Wednesday June 1, 2022

by Mohammed Ismail (Safeguarding Officer, Islamic Relief Palestine)

 

In May 2021, a devastating 11-day escalation in violence rocked Gaza. More than 250 people – including 66 children – were killed in the territory, and nearly 2,000 residents were injured. Rockets destroyed around 300 buildings as well as damaging hospitals and thousands of homes. Mohammad Ismail , Islamic Relief’s safeguarding officer in Gaza, describes the slow pace of recovery and the endurance of the people of Gaza.

More than 12 months on from the latest escalation and things have not improved much. When a ceasefire was agreed last year, there were hopes that the situation in Gaza might improve, but many are questioning if anything has really changed.

Palestinians in Gaza still endure hard times, with restrictions on their movement, soaring rates of unemployment and an unprecedented rise in the prices of most basic goods including bread, flour and fuel.

The effects of the escalation in violence touched the lives of every family in the Gaza Strip and many are still coping with the fallout, including some of my colleagues at Islamic Relief.

 

‘Nothing has changed’

The Al Koluk family lived through the worst of the escalation. At the time the large family lived in two neighbouring homes in the centre of Gaza City. Twenty-two of its 38 members died when their homes were bombed, and the family is now scattered, living in different houses throughout the city.

Along with her home, Em Waseem – the mother-in-law of my colleague Rami – lost several members of her family.

“I have lost my husband, my sons and daughter. I have lost my grandchildren who called me ‘granny’. Family meant everything,” she told me through tears.

“They came to our house thinking it was in a safe area. Nowhere is safe in Gaza. Now, I’ve lost them all. I could never replace them with all the treasures of the world.

“I will never forget them. I pray we will meet in heaven.”

Four members of the Al Koluk family died during an airstrike that destroyed their house.

Despite repeated promises that her home will be rebuilt soon, allowing the family to return, reconstruction efforts remain stalled. “I rented a house near our destroyed building. I wanted to watch the rebuilding of our house. Yet a year has passed and nothing’s changed,” Em Waseem said.

Officials in Gaza have reported that around 1,148 housing units were destroyed during the escalation. Since its end, only 50 houses have been rebuilt. In addition to those destroyed, around 15,000 housing units were damaged, and while many homeowners have managed to make some repairs themselves, others are still waiting for assistance.

The reconstruction effort is reliant on political progress being made between Israel and the Palestinians, as many of the materials and equipment needed for construction are currently restricted or entirely prohibited from entering Gaza. But while waiting for politicians to make it to the negotiating table, the people of Gaza who just want to live a normal life are suffering.

 

A ‘beautiful but painful’ Ramadan

Maali, a logistics officer at Islamic Relief Palestine, also lost his home last year. Alhamdulillah, Maali and his family were not in the property when it was damaged. They later watched bulldozers demolish their home, which was too damaged to be repaired, leaving only a vacant piece of land.

“My kids managed to rescue the Ramadan decorations from our house. We hung them in the flat we’re renting this Ramadan. It was beautiful, but painful for me,” Maali told me sadly. “I always loved my house. Me, my kids and my wife took care of every detail – the paint, curtains and decorations.

“We also put lots of plants on the roof and my son, Mohammed, liked to raise pigeons there. Now, there is no place for the birds.”

Maali’s family’s flower shop was destroyed last year.
Ali was forced to restart the business in a new location but he and his family hope to return to their home one day.

Like many young people in Gaza, Maali’s children have struggled to find work, but they did not give in. They started a small flower shop under their house with Ali, the eldest son, delivering flowers on his bicycle. He was making a success of the business, but the shop was destroyed along with the home. Ali was forced to start the business again in a new location, but he and Maali still hope to be able to return to their old neighbourhood one day.

 

Back to square one

Maali and Em Waseem’s stories are just 2 among tens of thousands, but they show how even everyday challenges like finding a job or building a house can seem like insurmountable obstacles at times in Gaza. The remarkable thing is how, despite these hurdles, the people of Gaza remain determined to carry on and to enjoy their small, happy moments to the maximum.

Gazans must juggle the struggles of life that we all face, while also navigating a blockade, unemployment, a weak economy, political conflict and even airstrikes. Every time a new period of violence ends, they vow that it will be the last and that the coming days will be better.

But the unfortunate reality is that every eruption of violence drags any progress back to square one. As I write these lines, news reports warn that another eruption could be imminent. But my wish is for an end to the fighting. The losses are just too great, especially for people who are already vulnerable.

 

More than a year has now passed since the last escalation in Gaza, and, while we are thankful for the end to the violence, we are still waiting for the boom of peace and prosperity that many hoped would come to Gaza after the ceasefire.

We heard promises that the economy would grow, unemployment would decline, reconstruction would begin, and people would be able to move freely and live peacefully and safely. The last 12 months have shown little progress towards making any of these dreams a reality. In addition to the violent destruction of so much of Gaza, social welfare that helps tens of thousands of families to survive has also been frozen since May 2021, leaving many without funds to cover even their basic needs.

 

Deep scars

Islamic Relief was on the ground as soon as it was safe to do so following the escalation last May, providing medicine and medical supplies, emergency shelter and counselling to those impacted by the violence.

It was immediately clear that the escalation had left deep physical and psychological scars. We began working to repair some of the infrastructure and have so far refurbished 2 health clinics and 6 schools that had suffered damage. We have also repaired water and sanitation facilities at 27 other schools.

Islamic Relief was on the ground as soon as it was safe to do so following the escalation last May, providing essential aid.

More than 1,000 patients have received essential surgery, and thousands more have benefited from medical aid and equipment thanks to the generosity of our donors and partners.

We have helped 170 graduates find employment opportunities and supported 25 small businesses affected by the escalation to get back on their feet.

Our work in Gaza is changing lives for the better, but aid can only do so much. Only an immediate end to the blockade will give the people of Gaza a chance at the happy, healthy prosperous future that they deserve.

Until then, we will continue to stand with the people of Gaza, supporting them when they need us, for as long as they need us.

For 25 years, the generosity of our donors has made it possible for Islamic Relief to support vulnerable people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Help us to continue our vital work by donating today.

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