Humanitarians on Gaza’s front line — Global Issues

Mouhammed, the director of emergency and disaster management at the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), wakes up at 6:30 AM, catching only about three hours of sleep these days. He shares a room in the emergency operation centre in the north of Gaza Strip with 25 PRCS volunteers.

Since 7 October, intensified hostilities in Gaza have led to grave humanitarian consequences leaving tens of thousands dead and injured across the Strip. Homes, schools, medical facilities and other infrastructure have also been destroyed.

During these challenging times, PRCS has been one of the main actors providing support in rescue operations and assistance, in addition to facilitating the entrance of humanitarian assistance via Rafah crossing.

By 7 AM, Mouhammed’s already dividing responsibilities among teams.

“We recover bodies, transfer the injured and people with cancer or kidney diseases to hospitals and evacuate civilians especially the elderly and children to less dangerous areas. We also support on searching for missing people and reuniting families who are scattered across the Strip,” Mouhammed says.

“One of the scenes that will forever stay with me is when we admitted a severely injured child who was still holding onto a clean loaf of bread. She insisted that we keep it with her, as that was meant for dinner.”

Mouhammed hasn’t seen his wife and three children, who were displaced to the south when the hostilities began. Recurrent power and telecommunication cuts, due to fuel shortages, have made it difficult for scattered families to stay connected.

“I miss those moments with my family, cherishing their laughter and seeing the joy on their faces,” Mouhammed says.

Like Mouhammed, Dr. Ahmed Muhanna, an anesthetist and the director of Awda Hospital in Tal Al Zataar Camp in the north, hasn’t seen his three children and wife since the start of the war.

“The number of injured people that we receive is huge. The capacity we have is limited and supplies are running out. We also receive displaced people with inflammations, infections and skin maladies due to overcrowded shelters.”

Out of 36 hospitals in the Gaza Strip operating before the war, 14 are functional. This includes two small hospitals partially operating and admitting patients in the north, with only limited services and without surgery capacity. The remaining 12 hospitals in the south are partially functional, as of 6 December.

“What keeps me going is seeing the need for huge health support. Sustaining the operations of this hospital is crucial. I am not alone in this; my fellow doctors, nurses and the entire team are dedicated to providing assistance, even amid exhaustion and being apart from their families,” Ahmed says.

As of 3 December, up to 1.9 million people in Gaza – nearly 85 per cent of the population – were estimated to be internally displaced. Among those, nearly 1.2 million are taking shelter in the 156 facilities of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) across Gaza.

Now internally displaced, Hala, a mother of four, works as a programme coordinator at Alianza-ActionAid International NGO, which provides services to affected women including psychosocial support, cash assistance, among others.

Hala has been displaced six times, sometimes fleeing at midnight. Her family currently resides in Rafah, south of Gaza, in an abandoned apartment with two other families. Sleep eludes her at night, interrupted by her children’s screams during hostilities and occasional visits by cockroaches.

“I think about our home, newly renovated just a few months ago,” Hala says, remembering her life before. “I worry about our beautiful cat, Smoky, whom I had to leave behind. I left some food for him and opened the windows to allow him to leave. I wonder what happened to him.”

Gazans of all ages are stepping up to support their communities, including 27-year-old Foad Abu Fanoun, a project coordinator at Awda NGO. He is now responsible for providing hot meals to patients, displaced families and staff at Awda Hospital in Nusairat Camp in the north.

“Every day we have to provide 600 hot meals, which is the only food that everyone survives on. Aid items, including food assistance entering Gaza, are scarce compared to needs. Finding supplies in the market is quite challenging, so we mostly cook with whatever is available,” Foad says.

“Every afternoon, I developed the habit of gathering stray dogs and cats nearby and feeding them the remaining scraps of meals. It gives me some comfort,” says Foad.

“I miss simple pleasures of sitting with my family on the balcony, chatting over a cup of tea and watching the full moon,” he says, reminiscing about the pleasant times.

Ayman Shublaq, a World Food Programme staff member while supporting in the transshipment area near Rafah crossing.


Ayman Shublaq, a World Food Programme staff member while supporting in the transshipment area near Rafah crossing.

“We’ve been displaced to the south and, like many other families, struggled to find bread or food,” shares Ayman Shublaq, a World Food Programme (WFP) staff member in Gaza. Ayman has witnessed several wars that impacted Gaza before, but there’s nothing like what he’s seeing now. “When I leave home for work or errands, I’m never sure if I’ll return to see my family again.”

Ayman works with WFP teams to provide food assistance to those in need. However, they face immense challenges, including the destruction of bakeries. The security situation and poor communications further restrain their movement and aid delivery.

During the humanitarian pause, Ayman joined one of the humanitarian convoys, delivering food to families cut off from assistance in weeks. Returning to Gaza City, his birthplace and family’s home, was emotional as he found it in rubble. “I could see the suffering in people’s eyes before they even spoke.”

WFP assisted about 250,000 people during the recent seven day pause in hostilities. This includes distribution of food parcels, fresh bread, hot meals, electronic voucher redemption in the few open markets and others.

The UN and its humanitarian partners in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are working to meet acute needs, having launched a Flash Appeal requiring US$1.2 billion to implement the response plan in support of 2.2 million people in the Gaza Strip and 500,000 in the West Bank.

Partners are providing assistance and services, using the resources they have. This includes providing drinking water, food, medical supplies and consultations, hygiene kits and psychological services.

Sharek Youth Forum, a youth-led organization, is one of the active local actors on the ground providing support to displaced families inside and outside shelters.

“We’re working to fill the gaps and find solutions within the resources and capacity we have. Despite our efforts, the level of aid is still far from sufficient to meet the needs,” says Nidal, Sharek’s coordinator of emergency and disaster management in Gaza Strip.

Additionally, Sharek arranges recreational activities to help children in shelters retain some sense of normalcy.

“We notice children are experiencing fear of what they have been through. Many of them have lost their loved ones and homes overnight,” Nidal says.

Weeks after the conflict started, the people of Gaza are exhausted. They have nowhere safe to go, and very little to survive on. They require everything from basic necessities to crucial health services and dignified shelters, but above all, they need the silence of guns.

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