Gaza Crisis

Jul 31, 2014

Jul Oxfam in Gaza: "the most difficult work I have ever done"

31
2014

Waseem is Oxfam Food Security and Livelihoods Officer in Gaza, where more than 200,000 people have fled their homes with nowhere safe to go. Oxfam is there providing vital water and sanitation, and food vouchers to help people cope with the crisis.

"I had to flee my house in Shujaiya in eastern Gaza two days before the terrible killing and massive destruction that happened there. I received three phone calls from the Israeli military warning me to leave the area but there was no safe place to go to in Gaza. I took my wife, children, brother and mother to a relative's house.

Above: Waseem at the food voucher distribution centre (left). Oxfam and local partner YEC are delivering safe water to more than 40,000 people who were forced to flee their homes. More than 215,000 people have now fled and have nowhere safe to go. Many are sheltering in schools - more than 100 of which have also been damaged by Israeli shelling and airstrikes. Oxfam teams deliver water to this school in Beach Refugee Camp. Photo: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam 

I've been working with our local partners to distribute food vouchers. Our partners have been exerting tremendous effort to deliver aid despite the dangers. This has been the most difficult work I have ever done. Imagine you are travelling in completely empty streets with only the sounds of explosions everywhere. I saw a tank shell falling on a house and completely burning it. My thoughts were shared between my family that I left behind and the people waiting for me to help them get food. We are talking about food, the most basic need for people to survive in dignity."

Last weekend a brief 12 hour cessation of hostilities was announced in Gaza. Oxfam teams were able to deliver more vital water and aid to people who have fled their homes and lost everything in the violence of the past few weeks. Soon afterwards, the violence resumed. A permanent ceasefire, and an end to the blockade of Gaza, is urgently needed before countless more lives are lost.

Oxfam's Arwa Mhanna travelled around Gaza City in the brief window of calm:

I went to see my family for the first time since the start of this crisis. They live just five minutes drive away, but it has been too dangerous to visit. My mother was so happy to see me. My niece (6) and nephew(9) jumped for joy. But when I asked them about the past few weeks they fell silent and just stared. 

So many children have been killed, injured or fled their homes these past weeks. Tens of thousands of children in Gaza will need psychological care for many years to deal with the horrors they have witnessed. I fear whole generations will be scarred for life.

Clockwise from top: During a brief cessation of hostilities, families returned to Shujaiya in eastern Gaza, scene of some of the heaviest Israeli bombing. Rescue workers and paramedics at the scene of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. A young girl collects water for her family, surrounded by debris from the latest airstrikes. Photos: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam

And not only the children. I saw one of my Oxfam colleagues... it's only three weeks since I saw her last, but I hardly recognized her pale and exhausted face. She was still in shock as she told me how she fled the Israeli bombing around her home, running through streets of dead bodies and homes turned to rubble.

More than 215,000 people across Gaza have fled and sought refuge in schools, mosques, churches and hospitals. I went to Al Shifa hospital, where Oxfam and our local partners are delivering safe water to families sheltering there. They are in desperate conditions and have almost nothing - little food, water or shelter. But they have no other option. It's the safest place they could find, even though many hospitals and health clinics have also been bombed and shelled. I spoke with one of the doctors, who was completely exhausted after days treating dozens of injured civilians. His eyes were full of tears as he told me of the casualties and the conditions people are living in, and how he wished he could help them more. I had no words to express how I felt. 

Outside, the streets that have been empty for the past few weeks were full of people rushing around. Gaza's streets are always busy at this time of year as people prepare for the Eid Festival at the end of Ramadan, buying new clothes and chocolates and toys for their children. This time it was different. People took advantage of the brief calm to visit family and buy supplies before the bombs start to fall again. People searched for the dead and checked on their homes. In one area, dozens of dead bodies were pulled from beneath the rubble of destroyed buildings - they have been there for days as medical teams have been unable to access the area. I received heartbreaking news that an old colleague was killed when his ambulance was hit by an airstrike.

The death toll has now passed 1,000, with thousands more injured - the vast majority of them civilians. The numbers are huge, but they are more than statistics - these are real people who had families and friends, jobs and dreams. Everyone in Gaza is affected. 

There is such pain in my heart to see so many people going through so much suffering, with no chance to escape. But I still hope that this will end soon. The ceasefire lasted only 12 hours, and as I write the violence has returned. On Monday, Al Shifa hospital - where I met so many brave people - was hit, with many casualties being reported. I don't know if the people I met are alive or dead. 

The killing must stop for good.  I hope the world is listening to the mothers, fathers and children of Gaza and will help bring peace before more of them are killed. 

Oxfam's Arwa Mhanna on Eid in Gaza

Jul 23, 2014

Jul A child killed every hour in Gaza

23
2014

Gaza – a place where a child is being killed every hour, where 600 Palestinians have died and where 3,500 have been injured. Of the dead, 74% are civilians, including 147 children. More than 120,000 people have fled their homes but the borders are shut and people have nowhere safe to go.

44% of Gaza territory has now been declared areas that people must leave. The remaining 56% is also dangerous and faces frequent airstrikes.

Around 1.2 million people – two thirds of Gaza's population – have no or very limited access to water and sanitation services. At least 18 medical facilities have been hit by airstrikes and shelling, including hospitals, ambulances and health clinics, while 90 schools have been damaged by shelling.

Half of Gaza's bakeries are not operating and have stocks to last one more week. More than 135,000 people need food assistance. And at least 116,000 children need psychosocial care after their homes have been destroyed or they have had to flee or had family members killed.

These stark figures show how the conflict in Gaza and Israel is having particularly devastating consequences for civilians in Gaza, affecting every aspect of life. Gaza has been under Israeli blockade for the past seven years, which has devastated the economy, left most people unable to leave, and restricted access to essential services. The latest violence is making a dire situation even worse, and will have an impact on people's lives and livelihoods for a long time to come.

Oxfam condemns all attacks on civilians by all sides, and is calling for an immediate ceasefire. Long term peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike will only come with a lasting solution that ends the blockade and ensures people in Gaza can have basic rights. The below photos by Mohammed Al Baba show what life is now like for people in Gaza:

The ongoing airstrikes have destroyed everything from family's homes to fishermen's boats, water systems to health centres. These agricultural greenhouses in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and pumpkins. They were destroyed in strikes earlier this week.

Dozens of fishing boats and more than 1,000 nets have been destroyed. Sabri Bakr's family has been fishing for generations and it is his only source of income. "Before this military operation started, the situation was already very bad. Now my boat is totally burnt and I have nothing at all. I really do not know what will I do now, or how I will even provide food to my children.” 
 
Years of restrictions on fishermen's movement have left them struggling to make a living. Under the blockade they are only allowed a maximum of six nautical miles out at sea, and are frequently shot at or arrested by the Israeli navy even within the so-called "fishing zone." Oxfam supports fishermen in Gaza with equipment and technical advice.
 
 
Doctors at the Oxfam-supported Al Awda Hospital in northern Gaza treat a young boy. The hospital is struggling to cope and faces chronic shortages of fuel, with Gaza suffering 12-16 hour daily power cuts under the blockade. "About 40 percent of the casualties we've treated are children, and our medical staff are working 24-hour shifts. If more fuel is not available the hospital will have to shut down many of its services," said Ahmed Manna, Al Awda's Medical Director.
 
 
One of Gaza's busiest streets stands empty. Many shops and factories have closed and people are scared to go out. Su'ad, a mother of six, works at a food processing unit supported by Oxfam, producing pastries and other baked goods. 
 
"My children and I are barely able to sleep due to the continuous airstrikes. We are in the middle of Ramadan – the holy month – which is usually our busiest and most profitable time of the year as people spend more money on food and gifts for relatives. This time last year we made $1,000 a week. But since the bombing started we haven't been able to sell anything. Three of my children go to college and their tuition fees depend on the money I make during Ramadan." 
 
 
Amid the rising casualties, the Oxfam-supported Al Awda Hospital continues to deliver babies. The hospital is the only one in north Gaza with a specialized obstetric unit for pregnant women. Abeer Al Madhoun gave birth to a healthy young boy this week: "I was so scared to be targeted on my way to the hospital. During the delivery I heard bombs falling around the hospital. I was scared that my baby would be hurt. I'm thankful to the medical teams who are doing everything possible despite the danger surrounding them. My happiness is mixed with fear and sad feelings for the children who have lost their lives." 
 
 
Children in Rafah, southern Gaza, collect water from one of the working public taps. Numerous water systems and wells have been badly damaged in the airstrikes. Sewage plants have also been damaged, with millions of litres of raw sewage spilling into streets, farms and the sea. Even before the current escalation around 90 percent of water in Gaza was already unsafe to drink. The outflow of sewage risks further contaminating water supplies, increasing the threat of disease. Oxfam teams are running public health campaigns to try and reduce the risk.
 
 
Meleh Al Shaer grows pumpkins on his farm in the southern Gaza Strip. The farm was completely destroyed a few days ago. Thousands of farmers like Meleh have lost large amounts of land and produce – something it will take a long time to recover from. Oxfam supports farmers in Gaza with agricultural equipment and specialist advice. 
 
 
Some shops have managed to stay open. Oxfam is providing food vouchers to hundreds of families who have been forced to flee their homes – so that they can buy food to eat and to support local businesses and trade.

'The drones never leave Gaza skies...'

Listen to Oxfam's Arwa Mhanna daily diaries on living under the shadow of drones in Gaza. Recorded: 15 July 2014

"I hope everyone will be able to spend the rest of Ramadan in peace..."

Listen to Oxfam's Arwa Mhanna in Gaza on the struggle to observe Ramadan under siege. Recorded: 16 July 2014