I Am Determined to Stay Strong for the Children of Gaza

Osama-damo

Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children's Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world, wherever there is need. The below piece reflects the opinions of the staff member quoted, reflecting his perceptions from living and working on the ground in Gaza. Save the Children is currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. As a global organization, Save the Children is equally concerned about the well-being of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza, and supports an end to the violence against both peoples.,

My heart sank when the 72 hour ceasefire ended after just 90 minutes last Friday. It plumbed new depths when a missile struck outside another school on Sunday killing at least ten people.

I am determined to stay strong for the children of Gaza, however I admit that hope for the future fades with every bomb and rocket strike.

The long sleepless nights I’ve spent listening to buildings destroyed by missiles and shells have been terrifying, but I am equally worried about the future of Gaza when the fighting stops.

Gaza – where before this conflict 80 percent of the population relied on foreign aid – is in ruin. Every attack pushes its people deeper into a life of poverty and loss.

Israel has been attacked too, but its missile defense system has thwarted nearly every rocket sent its way.

This week marks one month since the first missiles were launched, and more than two weeks since the ground offensive began. The death toll stands at more than 1,800, including over 1,000 civilians and 350 children.

How many more days the fighting will last, nobody knows.

Before the conflict Gaza was stymied by the blockade – its fishing zone had been progressively reduced from 20 miles to three miles over the past 20 years, borders were closed meaning building materials could not enter making construction impossible, and imports and exports have been severely restricted.

Recent air strikes on Gaza’s sole power plant and the water network mean families are facing a complete collapse of essential services, as electricity and water supplies run out.

Health facilities are also badly affected, with some hospitals warning they only have enough fuel to run electricity generators for another four to five days.

This could leave nearly one million children trapped in a war zone without access to electricity, water or medical services.  Gaza_1

Residents are receiving electricity for a maximum of two hours a day, if at all. I haven’t had electricity for five days now. No water supplies are being delivered and sewage pumps are not working, meaning raw sewage is being pumped onto the streets, raising serious concerns about outbreaks of disease in overcrowded shelters.

When the fighting stops work will begin rebuilding a shattered city. But where do you start?

There are still badly damaged buildings awaiting repair from the 2012 military offensive, and homes destroyed during the 2009 conflict that are yet to be rebuilt.

Gaza was still in recovery mode when this round of fighting erupted.

The job for aid agencies will be massive, arguably without compare. For Save the Children it will range from rehabilitating damaged kindergartens and training teachers in psychosocial support for students to helping patch up hospitals, repairing key infrastructure and child protection services.

And all this before attempting to address the poverty that plagued Gaza before the conflict. Creating employment, livelihoods and civil society. Making Gaza sustainable.

None of this will be possible while the blockade stands – ending it must be part of the solution.

For many, however, life in Gaza will never return to normal. Their homes have been destroyed, livelihoods expunged and their friends and family members killed. How do you come back from that?

What I do know is that the international community must strenuously push for a new ceasefire and find a way to get all parties to uphold it.

At the very least the living must have the chance to bury the dead and see what’s left of their homes. Meanwhile aid agencies must be able to safely help the sick and injured as well as get essential services up and running.

After that, we need a lasting peace agreement including an end to the blockade so Gaza can begin to rebuild.

This is the third conflict between Gaza and Israel I have lived through, as I wrote in the Herald Sun last week, and it’s by far the worst. In Gaza there has been too much loss of life, and also on the Israeli side. It must end, it has to end now.

In the past 30 days I have left my apartment five times – twice during the two failed ceasefires to help with aid distributions with Save the Children and three times to get food for my family.

I live in an apartment with my wife and mother, but some nights we had up to 18 people taking shelter including five children.

We sleep in the corridors where the building is strongest and jump at the slightest of sounds. The other day my wife put a bottle of water down loudly and I ducked for cover, thinking it was another air strike.

Another time we heard a loud whistling noise and ran to the corridor, only to realize it was a car with a high-pitched engine going past.

I have feared for my life too many times.

Let the bloodshed and fighting stop on both sides so we can at least begin the task of rebuilding Gaza.

Learn more about Save the Children's life-saving work on the Gaza/Israel conflict. 

Gaza/Israel: Where Evacuation is No Game

Osama-damo

Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children’s Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

At the bottom of my apartment building in Gaza two girls about six years old sit on the ground, laughing as they hurriedly pack items into their backpacks.

Intrigued, I ask them what game they are playing.

They tell me it’s called ‘evacuation’.

My heart sinks. These girls should not know the terror of an evacuation, yet now they are living through their third military conflict. These girls were taught the basics of surviving conflict before they were even taught the alphabet.

I too am living through the third major escalation of violence in Gaza since 2008, however, this time is completely different. It is more terrifying, the outlook even more grim and the mounting casualty list – especially children – growing at a far greater rate.

I write this at 2am from the confines of my apartment with my family. We are all awake and have been since 7am. It is impossible to sleep.

Though the streets below are eerily quiet, the noises we can’t block out are the constant bee-like hum of drones flying around and the terrifying thump of bombs as they smash into and explode on nearby buildings, as well as occasional screams mixed with windows and glass smashing. The air outside is thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosives. 

Gaza-blog

The buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

I have not left our apartment in days apart from hurried trips to get more food, I feel like I am a prisoner here.

Each day the situation gets more desperate.

Gaza is a city full of apartment buildings, we have power for only three hours a day and without electricity there is no way to pump water up to homes. Half of Gaza’s water services have been disrupted because of infrastructure damage caused by bombings, and households are running out of drinking water reserves.

Also, at least 85 schools and 23 medical facilities have sustained damage because of their proximity to targeted sites, and many other schools are being used to house those who have fled their homes.

And this all in a city where 80 percent of the population depended on humanitarian aid before the conflict started.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is joke about the situation, as morbid as this sounds. The last offensive in 2012 took place in the winter, and back then we told our children the bombs were actually lightning strikes and thunder.

But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour, and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

Each day the fear within me is building, mostly for the impact this will have on children.

What will they grow up to be? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain, how will they ever view peace? Many children on both sides see this life as normal now, and that is a great tragedy.

For Save the Children – operating in Gaza since 1973 – the challenge is enormous and our staff often put themselves in danger to help.

Yesterday two staff risked their lives going to our warehouse to get medical supplies, then moved them to a hospital that was running out of supplies.

It is heroic acts like this that help public services like hospitals to keep running. Hospitals must have access to the equipment and medicine they need to treat the growing number of sick and wounded.

Save the Children is aiming to distribute 2500 hygiene kits and 2500 baby kits in the coming days, and will also open child friendly spaces once it is safe to do so. These provide children vital psychosocial support, and a place to forget about what they have been through.

No matter what, we will continue to provide vital services for children and families on both sides of the conflict, but ultimately the violence needs to stop.

Save the Children is calling for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the violence that has caused immense suffering to children and their families on both sides.

Beyond a ceasefire, we know that only a negotiated agreement between all parties to the conflict will bring about a lasting difference, including an end to the blockade in Gaza.

No child – Palestinian or Israeli – should have to live through rocket attacks, evacuations and military conflict, let alone three before their seventh birthday like the girls downstairs. For our children’s sake, let the violence end. Donate to Save the Children’s Gaza Children in Crisis Fund.

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world – wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children, as a global organisation, is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza.