leave the place quickly as it is too dangerous to be there.”

A few months ago my father had a feeling something awful might happen in Gaza and bought a larger water tank.

We are very much aware that Gaza will need long-term help from the outside world to rebuild the devastated infrastructure 
 

However, the water that we have is almost finished. This is despite the fact that we have cut our usage down to the bare minimum. I know my father is concerned about our limited supply, even though he doesn’t talk about it.

The water shortage in Gaza is causing health and environmental problems.

Only a few months ago Islamic Relief provided Gaza’s main water pump station with spare parts. The system is old and in need of repair and was already feeling the strain during the siege of the past 18 months.

Today we provided eight shelters in Gaza with drinking water for the many hundreds of people who have been displaced by the bombing. Many of the shelters are overcrowded and have no access to clean water. We provided each person with 20 litres.

No doubt, after the fighting is over, we are going to see vast amounts of damage to houses and the water tanks on the roofs.

As an aid worker I am focused on coping with the here and now but like everybody in Gaza I am waiting and praying for a ceasefire so we can try to rebuild our lives.

Right now our aid team is reacting to what is happening around us.

However, we are very much aware that Gaza will need long-term help from the outside world to rebuild the devastated infrastructure.

It will take the people of Gaza even longer to heal from the physical and psychological damage of this war.

Gaza 12 January

I haven’t been able to write my diary for 48 hours – I’ve simply not had time and have been busy working with colleagues to prepare thousands of food parcels for desperate people.

We have to finish distributing aid before it gets dark and make sure that we are back home, as there is no electricity and families and loved ones worry if we are out on the streets. The bombardment intensifies at night and so it’s not wise to be out then.

Lost friends

I sometimes wonder if there will be enough space to bury the dead. Yesterday a friend of mine was killed in his home. He was a journalist and worked for a radio station.

Since the attacks started on Gaza I have lost good friends – and if you ask me how I feel about it – well, I can’t really say as I’m trying to block it out so I can focus on my work.

  I feel exhausted – as does everyone around me – but as an aid worker I have no choice but to keep going 
 
I’m one of the lucky ones, as I can keep busy with my work and focus my energy on trying to assist people – this is one of the things that is keeping me going.

My manager’s home was exposed to heavy gunfire – he lives close to the borders of Gaza City – and the bullets hit the room his children sleep in.

Crowded hospitals

I decided today to try and speak to people on the streets around the office to find out more about their situation, but it’s hard to find people and when you do everyone is in a rush to visit a relative or friend and pay their condolences to families who have lost loved ones.

The shops are closed, the most crowded areas are near hospitals. I met a few people in the streets but many more are in shelters in school buildings, which are now housing hundreds of frightened people who have fled their homes hoping they will be safer in these buildings.

The “hidden” homeless are staying with their extended family members. Hundreds of families have moved in with relatives and for Gazans this is adding further pressure on them to take care of their extended families.

Islamic Relief has received many phone calls from people asking for blankets and food – they need to keep warm and to feed their families. We are now distributing aid to these families alongside people who are living in shelters.

More aid is arriving in Gaza through Israel’s borders and my logistics colleagues work out how to get the aid loaded on to trucks and out to the hospitals and shelters.

I feel exhausted – as does everyone around me – but as an aid worker I have no choice but to keep going.

Gaza 9th January

I’m using my brother’s laptop to type these words – it has an hour left on the battery. The battery on my laptop has already died.

As I write this I can hear the sound of explosions around. Thirteen days on and I can’t say that I’m getting used to the sounds of bombs and missiles hitting Gaza.

Today Islamic Relief was unable to distribute any aid as the bombing was so intense – vast parts of Gaza are now under thick black smoke.

Yesterday we were able to distribute 1,000 food parcels to local aid organisations who are helping us to reach desperate families – each parcel has enough food to feed a family of eight for one month.

This morning I heard about six people killed in the Qarrah area – all of them were over 50 years old. They were considered to be the elders in the community and they were respected and loved by all in Qarrah. People are in a state of shock.

Medical crisis

The whole health sector in Gaza is in meltdown. In the hospitals the doctors are sending home the severely injured – they have no choice due to the shortage of beds.

Many of those sent home are in urgent need of hospital treatment and anywhere else in the world they would be expected to stay in hospital for weeks. But Gaza is no ordinary place – it’s a place full of deep pain and misery.   I don’t think there any words in the dictionary that can accurately capture what’s happening here 
 

The injured are being forced to return to their homes a few hours after arriving at the hospital and are forced to try and recover from their injuries as the bombs keep falling.

The shortage of doctors can be seen in the operating theatres. While a doctor is operating on a patient two more will be brought in for emergency surgery at the same time – it’s an impossible situation.

It’s not only the doctors; there is a severe shortage of nurses too. The hospitals asked student nurses in their third and fourth years to come and help, as well as other volunteers – such is their desperation.

It’s important to remember that Gaza has been under siege for the last 18 months, so the hospitals were already suffering from a severe shortage of medical equipment.

Power fears

Al-Shifa is the largest hospital in Gaza and it just cannot cope with all the injured. In most hospitals around the world generators are used as emergency back-up if anything happens to the electricity.

In Gaza the generators are the main source of electricity for the hospitals and there is no back up. If the generators do not work properly there is nothing the doctors can do. This can happen during an operation.

Islamic Relief is going regularly to the hospitals and supplying them with medical equipment. But what will happen when the fuel runs out in Gaza and the generators no longer work?

Most people in Gaza are already without electricity as most do not have access to generators.

When I sit down to gather my thoughts and write these diaries my mind often goes blank because sometimes it’s too difficult to process the full magnitude of the suffering in Gaza.

Often I struggle to find the words to describe what’s happening here – I don’t think there are any words in the dictionary that can accurately capture what’s happening here.

Gaza 8th January

While I was writing this diary entry I received news that a Palestinian family had been killed in the northern Jabaliya refugee camp after their house was bombed.

Jabaliya is home to an estimated 125,000 people and is the most densely populated camp in Gaza.

They were a father, mother and son from the Aljaro family. Other members of the family had been injured. 

But the news got worse: the father was the brother of my Islamic Relief colleague Alaa.

I tried to reach Alaa to check he was OK and pay my condolences but couldn’t get through to him on the phone.

I finally received news that Alaa was OK. But what do I say to him when I see him?

Every day that passes brings more and more bad news and with every passing hour the human misery increases.

One minute we hear news that five people have been killed in a certain neighbourhood, then a few minutes later we receive more news that people have been killed in a different area.

It seems like Gazans are just becoming numbers.

Gazans are not just numbers, Gazans are very kind people who love life and love others.

Orphaned children

Every child that has died enjoyed playing, like other children across the world.

Every child that died had a family that loved them dearly.

Our aid team also learnt today that the fathers of three of the children in our Psychosocial Support program had been killed.

They are now orphans.

Islamic Relief runs a project with Gazan children who have been traumatised by conflict. It is funded by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD).

Two thousand children are involved in the project, which aims to help youngsters deal with their loss and provide them with support and care.

I wonder what effect this conflict and losing their fathers will have on those three children in the long term.

One thing is for sure, when the bombing ends – and we pray for it to end now – this project will need to be one of our priorities.

Poor shelters

I’ve met a lot of children over the past 12 days and I can see the fear in their eyes.

The state of the shelters in which people are seeking refuge is dire.

There is no electricity, and no fuel for cooking. Neither is there any kind of heating to keep people warm in these cold winter nights.

The good news is that our relief teams continued with our distribution to three UN shelters, supplying people with hygiene kits and blankets.

We also prepared a list of medicines desperately needed by Gazan hospitals and are now working on trying to purchase the medication inside Gaza and co-ordinate the purchasing of aid from outside Gaza and work out how to get it into Gaza.

Gaza 7th January

Today we had a few hours of calm. For three hours we could deliver aid without the worry of bombardment. It was a busy day.

An Islamic Relief aid team went to the Paediatric Hospital to provide it with medical items, such as surgical sets, bandages and scissors among other items which are continuously required.

We also delivered soaps and other hygiene material and blankets to six UN shelters.

The people in the shelter were happy to see aid workers arriving with supplies, especially blankets as it’s very cold here in Gaza.

During this three hours of calm we were also given a deeper insight to the misery on the streets of Gaza.

We visited a building near the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Gaza where 200 people were sheltering.

Many of the people there asked me if I could tell them where a safe shelter was – where they could go to stay safe with their loved ones. I had no answer.

Despite the temporary halt in the bombing I only met people, young and old, full of sadness and fear. Many people that I met looked bewildered and exhausted.

In one shelter I met a man called Abu Mohamed. He had been forced to leave his home and was desperate to return.

“I refuse to go to a UN school as it is unsafe. Yesterday a school was hit and more than 40 were killed.

“I can’t let my family and relatives be killed. I want all this to stop and go back home safely,” he said.

Child’s play

I also met a 12-year-old girl named Fatima. She had fled with 12 members of her family to be in a UN school.

Her home was partially destroyed after her neighbour’s house was bombed.

Along with other children, she didn’t feel safe but was trying her best to block out the bombing by playing with her cousins in the school yard.

Despite the dangers, the children of Gaza are resilient and some are determined to keep playing.

Our aid teams are working out how we can source more aid supplies into Gaza and deliver the aid we have inside Gaza.

We have precious minutes and seconds in the day to try to reach desperate people whose suffering continues.

Eleven days on and there is no end in sight.

GAZA: 6 January

I’m absolutely exhausted. Despite the bombing last night I managed to get some sleep – I don’t know how – I think my body just had enough.

A homeless Palestinian woman weeps in a school turned into a UN shelter in Gaza. Families have sheltered in schools

An Islamic Relief aid team went out and visited one of the UN schools that has been turned into a shelter for families displaced by the bombing.

What I saw was heartbreaking. Before me were families who have had their homes destroyed and have lost everything. Gaza is a very poor place and many people didn’t have much before the bombing started. Many more are left with even less now.

The people I met told me that they had found themselves in the firing line and had no choice but to leave their homes.

I met a mother who was burning paper in order to boil water for her child. She was doing this because she had no milk – maybe she could fool her hungry baby with the warm water?

I was surprised at the amount of women and children I saw in the school – and worried too.

Suffering

People are exhausted, traumatised and they are surviving on a limited amount of food – there simply isn’t enough.

I found it very hard to see people suffering like this, especially the children.

At Islamic Relief we have decided that we have no choice but to deliver food to people – no matter what the dangers, and there are plenty of dangers in Gaza.

As aid workers we can not stand by and watch as people suffer – they have nothing and we have to do something to help them.

There are around 500 people sheltering in the school and we are also preparing to provide people with hygiene kits, which contain simple things like soap which are important in preventing the spread of disease.

Seeing women and children living in these kind of conditions is unbearable. Many of the children had walked long distances to reach the schools. Their parents had thought they would be safe here.

The children are tired and hungry and do not know why they have been made to leave their homes and live in classrooms, like most Gazans they are cold and hungry and bewildered by the events of the past 11 days.

GAZA: 5 January

For the second day we have had to postpone our planned aid distribution. The security situation gets worse by the hour, making it very difficult to go out on the streets and deliver aid.
 
Picture of Islamic Relief aid worker, Hatem Shurrab
I often feel like I am saying the same thing again and again, but the humanitarian situation is nothing short of desperate

Homes are without water and electricity. Gazans have only been receiving water once a week for the last six months. But the electricity is down, which means the water cannot be pumped up.

This is very dangerous. As well as the obvious danger of being without water, there are added health issues and the possibility of the spread of disease.

Gaza is now divided due to the presence of the Israeli army and it is pretty much impossible to travel to the central areas.

My Islamic Relief colleagues who work with orphans are in the middle of Gaza – it is now very difficult to reach this area.

The inability to travel safely is severely affecting the aid effort. Only today I was at a bread queue talking to ordinary Gazans. Explosions could be heard in the background.

I met one woman who had been queuing from 0730 to 1030. But others had been queuing for up to 10 hours – such is the shortage. One man I met told me he was taking shifts with his brother in the bread queue in order not to lose their place.

Others I met just broke down in tears when I began speaking to them – it seems they had no words left.
A little girl takes shelter at a UN aid centre in Gaza on 5 January 2009
Gazans face crippling shortages and constant blasts, Hatem Shurrab says

I often feel like I am saying the same thing again and again, but the humanitarian situation is nothing short of desperate. Our colleagues in the UN are calling it a humanitarian crisis.

Each day in Gaza it feels like it can’t get any worse – but it does. People just don’t know what to do or expect.

I ask you to imagine how you would feel if you found yourself in a situation where you and your loved ones had little food, water and no electricity. And all the time the sound of explosions – bombs, missiles and tank fire – can be heard everywhere.

Ten long days and nights the people of Gaza have been living with fear – we are exhausted and every day brings more violence and more misery. 

January 4th 2009

The moment we all feared has come – ground troops are in Gaza.

For the first time I was forced to hide in the basement of our house, as there are no shelters or bunkers to take refuge from the bombing or shelling.

With seven members of my family – the youngest, Majd, being seven months old – we spent the night listening to explosions.

The bombardment was relentless. Some of the explosions were near our home and were causing Majd to cry. Our house was rocked by a nearby explosion – it was terrifying.

This is worse than the aerial bombing – everything feels so close.

The night was very cold and we spent it listening to the radio to see if we could find out what was going on. We knew what was happening; that now the fighting would be on the streets of Gaza.

This was what we were hoping would not happen. Everyone selected a corner in the basement to sit in – we knew it was going to be a long night.

I woke up at 0710 – exhausted and suffering from a headache, like most people I had barely slept. Outside there was silence – maybe everything had stopped? But almost immediately, I heard an air strike and realised that the nightmare wasn’t over.

Islamic Relief Worldwide had planned to deliver some aid today but the situation on the streets of Gaza was just too dangerous.

Instead, we made preparations for the delivery of aid to hospitals. Our emergency manager was at the al-Shifa hospital; he told us many of the injured were being taken there.

It is very dangerous now to be out in the streets. With each passing day and night, the dangers in Gaza increase and so does the humanitarian crisis.

Electricity is not available and people are using generators.

Even in the Islamic Relief Worldwide office we have to leave early in order to save fuel for the generators for the coming days.

On Monday, we plan to distribute aid to the hospitals – I, like the rest of Gaza, hope it will be safe to do so.

January 3rd 2009

As I finish writing this I am having to move to the basement of my house with seven members of my family, including a baby aged 7 months.  
The American International School in Gaza was hit in an Israeli strike

Loud explosions are going off all around and a colleague from the UK is writing down my words as I speak to her on the phone.

I am trying very hard to hide the fear in my voice but I don’t think I’m doing a very good job.

The ground invasion has started and now nobody knows what will happen next.

My colleague is asking me if the rest of our team are safe – I spoke to them one hour ago and as far as I know everyone is ok for now.

The colleagues who live in Jabaliya camp have moved out deeper into Gaza so that they can try and stay safe. Jabaliya is a very exposed place and its safer for people to move out of this area.

Before this ground invasion was launched I had been out visiting children who should have been in school, but of course all the schools are closed.

I heard the news that the American International School was hit in a strike. Of course the school was empty – they all are.

I spoke to 12-year-old Nour today. He studies at Dar Al Arqam school. It was hit in the first few days of the bombing.

Instead of sitting his exams he sits at home reading books trying desperately to blank out the bombing.

“I have a number of story books. I love reading but I read all the stories. There is no electricity to watch cartoons and there is no safety to go and buy new story books, it’s terrifying and boring to stay under fire all this time,” he said.

The schools have called the winter holidays early as the security situation is getting worse each day.

But these holidays won’t be the same for Nour or his friends. They won’t be playing in the streets of Gaza, instead they will be sitting terrified in their houses.   I want the shelling stop because I become scared when I hear it everyday

Masa, 9

“I’ll never enjoy this holiday. Everyday I listen to bad news about people being killed.

“I will also not go to my desk if schools open because my class is among the classes which were destroyed.,” he said.

Nine-year-old Masa is another Gazan child who is trying to make sense of what is happening: “I fill my time in studying, but the sound of planes and shelling is not letting me focus on the lessons. I try to stay near my mother and father and hug them several times a day,” she said.

“I got bored of staying at home all this time. I want to play with my friends and cousins. I want the shelling stop because I become scared when I hear it everyday.”

It’s sad speaking to these children and hearing their stories and thoughts.

They should be playing in the streets, but instead they spend their time hiding indoors – terrified and confused.

More than 50 children were killed during the last week. Schools are shut down and students are not going to their exams.

Tomorrow [Sunday] we had planned to deliver blankets and food parcels to three shelter locations which have been opened in schools for families who live in the border areas and who have been evacuated from their homes.

Now that the ground invasion has started…well, we simply have no idea if we will be able to leave our homes. It’s going to be a very long night in Gaza.

January 2nd 2009

A week is a long time when you live in a place that is cut off from the outside world and are surrounded by death, devastation and destruction. 

It is seven days since the attacks were launched on Gaza and in that time hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights among the dead are 51 children and 14 women. 

When I do manage to snatch the odd hour of sleep I wake up hoping to find that all of this has been a bad nightmare and that Gaza is back to being a place full of life. It seems that the situation we are in now is not going to end anytime soon and the nightmare will go on. The bombardment continues and I hope it stops so that people can go out and bury the dead. 

The numbers of people who went to attend the Friday prayer today was much less than any other Friday prayer I can remember. Mosques are located in the heart of communities and often close to government buildings. These mosques have closed their gates, something unheard of in the Middle East – a mosque being closed on a Friday. 

Long bread queues 

Today I managed to have a snatched conversation with a woman who was on her way to buy some bread from one of the few bakeries open on Gaza’s Wihda Street.

Um Nasir is a mother of five children; the eldest is 17 years old. She told me she was widowed and her husband had been killed during an air raid on Gaza some three years ago. 

She told me that she hides in the basement of her house with her children when the bombing attacks start. Every night the children sleep on mattresses close to their mother. 

Um Nasir had to wait for over an hour to get her bread but she said she felt lucky she didn’t have to spend more than an hour queuing. She said she was terrified to be away from her children and was eager to get back to them in the case the bombs started dropping again. 

Um Nasir is one of thousands of Gazan women who are worried for the safety of their children and are trying their best to keep their families safe and keep some kind of normality in their homes. 

While we were talking I discovered that two of Um Nasir’s children are being sponsored by Islamic Relief and this makes life a little easier for her as she survives with very limited resources. 

Islamic Relief has a large orphans sponsorship programme and individuals from around the world provide Islamic Relief with donations so we can assist these youngsters. 

The office in the UK told me that many people have been calling to find out if the children are safe and how they can help them. 

The good news is that some aid is now arriving in Gaza through Israel’s borders and this has given the Islamic Relief aid team a much needed energy boost. We hope to step up our work on the ground and reach more people in the coming days.

January 1st 2009

I could barely sleep last night due to the continuous explosions – they seem to be hitting every part of the Gaza Strip.

Despite the dangers, Islamic Relief is increasing its humanitarian work – we have no choice. This morning we delivered four trucks of food to the main Shifa hospital.

Even as we were delivering the food, newly injured people were arriving at the hospital. I wonder if the doctors are having any rest at all – it seems the wounded just keep on coming with no pause. 
 
It’s the new year, but for Gazans it feels like 2008 never ended 
 
The food aid included flour, rice, beans, tinned meat and fish. Islamic Relief also provided hospital stores with four large trucks filled with food supplies. It was desperately needed. The supplies are enough for the Gaza Strip hospitals for more than a month.

Since the bombing started six days ago, people are becoming more and more desperate. I’ve met families who are resorting to boiling weeds that they’ve dug out from the ground in order to feed their families.

People are queuing up to an hour to get bread rations. The long queues are dangerous – bombs could fall at any time and being out in the open is the worst place to be.

The weather is getting colder and this is another danger for Gazans. Islamic Relief has already distributed blankets. We distributed 400 today to the injured at Shifa hospital to take home with them.

Vulnerable children

Due to the density of people in Gaza, homes are built very close to government buildings so when bombs are dropped, homes are damaged too.

Many people are living without windows or doors, shattered by the force of the bombs. People are worried about the structures of their homes as walls have caved in. Some people are trying to replace the broken glass with nylon. But nylon, like most things in Gaza, is in short supply and not many people can afford to buy it.  
The children are hungry, tired, scared and cold

Most people do not have gas, and electricity is limited. There are long periods of time when Gaza has no electricity.

People are trying to keep themselves warm by using extra blankets. Many people have started to burn wood to cook food – it also helps to keep them warm. Others are burning paper from exercise books to cook tea on.

As usual, it is the vulnerable who suffer the most, and it’s the children I fear for – they are hungry, tired, scared and cold. It is not easy to blank out the sounds of screaming F-16s or bombs being dropped for an adult, but more so for children.

As aid workers, we know we are taking big risks leaving our homes in the morning and going to work but we have no choice as we can’t stand by and watch our people suffering, and so we keep going.

The Islamic Relief staff are trying their best to do what they can. They are Gazans like the rest of the people and we all feel scared. But at the same time we know that if we do not go out and help our fellow Gazans then who will?

It’s the new year, but for Gazans it feels like 2008 never ended.

December 31 2008

People around the world will be about to celebrate the new year – not here in Gaza.

This is usually a time when people make new plans and have high hopes for the coming year. At the moment the people in Gaza are just hoping they will be alive tomorrow.  2008 was a bitter year for Gazans – it looks like 2009 will be the same 

Food is beginning to become a major issue. Only two weeks ago the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) suspended the distribution of food in Gaza because of shortages.

We pray there is some respite from the constant bombing – this will allow desperately needed aid to get in. The crisis in Gaza seems to tick every box to make it a major humanitarian disaster; hunger, killing, insecurity and poverty.

What makes the food situation even worse is that Gazans were already facing difficulties with food over the last year – now they are on the brink.

Eighty per cent of Gaza’s 1.5 million population depends on international humanitarian assistance; that is an incredible amount of people in such a small area of land. The level of poverty is spiralling out of control.

When we go out and assess what is needed you can see that the people are beyond despair. Food provided by Islamic Relief, the UN and other agencies is beginning to run out in people’s homes. The heads of households are despairing at the thought of how to feed their children.

Every family has a story of suffering. They will tell you about the shortage of food, of cooking gas and fuel, and of course electricity. People have to queue for an hour to get bread.  
Gaza residents are facing serious shortages of basic necessities

At the moment only a quarter of the bakeries are operating due to a shortage in gas and electricity.

There are 47 bakeries in Gaza. However, 27 of them have not been operating for some time now and the rest are unable to open every day. There is only enough flour in Gaza to last two weeks unless more supplies are brought in.

As an aid worker I have seen poverty deepening in Gaza since the blockade began 18 months ago. This year has been one of the worst years I can remember in terms of the desperation people are feeling – not knowing if there will be enough food in the markets, if there will be electricity or fuel.

Over the past 12 months Islamic Relief has delivered food assistance to 40,000 families, in addition to supplying vast amounts of medical equipment, hygiene kits and kitchen tools to half a million people.

At the moment Islamic Relief is able to source food from suppliers here in Gaza. In a few days we will begin emergency food distribution. 2008 was a bitter year for Gazans – it looks like 2009 will be the same.


December 30 2008

On Saturday Gazan school children were supposed to be sitting their exams – schools should have been full. This is exam time but instead of sitting at their desks children hide in their homes. The intensity of the bombing is effecting me – but I’m a grown man so what about the children? I can see how my nephews and nieces are being affected. Tala, my youngest niece, is only five years old – when she hears the explosions she rushes to her mothers lap – both mother and daughter are terrified. A lot of the time parents try telling their children that the bombing is the sound of thunder – but Gazan children are not ordinary children –they know bombing when they hear it.

The panic caused by the strikes and the shelling from the sky and the sea has an immense impact on the psychology of Gazan children. Islamic Relief has been running a project in Gaza for a number of years trying to deal with psychological trauma suffered by children. The program has taken many stapes forward – however the current bombing means we will have to start all over again – sadly I feel the need for counselling will be greater.

The security situation is getting worse. My colleagues and I make sure we walk to our office – going by car is far too dangerous. We phone the office as soon as we step out of our houses. Then along the way we phone the office about four times at specific points – we do this so they know we are safe. Once we get to the office we ring our families to tell them we have made is safely. This is what life in Gaza is like in these days. Even a simple walk to work could be life threatening. This is why most of the shops and businesses are closed – the safest place to be – if there is one – is to stay indoors. But as humanitarian workers we have to be out in the community, our job is to help people.

We are now communicating with suppliers outside of the Gaza Strip. We are trying to prepare for what lies ahead in the coming days. We do not know if the bombing will stop or if it will get worse – but we have to prepared- and unfortunately that means preparing for the worst.

December 28 2008

the shops are running out of suppliesWe are working round the clock now to try and get as much medical aid to the hospitals.   The fact that nobody knows when the next bomb will fall makes our job very dangerous 
 
As the bombing continues, the hospitals are reaching breaking point. We are doing our best to source the aid needed from local suppliers and our existing stocks. We have enough at the moment but the way things are going we need to start getting aid in from outside Gaza as stocks will be running out very soon. The hospitals were already low on supplies before this crisis – they can barely cope now.

Yesterday we delivered five trucks of aid to the ministry of health in Gaza – they then distributed this to five hospitals. The hospitals seem to be the focus of the aid effort at the moment.

We just met the UN and other aid agencies to help co-ordinate the aid effort and make sure there is no duplication.

I can’t bear to think what will happen if the bombing continues. There are not enough beds in the hospitals and they are severely short of equipment, including x-ray machines.

But as we go out and asses the damage, we can see other needs. There is a shortage of food and flour and people are rushing to the bakeries but there’s not enough bread.

I can’t imagine the fuel lasting much longer. Due to the bombings, people are staying in their homes – they are too frightened to venture out. Aid workers are not exempt – the fact that nobody knows when the next bomb will fall makes our job very dangerous.  
The urgent need for Gazans will soon be food distribution

The shops are closed and so getting food is not easy. Trying to live in electricity blackouts is difficult – so working becomes that much harder.

Soon we will be distributing food as this is going to be an urgent need in the coming days if the bombing doesn’t stop. That’s our plan but we are now working to make sure we can source what is needed.

Every day is bringing fresh challenges and we have to find ways of dealing with them. The lack of supplies in hospitals, the food shortage and of course the fear that stalks the streets – I only hope and pray that tomorrow is different.

December 27 2008

I was coming home after visiting a friend at 11.30 on Saturday, when I heard the horrific sound of three huge explosions. Then a series of explosions rocked Gaza City. I live in the centre near a number of police buildings which were targeted first.

As I rushed home, I saw the main Gaza police station had been destroyed. Suddenly, another missile hit it again and, along with dozens of people nearby, I ran away. When I got home I found almost all the glass from the windows and doors was shattered due to the explosions.

I ran to the Shifa hospital to check on casualties and was shocked by the number of cars and ambulances bringing in the injured. There was panic everywhere.

In less than half an hour, the hospital was full of casualties. There was no space for more, yet the casualties kept coming. At the hospital I saw something I have never seen before – dead bodies outside on the floor. Everyone in Gaza has a relative or a friend killed or injured after these attacks.

Islamic Relief is working hard to get medical aid to the hospitals, which desperately need disposable equipment. We spoke to the committee at the Shifa Hospital to find out what’s needed. We are now supplying it with syringes, sponges, surgical gloves and other such equipment.

Hospitals are so overwhelmed that they are now using normal beds for intensive care patients. Everything is so desperate. Only 50% of the ambulances are working. If the attacks go on for another week the doctors are going to have to start using old and traditional ways of treating the injured – that means no anaesthetic. We have to get new supplies in!

For two years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been witnessing daily crises over shortages of food, fuel, health services in addition to severe poverty and unemployment. We have seen the closure of crossings and the banning of patients from travelling for medical treatment.

All these restrictions have slowly sucked the life out of Gazans and it’s no exaggeration when I say that trying to live daily life is a struggle. But Gaza has not witnessed anything like this onslaught since 1967.

I used to describe what was going on in Gaza as a catastrophe, now I have no words. I received news that the brother of one of my work colleagues has been killed in the attacks. They had been looking for him all day and discovered him under the ruins of a destroyed building.

 

 

       
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