Rania Elhilou, ANERA's communications officer in Gaza

Crisis in Gaza 2014, A Daily Journal

August 27th, 2014 by ANERA

Here are some words from our communications officer in Gaza, Rania Elhilou, who has asked that we share what she is going through.

Keep in mind that her story is just one from hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in Gaza who are fearing for their lives every day during this latest bombardment from Israel.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The ANERA office opened its doors today. All of our 16 staff went in.

Some 15 hours into the ceasefire this morning, the ANERA office opened its doors. All of our 16 staff went in. And you know what our greeting was to each other? “Hamdillah ‘ala Salam’tkom! (Glad to know you are still alive!)” Being alive is a HUGE achievement. We checked on each other’s families and homes and found that everyone and everything mostly came through intact. And our office is still there with everything still as it was.

On my journey to work this morning, as I looked out at the rubble everywhere, I tried to take some deep breaths, but they caught on the dust that hangs in the air. After 51 days of pummeling, the streets look very sad. My family didn’t sleep at all last night. We couldn’t believe that the ceasefire is real. We waited and listened for planes and explosions. But we didn’t hear them! It appeared to be real.

We all consider ourselves survivors.

After our greetings, hugs and handshakes in the office this morning, we immediately got to work with calls and coordination of relief deliveries. This is the fuel that keeps us all going. We all consider ourselves survivors. We exist. Why do we exist? Because our existence has a meaning. That meaning is to help the people of Gaza to recover and rebuild their lives and the dignity they deserve.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It has been terrible here. There seems to be a new policy of bombing high rise buildings. In the past couple days many have come down. This is a particularly cruel thing, as each building houses hundreds of people. Families are given 5 or 10 minutes of warning to flee and then within seconds the entire building is brought crumbling down to the ground. It used to be that there might be a single apartment in a building that was identified as a target and it would get hit. But now the whole building is brought down. 

Imagine, each family in the building has poured their savings and love into making a home for themselves where they could maintain a little dignity and at least some notion of safety. Now they are on the streets as all of the schools are full to capacity with displaced people. There are reports that a full QUARTER of Gaza’s population is homeless.

In the meantime, I look out my window and see people sitting in front of buildings in plastic chairs. They sit there to get a breath of air. Those of us lucky to still have homes have a complicated relationship with them. We feel so fortunate to still have a place to be, with all of our things around us, but we hate them too. They have become our prison.

Every home in my family has been affected by the bombings – from broken windows, to imploded doors to dust and rubble all over everything.

We are hearing explosions during the day, but they are not so frequent or close. It’s the nights that are really scary and dangerous. So, my father goes out for a couple hours in daylight to check on my parents’ home. While he is away we call him a lot and worry every minute. Every home in my family has been affected by the bombings – from broken windows, to imploded doors to dust and rubble all over everything.

In a piece of semi good news: we have 6 hours of electricity a day now. We consider this a luxury. There was a long period when we were getting nothing after the power plant was bombed. Somehow, someway, someone has gotten out and managed to fix 60% of the network. It’s like a miracle.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

The bombings continue. It’s endless but it seems more intense at night when the noise echoes through the empty streets.  We are very cautious when it starts to get dark. Everyone stays inside, afraid of what might happen if they go into the streets. But they’re afraid of what could happen to them inside as well. There is no escape from this insanity.

My girls are not eating as well as before. They are anxious and nervous.

My girls are not eating as well as before. They are anxious and nervous. When there is some electricity we play a movie or cartoon to calm them down and keep them distracted from the horrors around them. We are still so shaken after the 12-story apartment building was hit and collapsed. It was like magic. First there is a building and in a couple of minutes, there is nothing.  

My co-worker Sabah summed up all our fears now: “What else they will do? What are we waiting for? Will our home be targeted ? Just more terror, more death, more destruction. All of us are very afraid, my family, my brothers, my friends and my relatives who live in tall buildings are living in more horror waiting to be displaced.” 

Once again there is talk of negotiations for another ceasefire but we no longer believe the news.  We will only trust it when it happens and even then the bombings continue right up to the time that is set, so we are very cautious.

The ANERA office is still closed but our emergency relief continues. We are delivering a lot of water, food and hygiene items all over Gaza. I keep thinking of a woman I spoke to the other day at a shelter who said, upon receiving a special women’s dignity kit from ANERA, that it helps restore her dignity not have to ask for things like a toothbrush or a personal hygiene item. Dignity is something we cannot surrender.

It’s hard to keep up our spirits and our hope after 48 days of bombings. When I see so many homes, offices, shops destroyed in this small city, I can only describe it as unbelievable and insane. When will it end?

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

The bombings have been incredibly intense over the past couple days. A 12-story building near our apartment was bombed and it completely collapsed. The noise of its falling echoed around the area as did the sounds of people screaming and running in the streets. I saw a video of it online, which seems to be getting a lot of attention. These things are happening from the north to the south of our little strip of land. People are escaping with their lives and nothing else. Now they have no place to go.

Today is normally the first day of school. But not for children in Gaza.

And our children have no schools.Today is normally the first day of school. But not for children in Gaza. Instead of being filled with students happy to return to their studies and their friends, they are filled with families lying on the floor on mattresses, eating out of tins and cleaning themselves from jerry cans of water. Our schools are shelters now for the ever increasing number of people who have no homes any more. My daughter Joudy was so excited about first grade. When will she be able to go, I wonder?

The ANERA office has been closed since last Wednesday, when the ceasefire ended. This doesn’t mean we aren’t making things happen. Over the past couple days we have distributed thousands of food parcels and women’s dignity kits. We also are continuing to refill water tanks all over Gaza, as people are desperate for water. The shortages are extreme.

I know I have done it before but I want again to thank the ANERA community of donors for the incredible support you have been giving us here. It really means the world to us to know that people care and that we’re not alone. Pray for us and keep sending support. 

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Friday, August 22, 2014

I am taking advantage of a little electricity to write this. Things are a little better with the electricity than they had been, but it’s really unpredictable. The worst is when it comes on at 2 AM. We scramble around boiling water to clean the baby’s bottles and pacifiers. We do laundry, clean and charge up our devices. It’s also an opportunity to get online. In the meantime, we try to be as quiet as possible because the kids are trying to sleep, and it’s already fitful for them because of the sounds that they fear from outside our home.

Last night we heard sporatic bombings. They feel more targeted, but still it’s unpredictable and we are scared all the time.

It was hard to look at their faces, where fear and anger has accumulated over the past 45 days. They were pale, sad and exhausted.

Two days I visited some sites where ANERA is delivering dignity kits to displaced women. It was hard to look at their faces, where fear and anger have accumulated over the past 45 days. They were pale, sad and exhausted. When they fled their homes, with only a minute or two to decide what to take, they all chose to bring things to take care of their children. They brought nothing for themselves. Living in shelters now, their personal dignity as women has been compromised and they don’t have the money to go and buy the things they need. The kits from ANERA came as a surprise to them. They’re full of things especially for women – toiletries, sanitary napkins, prayer dresses. One woman commented that she can breastfeed more comfortably now, because she has that dress.

The magnitude of the problems families are facing in Gaza is hard to overstate, but this small thing that ANERA is doing for 2,100 women has helped a little bit. This means a lot to me as a woman.

Women in Khan Younis receive dignity kits filled with toiletries and other items especially for women.

Women in Khan Younis receive dignity kits filled with toiletries and other items especially for women.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

In my neighborhood last night, things were pretty quiet. But my colleague Sabah al Moghrabi had a terrible ordeal. This is what she wrote to the ANERA staff in an email earlier today:

The windows imploded. There is glass on the floor and dust from the bombings everywhere, covering everything.

“While we were waiting for a truce or ceasefire or any good news, suddenly horrible airstrikes and bombings hit near my home. The windows imploded. There is glass on the floor and dust from the bombings everywhere, covering everything. We could not breathe, there was no electricity, and the noise of airstrikes and missiles made us crazy with fear. People were fleeing out onto the streets. We all thought that the same thing would happen to our neighborhood that happened in Shajayya. We thought about leaving our home, but where would we go? We heard many children all around us, in neighbors’ homes, shouting and crying. My son refused to go up to our roof to operate our small generator, because he was scared of what was happening outside. We all spent our night sitting in darkness in a corridor and we didn’t get any sleep until about 5:00 a.m.

We pray this very ugly war will end. Though I find myself asking, ‘What are we waiting for?’” We don’t know. There is no economy left and there is rubble everywhere.

Gaza has had to endure too much. We deserve a quieter, safer and better life.”

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Once again things here are terrible. Negotiations have collapsed and the bombings began again last night at 11. We heard explosions through the whole night until the morning. During the day it’s been quieter, but I don’t see many people on the streets and our ANERA office is closed. It feels like we’re back to square one.

We take it day by day and hour by hour in this War of No Expectations — as some have dubbed it. We’re stuck inside where we pretend to live life in some sort of normal fashion. We cook, we clean, the kids play. But nothing’s normal.

Gaza is about the size of metro Philadelphia, with a similar population.

How much can people take. How much can this tiny land withstand? We are not a country. Gaza is about the size of metro Philadelphia, with a similar population. Imagine if there were a wall around Philadelphia and bomb after bomb was dropped into the area. How long before all of the infrastructure is destroyed and the people made homeless without water and other basics?

It’s horrible what’s going on. We have lost trust. We have lost hope of any kind. And, anyway, hopeful for what? Hopeful for little achievements that people outside of Gaza don’t give a second thought to: just a little breath of fresh air or a stroll down the street. Or a drink of water. We are not even allowed to hope for these small things.

I am not worried for myself. It’s the whole generation of children I worry about. This is all they know so far in their lives.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated my journal, because we have had a ceasefire that has allowed us all in Gaza to go out in the streets and take stock of our situation. It’s grim. Piles of rubble are what’s left of so many buildings. In some places the smell of death is in the air. People are out trying to find the basics — food, water, etc. — and waiting for a peace agreement that will allow them to pick up the pieces and resume their lives.

Our ANERA Gaza staff is working at full capacity all the time.

Our ANERA Gaza staff is working at full capacity all the time. They’re delivering hygiene kits, water, food and medicines to hard-hit areas everywhere. I think I can speak for my colleagues when I say we are deeply depressed about what has happened to our communities, but our mission to help the people around us fills us with a great sense of purpose and pride

ANERA Gaza Director Nahed Al-Wehaidi and Palestine Country Director Paul Butler assess damage in Gaza.

ANERA Gaza Director Nahed Al-Wehaidi and Palestine Country Director Paul Butler assess damage in Gaza.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Everyone is okay, but everything is very complicated. We’re in a state of no peace and no war. We follow the news for answers and are not finding any. Sometimes it seems negotiations are speeding up and something is finally happening, and then we hear nothing else about it. No one seems to be able to make any predictions or analysis.

I didn’t go into the office today, but I was working hard from home. ANERA is delivering a lot of relief all over Gaza and it’s real job to keep up with the stories, stats and progress. And, when I am at home, I rely on my mobile mainly as my tool for work. I am fortunate to have a tablet too, but I am in constant competition with the children for it. Normally I regulate their use of it, but now I let them have it a lot, since it’s one of the few distractions open to them while they’re stuck for days and weeks on end indoors.

You know, I have been thinking about what normal is. I am not sure I remember. The abnormal has become normal in life here. Is it normal for babies to sweat because you can’t take them outside for a breath of air or turn on a fan for a little breeze or give them a bath to cool them off? Is it normal to have a bag ready with your life’s essentials ready at all times in case you have to flee for your survival? Is it normal to cut short the rare visits from people outside of Gaza because you fear for their safety? It is here.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

We’re still hearing bombings all the time. It’s not as intensive as it was before the ceasefire, but it’s regular and frequent. I talked to my colleague Ahmad, who lives in Khan Younis and is helping with ANERA’s water tankering there – the water situation is really dire in those communities. He told me that two people on a bike were hit with a bomb and he saw their body parts all around. He finally felt too vulnerable being out and went back to his house.

My family and I are also back at home, hunkered down in the central rooms of the apartment. Every now and then I go to the window and look out. What’s amazing me is that I am seeing so many people still walking around on the street. They seemed to have lost their fear. Their presence strikes me as statement of defiance and resilience.

Gaza people are really creative and nimble.

With everything Gaza has gone through over the past 7 years – blockade, three wars, shortages of every kind – you might think we are all helpless victims. But no, Gaza people are really creative and nimble. I am always impressed by how we find a way to make things out of so little or how we find hope despite what seems like an impossibly bleak situation. We never give up. Proof of this for me today was the miracle of electricity. Somehow, someway, we got four hours of electricity despite the fact that Gaza’s only power plant was practically destroyed last month.

Families fill up containers with water at central locations around Khan Younis, where water supplies are critically low.

Families fill up containers with water at central locations around Khan Younis, where water supplies are critically low.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Well, I thought that maybe the ceasefire would hold but at 8:00 this morning, just when it officially ended, the bombings started again. It seems the Zaytoon and Tuffah areas are getting hit mostly. I am so glad my parents are still here with us, because their place is in one of the affected areas. They were able to visit their home earlier this week and saw it already had been damaged – windows broken, the water tank shattered, the roof coming apart, and their beautiful garden in a shambles. We hope that it will keep standing through this latest round of bombings.

Once again we are glued to the news for any encouraging sign of a sustained ceasefire. But every station says different things. We don’t know who we can trust for reliable information. We are back in a fog of confusion and unpredictability.

For the past three days we were able to emerge a little.

For the past three days we were able to emerge a little. We went out and saw the terrible destruction everywhere, and heard heart-wrenching stories from people who have lost everything and are desperate. There is sad and terrible story to be heard on every street and in every area of Gaza.

I am still one of the few ‘lucky’ ones here. I have a monthly income and home intact. Even so, when my father went out yesterday to find us some bread, he had to wait for hours in a line. And when I went to a store that used to be filled with products, I saw that their shelves were half empty and the place was filled with dust. Prices are going higher and higher for everything. How long before there is nothing left?

When I wake up and realize still have blood flowing through my body, as do my loved ones around me, it’s enough. There’s this collection of emotions moving around inside of me and they come to the surface for brief moments. Sometimes I want to cry. Sometimes to laugh. Most of the time I basically feel numb and lost.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Today I have been going from site to site where ANERA has been distributing food parcels, hygiene kits and water. It feels really good to be meeting people face-to-face and talking to them about their experiences, though what they say breaks my heart. Many people were very easily moved to tears after I was able to get them to start telling their stories. I spoke to some who spent everything they had – their life savings – on building home for their families. Now they’re rubble. Some people told me they didn’t even have ID cards anymore. They’re annonymous now. There are so many terrible stories…

But I still have my home intact and my family is okay.

“I am them.” This is what I thought all day. I could just have easily been telling the same story. But I still have my home intact and my family is okay. This is a miracle and a treasure.

My family has pledged to remove the word “complain” from our vocabulary. When you confront the prospect of death every day for 26 days, and you make it out on the other side, nothing else matters. There is nothing to complain about. All of the people who are dearest to us are alive. Now we have to help our sisters and brothers around us rebuild their lives.

Starting today there is a 72-hour ceasefire. I am going to be optimistic and believe that it will hold and maybe even morph into something long-term. So I am taking a little hiatus from my journal, since I am so swamped now with work reporting on all the things our Gaza staff is accomplishing – thanks to the generosity of ANERA’s amazing community of supporters. Keep checking the ANERA site for stories and photos. I am going to keep them coming!

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Monday, August 4, 2014

My family was shocked today when I suddenly decided I had to go to our ANERA office and visit some of the sites where we are helping. I looked out my apartment window this morning and saw a lot people walking up and down the street. Seeing them gave me the courage to venture out myself.

The city I traveled was not the same one that had been there 26 days ago. Everywhere there are piles of rubble where buildings used to be.

The place was absolutely packed with people who fled their homes in terror and with no place to go. 

I went with my colleagues to a church that has offered refuge to displaced families. This is one of the sites where we are delivering food parcels today. The place was absolutely packed with people who fled their homes in terror and with no place to go. I was able to sit with the women to hear their stories. One woman said they have no money and cannot afford to buy bread. So, out of desperation, she risked going back to her home and to make some bread. But the bombs started falling and she had to take the bread out of the oven before it was finished and run back to the church. Her family ate it, even unfinished, because they were so hungry.

I was proud to be there at the church on behalf of ANERA, because we are making a direct difference to the families I met. Today we gave 588 families at the church food parcels, including bottles of water. And we’re on our way to distribute another 2,500 at nearby schools where more families are getting shelter.

One thing that struck me today is how people’s dreams have shrunken.

But, of course, these efforts are only the beginning of a long job to rebuild our lives. One thing that struck me today is how people’s dreams have shrunken to the basic necessities of life. They want water to drink. They want to bathe. They want food. One elderly man was terribly worried about not being able to get medicines for his diabetes. And all of them just want to go back to their own homes.

Rania at a church in Gaza City where ANERA distributed food parcels to displaced families

Rania at a church in Gaza City where ANERA distributed food parcels to displaced families.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

There is barely enough water to drink, let alone wash.

I spoke with a doctor for a story about the medical supplies ANERA has provided her hospital with today. She told me that they have had over 4,000 injured people come in for emergency treatment since the bombings began. 40% of those have been children. She’s been seeing a lot of infections and other complications from lack of hygiene. This is really turning into one of our major problems here in Gaza. There is barely enough water to drink, let alone wash.

I also spoke to a woman whose family received some water from ANERA yesterday. She said that they haven’t bathed for many, many days. Her young son developed red sores all over his body and even had some bleeding. She had to take him to the hospital which was overflowing with people needing treatment. She has no money, and so she relies on the charity of the doctors, who are working non-stop to keep up with it all.

Every time I speak with displaced people, I cry. They don’t have any of the basics for maintaining the barest minimum of dignity – no food, no water, no clothes, no cleanliness…

I can’t overstate how much it means to me to be part of an organization that is doing something tangible to help.

Thank goodness for my work and for the work of ANERA. I can’t overstate how much it means to me to be part of an organization that is doing something tangible to help. When I spoke to the doctor today, for instance, she said that the antibiotics ANERA has just delivered stave off infections that could be life-threatening. Without ANERA’s help, people could literally be dying.

Finally, to my community of readers, I want thank you for letting me tell you my story. I feel committed to you all in a special way and I draw a lot of strength from knowing you’re out there. Don’t forget us here in Gaza!

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

There was lot more shelling and bombing last night. The electricity has been out for many days. I am looking out the window right now and it’s eerily quiet here. There are many people out on the street. I see a donkey cart with wilted vegetables. There’s a man walking quickly with a couple loaves of bread in his arms. A boy is sitting on the sidewalk selling flipflops. While there is relative peace here at the moment, I know that Rafah in the south is being pummeled.

We keep hearing reports of more and more families displaced. It’s hard to keep up with the numbers. My aunt still has displaced families living in her yard. It’s a challenge for her to keep giving them food, clothes and especially water. They can’t bathe and they have nothing, but she tries to help however she can. We all do.

Do we all (try to) sleep in separate rooms so we have less of a chance of dying at the same time?

We are still 9 people in our apartment: me, my husband, our two children, my brother, his wife, my sister and my parents. Last night we had a very serious conversation: do we all (try to) sleep in separate rooms so we have less of a chance of dying at the same time? In the end, we decided to all be together, sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder in the same room. We need the strength of our love for each other right now.

Ahmad is a boy outside Rania's apartment building selling flip flops to make some money for his family, who has been displaced by the bombings.

Ahmad is a boy outside Rania’s apartment building selling flip flops to make some money for his family, who has been displaced by the bombings.

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Last night we stayed awake counting the minutes to the ceasefire.

Last night we stayed awake counting the minutes to the ceasefire. We thought it would be the start of the end to the terrors we have been suffering. My family and I even prepared some coffee this morning and, for the first time in 26 days, we sipped it peacefully near a window with the sun coming in. But then our hearts were broken when we learned the ceasefire was breached. I think it is worse to have these moments of hope come and then be crushed. For a minute we open our eyes and see beyond this horror. But now we have to close our eyes again and go back into the darkness.

The ceasefire wasn’t even long enough to get humanitarian supplies, even as the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. The latest worry is sewage: how long is it before our waste starts running through the streets?

We do not hear bombings at the moment, but we know that there is intensive shelling in the south. I spoke with a journalist friend in Khan Younis and she told me that children have taken to making shirts out of black plastic garbage bags and writing “TV” in big letters on them. They think that this designation of “TV” gives the wearer protection so, out of desperation for their safety, they are giving it a try.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

We passed another night and we’re still alive. It was quieter. Course, I think you now understand that when I say “quieter,” it’s all relative. Last night there were a mere 4 targets bombed in my neighborhood. This is nothing compared to the way it was over the previous two nights. And nothing compared to the intensive assault happening in Khan Younis in the southern part of Gaza.

The connection and supply problems continue to worsen. We are now even having troubles contacting one another internally. But the ANERA Gaza staff (16 people) manage to find a way to check in with each other every day to make sure people are okay and to coordinate our work – though most of us aren’t leaving our homes.

I include a photo with my journal today. It’s a common sight right now in Gaza City: people wondering around with empty containers searching for water where ever they can get it. We also are seeing huge lines at bakeries. Bread-making on a large scale is a real challenge without electricity to run the mixers. My father went out and waited for an hour to get two loaves of bread.

There is a real humanitarian catastrophe brewing in Gaza

There is a real humanitarian catastrophe brewing in Gaza - little water for drinking and bathing, no electricity, weak network connections, trickles of fuel, few safe places to take refuge, low stocks of food…I could go on.

My mother, father, brother and his wife have all moved in with us because they have learned a mosque near my brother’s place (where they’d been staying) is going to be bombed. It’s a bittersweet thing, having them here. There’s no happy reason for their being with us and we worry about their home, but having my parents with me is so nice. I trust them completely and feel looked after and loved when I have them near.

A child wondering around in Gaza City with an empty container searching for water. Photographer: Mohammad Zanoon

A child wondering around in Gaza City with an empty container searching for water. Photographer: Mohammad Zanoon

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yesterday was just another day of of brutal attacks and heavy bombing. There was supposed to be a humanitarian ceasefire from 2:00 to 7:00 today, but I am hearing explosions in Gaza City, so it doesn’t seem to be holding.

 The issue of hygiene is a growing health problem and infections are starting to spread.

My husband works for UNRWA as an architectural engineer. He was called in today to work on installing indoor and outdoor showers at the UN schools where displaced people are taking shelter. The issue of hygiene is a growing health problem and infections are starting to spread. So, I am glad that my husband can go and make a direct difference to suffering people. But I am very scared, because conditions are extremely dangerous. Yesterday three humanitarian relief workers were killed, two of whom are from the UN. This morning a school was bombed.

Another fear I have is getting totally cut off from the world. It’s clear that the power plant is not going to supply any more electricity until serious repairs can happen. And now I am noticing that my phone is getting a low signal, which probably means that the mobile networks are taking a hit. We still are able to get a luxurious two hours a day of electricity in my building, thanks to our generators. But how long will the fuel hold out? I have started to take handwritten notes, keeping my notepad near me all the time and writing with it held up close to my face so I can see what’s on the page. This way I capture my thoughts and have them ready either to type out quickly or to relate to a colleague in Washington.

I want to end this entry with a special appeal to people who are concerned about what’s happening in Gaza: PLEASE help displaced families. They are deprived of their dignity and humanity. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge where ever they can find it. For those who can get shelter in schools, it’s not uncommon for six families to be crammed into one school room. They’re scared and they have nothing. Please don’t forget them.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Last night was unbelievable, insane, horrible, huge… The escalation of bombings was intense in Gaza City. We literally cowered in a corner of our apartment all night. We didn’t sleep at all and the children screamed. It was truly terrifying.

Midnight was like midday as illumination flares were dropped to light up the city.

Midnight was like midday as illumination flares were dropped to light up the city. Though the illumination flares don’t kill, they make exactly the same noise as those that do, so they’re just as scary. At the same time there were loud explosions all around and very close to us.

The main fuel reservoir for the power plant was hit. So now I don’t think we will even be getting the few meager hours of electricity a day that we had been getting. I heard on the radio that the repairs to the power plant could take a year to complete.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Last night it was quiet enough that I got my first night’s sleep in 22 days. I am suffering from such extreme tiredness and exhaustion that I thought I might sleep myself to death. 

It feels a little like I have come home after 22 days away…

My brother-in-law and his family have returned to their apartment to clean and take stock of the damage done by some bombings on their street. Now we’re just the four of us in our home. It feels a little like I have come home after 22 days away, even though we’ve physically been here for most of the time. One of the biggest inconveniences for me, as a woman, was the lack of privacy. We were all together in a couple rooms – men, women and children. Now I can dress comfortably and not worry about staying covered.

Though my heart is not into it, I am making a few efforts to observe Eid Al Fitr in our home. I am making dishes for our meal, from whatever we happen to have in our kitchen. I am letting Joudy play dress-up in my clothes. I have also done some cleaning, but nowhere near what I think is acceptable. The apartment just doesn’t look like it should on this special day.

Normally, Eid is a day when people go out and visit relatives for celebrations. Today, people are going to graveyards to visit the dead, or to their destroyed homes to salvage what they can of their belongings. I look out the window and see kids walking barefoot down the street. They have no place to go. Once again I am aware of how very lucky I am – I still have a home, I have a little electricity, my family is okay.

In the meantime, we keep checking the news for word of a ceasefire. But all of the different channels and sources contradict each other. We have no idea at all what is going to happen. Will I be able to get another night of sleep tonight?

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

After the ceasefire officially ended, the shelling began again. It’s the particularly scary type – random and arbitrary. It seems to be coming right now from the east. Our apartment lies between the middle area and the sea and you could say we are at the gateway into the city. So we feel very vulnerable. No one is safe. Many hospitals and clinics have been bombed. Journalists and emergency relief staff have been killed.

In the meantime, it’s the eve of Eid. I was just remembering last year. I went out onto streets packed with people and filled with the holiday spirit. I shopped for our big meal and bought sweets and a new dress for Joudy.

When it gets dark, we just let it be dark.

Now, the streets are totally empty of people. There is no one. And there is no electricity. I look out my window and I see no lights in the neighborhood. When it gets dark, we just let it be dark. We don’t use candles because, with four children in the house, we are afraid that an accident could too easily happen. There is no light and no hope.

Recently I have noticed that the three preschool-aged children in our apartment are using some unusual vocabulary: ceasefire, truce, treaties, etc. They can distinguish between an immediate truce and a long-term ceasefire. They are prematurely aging. Despite our best efforts, they are becoming aware of the bigger world around them – a frightening world that is outside their parents’ control. As a mother, it’s terrible to feel slipping away from you the ability to give your children a sense of security and protection.

____________________________

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Today, during the 12-hour ceasefire, people went out on the streets and did errands. Kids were on bikes. All of a sudden, despite all the terrible destruction everywhere, I saw something hopeful in those streets that temporarily came alive.

Today was the first time I saw my parents in 20 days. 

We have had our Iftar. It’s still quiet outside. Today was the first time I saw my parents in 20 days. They have been at my brother’s – just 5 minutes away. My mother and I had warm hugs, as did the kids. I want to say that I was happy to see her, but when I dug inside myself for the emotion, I realized that wasn’t on the list of what was available to me anymore. Happiness is gone. Instead, what I felt was relief that she’s still alive. We were only there for a half hour. And when we parted from each other, we both wondered if we’d ever see each other again.

____________________________

Friday, July 25, 2014

Every time I write this journal, I want to start it with, “I’m still alive.” We survived another day. Nothing ever gets any better. We wait and wait for crumbs of positive news, any hint that a ceasefire may come, but there is nothing. Meanwhile, we’re crammed into the apartment and can’t go out. We heard on the news that some mosques have been bombed during Friday prayers.

This is a time when we have to come together and take care of each other.

My aunt called to say that she has allowed displaced people from Shaja’ya to camp out in her backyard. She said they were in need of everything and wondered if we had some clothes we could donate. I put together a bag of things and was able to find a taxi to drive it over to her place. This is a time when we have to come together and take care of each other.

The electricity situation continues to be terrible. I have noticed that there are about 8 wires now that are strung from our building over to the one next door. This is to share with our neighbors the meager couple of hours of power that we get from our generator. We are the lucky ones. Most people have zero power. The power plant isn’t supplying it and fuel for generators is nearly impossible to find. I have now started using the battery from the car for recharging the phone. I don’t know how long we can go on before we don’t even have two hours of precious power.

You know what I just realized? It’s Sobhi’s and my seventh wedding anniversary today. Normally this would be an extended weekend of celebration. We would have done something nice to celebrate our special day and then we would have enjoyed our Eid on Monday with our families. But there is nothing to celebrate. We are perpetually in mourning.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Things are still really bad here. We keep hearing about the heavy destruction in the north, south and east. I continue to hear the bombs as I write this. We had a HUGE explosion near our place yesterday. And we have also heard that an UNRWA school, where people were taking refuge, was hit. 17, so far, are known to have died from that one attack.

I can now see people from my window the displaced people from the Shaja’ya neighborhood, the one in the east so heavily bombed. They have nowhere to go and are walking up and down our street.

I think this may be the worst bombardment we have ever had, even worse than in 2008-09.

Yesterday we heard this little announcement on the radio about an upcoming 5-day humanitarian ceasefire, but when we cross-checked different news sources, we could find nothing. It was a phantom story. Instead, we heard that the ground incursion will widen. I think this may be the worst bombardment we have ever had, even worse than in 2008-09.

There is no electricity coming from the power plant at the moment. As I wrote earlier, it was badly bombed and those who might be able to make repairs are afraid to go to the facility. We were lucky to have our two hours of electricity from the generator last evening, during Iftar. Otherwise we live in the dark.

Last night Joudy, my five-year-old, said she didn’t want to go to sleep, that she was afraid. She has never actually said that word before. So I laid down with her and said, “Let’s close our eyes at the same time and imagine something happy we did together before all this began…”

Rania and her daughter Joudy visiting the beach in Gaza during a happier time.

Rania and her daughter Joudy visiting the beach in Gaza during a happier time.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When the lights come on we all rush to the outlets to plug in our cell phones to get charged up while we can.

Gaza’s main power plant was bombed and badly damaged. This has made an already bad situation worse. Now most people are without electricity entirely. Some, like in my building, are lucky enough to have a little fuel for their generators and therefore a couple hours of electricity a day. When the lights come on we all rush to the outlets to plug in our cell phones to get charged up while we can.

We still are able to listen to the news on our battery-operated radio. And it’s not good. UN schools are filled with people displaced from their homes. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the injured and low on supplies. Innocent people are getting killed all the time. I keep hoping for news of a ceasefire, but there is nothing.

One thing that is giving me strength is the work that ANERA has been able to do. My colleagues are braving dangerous conditions to go to our warehouse and to coordinate delivery of food and medicines at a time when they are desperately needed. It really means a lot to be part of an organization and a team that can make positive things happen in the face of so much adversity.

____________________________

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Well, I am so glad we decided to come back to our apartment. Near my brother-in-law’s building, which we left a couple days ago, there were very big explosions and we have learned that some of the windows in his place have been blown in. There is also damage to his balcony. I know I keep saying it, but no place is safe.

I even heard on the radio that a cemetery was bombed. Even our dead are not safe!

She said she literally had to walk over dead bodies to get away.

Today I wrote a story about ANERA’s distribution of food parcels to 500 families in Khan Younis and Rafah. I talked by phone with a couple different families and learned about the tragedies they are suffering. One woman talked about fleeing from their homes so quickly that they didn’t have time to put on shoes and they all scattered in different directions. She said she literally had to walk over dead bodies to get away.

The bombings continue just as intensively as ever. There was supposed to be a humanitarian ceasefire today from 9 to 3, but I don’t think it happened. The bombs just kept on coming. You know, we are becoming experts in diagnosing the sounds of bombs. We can tell what type is falling by the noise it makes. We also know what they hit by the sound of the explosion. Oh, that was a car. That hit a house. That one was a big building. We are acquiring some strange knowledge.

In one kind oddly bright piece of news, a local church has opened its doors as a refuge to all who are fleeing from their homes. Muslims and Christians are feeling their brotherhood. We are bonded over this and I, as a Muslim, feel it’s a very powerful and meaningful thing.

My daughter just ran over to tell me tell me something funny and she made me laugh. At these precious moments I think about how my emotions have been frozen by this terrible thing that is befalling us. You should see my face. It’s pale and expressionless. I stay stoic and strong for the children, but I know that this is not healthy for me. Sometimes when they are getting some rest I wish I could cry. I feel my heart crying but no tears ever come out of my eyes.

____________________________

Monday, July 21, 2014

A few minutes ago there was a massive explosion right near our building. I heard on the news that some boys were playing soccer on the roof and they were killed.

We’re getting no rest at all. Things are changing and moving all the time and we are trying to keep up with it all.

This morning we smelled the smoke coming from Shaja’ya, the neighborhood that has been intensively bombed and is burning. I also have heard that phosphorous bombs are being dropped again, like in 2009.

Anyone can be killed at any time.

We feel that no one is safe. No one. There were reports that a clinic serving 200,000 people got bombed and doctors were killed as they treated the wounded. Doctors, journalists, mothers, children. Anyone can be killed at any time.

In the meantime, my children continue to scream through the night. My baby cannot be consoled. My five-year-old wants to sleep facing me and in my arms. She doesn’t want me to be out of her sight.

We are now 12 people hunkered down in the center of our apartment. My brother-in-law and his family have now come to us. The journalists in our building managed to get enough fuel to run the generators for a couple hours each day. So you see, we go back and forth between their apartment and ours. Back and forth we go, trying to guess where we might be safest or where we might be able to get a little electricity or water to sustain us.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

The sky was lit up with flames. I keep hearing reports of the dead and injured.

I feel like every day I say that the last 24 hours were the worst so far. You think it couldn’t get worse and then it does. Last night was really bloody and scary. There was heavy targeting of Shaja’ya, a neighborhood in the northeast of Gaza. The area was cut off and even ambulances couldn’t get in, despite the urgent requests of the ICRC. The sky was lit up with flames. I keep hearing reports of the dead and injured. Over 60 people so far have been found dead and there will certainly be more in the rubble of the houses. Hundreds of people have camped out in front of Al Shifa Hospital. They have lost members of their families, their homes and possessions. They have no where to go and are desperate. It breaks my heart.

My parents live very close to the affected area. So, when finally there was a brief ceasefire this morning, they left their home and went to my brother’s. Things have to be very, very bad for my parents even to consider moving from one place to another.

In one tiny bit of good news, we were able to get our water tank refilled. So now at least we have drinking water for a while. We have to conserve, though, on using water for cooking and cleaning. We don’t know when we’ll be able to get more.

I’m losing control of my children. Their screaming goes on for much of the night now and I am unable to calm them down. This ground incursion means that the threats and explosions are all around us, coming from every direction. Everyone feels vulnerable and no one knows what’s coming next. Will it be our neighborhood?

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

We are back in our apartment. Yesterday we decided to come back in the hopes that the electricity situation would be better here. Our building has a lot of journalists in it and usually there are generators running more than in most other buildings. But we returned to find that the situation is no better than at my brother-in-law’s. There is no fuel for running the generators.

All day my husband has been calling the water supplier to get water delivered.

Without electricity, water can’t be pumped to our apartment. All day my husband has been calling the water supplier to get water delivered. It’s summertime. It’s very hot and we have about one day’s supply at our place. It is rapidly becoming our top concern. The little stores around the area that everyone relies on for basics are running out of everything.

Now we are debating about what to do. Do we go back to my brother-in-law’s? The reason is he is nearer to the main road, so if we need to evacuate quickly, it would be easier from his place than from ours. There’s also a little more water there – though for how long, who knows?

We’ve packed a small suitcase with some essentials. It’s ready by the door. Joudy, our daughter, asked “Where are we traveling to, mama?” If only…

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Friday, July 18, 2014

One of my worst fears from the beginning of these bombings has come true: there is now a ground incursion into Gaza. We are being hit from three sides – north, east and west. Last night the shelling from the sea was particularly intense. Somehow those bombs feel more random and so they are much more frightening to us.

We heard on the radio that 80% of the electricity grid has been destroyed.

We heard on the radio that 80% of the electricity grid has been destroyed. Since no one can go out right now, it is impossible to do any repair work. Not having electricity means that we also will be running out of water, because our apartment buildings rely on electricity to pump the water into the apartments. Normally we might call a water tanker truck to come and fill our water tank on the roof of the building, but it also is not safe for them to go out.

So, now in addition to everything else, we are worried that we are going to run out of water. We have enough for 3 or 4 days, but then what?

One thing that has given me strength through all of this is the amazing outpouring of love and support I have gotten from relatives, friends and colleagues from outside of Gaza. People have been keeping in touch with me in every way they can find and I feel less isolated because of it. I thank you all for sharing these updates and for caring about what Gaza’s people are suffering through. Pray for us.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Well, I am still at my brother-in-law’s house for the time-being. The bombs continued last night, but we just had a ‘humanitarian pause’ in the fighting so we could do some errands. I saw a lot of people leaving their homes during these hours. They are going to stock up on food, get money and check in on family. I did not go out. It is hard for me to believe that a ceasefire can be trusted. So I stayed indoors. We cleaned, bathed and watched some news while we had a little electricity. We also were able finally to sleep some.

Time has lost all meaning for me.

Time has lost all meaning for me. I have to think – this is Thursday, it’s the 20th day of Ramadan and the 9th day of bombings. I am exhausted to the core and find that my mind isn’t working very well. Like the words I am writing now are not easy to find.

In the past few nights, our 5-year-old has been waking up screaming several times throughout the night. She screams, then she goes right back to sleep. It’s like she is storing the fear she feels all the time and lets it out in these bursts she can’t control. Will she ever recover from the psychological wounds she is suffering?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

At midnight we evacuated our house. From the building behind ours, women and children were streaming out crying and in a panic. We yelled to them from our window and found out that someone had gotten a call from the Israelis saying that the building should be evacuated. When that happens, you have :58 seconds to get out before the bombs start falling.

It is hard for me to find words to describe how it felt to be running from our apartment and making a split-second decision about what to take with us. 

 It is hard for me to find words to describe how it felt to be running from our apartment and making a split-second decision about what to take with us. Or how it felt to think that we might never see any of our things again or this place that holds so many special memories for our family.

We rushed on foot to my brother-in-law’s apartment, holding our children and our few bags. When we got there, we watched the news carefully to find out if our area was bombed. Thankfully it wasn’t. Turns out that the whole thing was a terrible misunderstanding.

In more peaceful times, I remember going through emergency drills with all of these unfathomable scenerios. But I just experienced it for real: I had to leave my home fully believing I’d likely never see it again. At least it’s still there. For many in Gaza, the worst has happened and their homes and family are gone.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Today should should have been a day of celebration in our family. My husband’s niece got the highest score – 99.7% – out of all of Palestine on her Tawjihi [exam at the end of high school]. My colleagues also have children who did really well. But I heard someone say that our happiness today is courted by sadness and death. This is a perfect description of how we are feeling as the bombs continue to fall.

From 9 to 2 today, we had some peace, while there was talk of a ceasefire. We didn’t exactly sleep, but we got a little respite from the terror we’ve been experiencing. Now the bombs are back and my husband and I are having a serious conversation about what we should do in the case of a ground incursion. We think we may need to leave our home. But where do we go? Where is safe?

As I write this, my daughter is asking if she can put on a dress and go outside to play with her friends. Such a simple request! But doing the simplest things now look like bold acts of courage – or lunacy.

____________________________

 

A building in Gaza struck by an Israeli bomb. Photographer, Mohammed Zaanoun

A building in Gaza struck by an Israeli bomb. Photographer, Mohammed Zaanoun

Monday, July 14, 2014

Yesterday, there were bombings in a nearby neighborhood where my brother-in-law and his family live. They had to leave their home and have sought refuge here with us. We all keep listening to the radio, hoping for some news of a ceasefire but up to now, there is nothing, just bombs falling all the time, day and night.

I have no words to describe what is happening here. How do I answer my daughter’s questions, why this is happening to us. She is only 5  and already she has lived through so much. What can I say to her? I try to keep her busy but the bombings never stop and she’s scared.

We call around to check on our friends and family and  my colleagues from work but what can we say to each other? The number of deaths and injuries keep rising.

Everyone is exhausted. I feel hopeless and helpless, wondering what will happen to my life and my children.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

When I spoke with my parents today, they told me they were seeing scores of families walking past their house. They are fleeing from their homes in northern Gaza, because they got warnings from the Israelis that the whole area will be targeted. It is unclear where they are all going. I have heard that UNRWA is opening up 8 of their schools for people to get shelter.

We’ve had no sleep for 7 days.

Things feel even scarier now. We have heard that 2 UN humanitarian coordinators were not allowed to pass into Gaza today and that the US embassy has asked all Americans to leave Gaza immediately. Will there now be no international witnesses to the things that are happening to us here?

We’ve had no sleep for 7 days. Yesterday was really intense: there were bombings from the sea and air and I also heard the sounds of rockets launching. I see smoke billowing from the middle area and beaches of Gaza. A house on my brother’s block was bombed yesterday. 

We always live ready to flee in a second. Our bags packed with passports, money and valuables. We never change into pajamas – ready to go outdoors or to meet God.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

I can hear explosions as I write this. They are so close, the furniture rattles and the lamps shake. It’s like I am living in a horror movie. You know, I have impacted wisdom teeth and I was supposed to have an operation last week (which I had to cancel because of the bombings). But the terror I am experiencing every day now is actually making me forget the pain of the wisdom teeth that was so excruciating before the bombs began.

We are glued to the radio, where we are now learning of medical facilities that are being targeted by bombs. Can you imagine, now we can’t even feel safe going to a hospital?

Rania-and-JoudyIt feels like there is no end in sight. We are not hearing of any ceasefires. In the meantime the crossings and borders into Gaza are only sporadically open. Very little food or fuel is coming in. The damage is really extensive – to farmland, buildings and a lot of other infrastructure.

We’ve been getting about 6 hours of electricity a day, but yesterday ours went off after 2 hours because a bomb apparently hit some infrastructure that delivered it to our place. We now camped out in the center of our apartment, as far away from the windows as possible. Flying glass causes the most injuries.

I keep thinking about the fact that Gaza was already in a terrible state before these bombings. Unemployment was high, food aid was common, people were living in poverty. So you can imagine how much worse it is now. 

My daughter has been through three of these bombardments – first in my womb in 2008-09, then in 2012 and now in 2014. I can see the question marks in her eyes. What do I tell her? Is there an adequate word to describe this situation?

Thank goodness for ANERA. I know I am working for an organization that is actually doing something to help people. It gives my life meaning.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

I keep thinking, who is paying for this desire for blood and retribution? The children, that’s who.

Well, we’re alive. It was another terrible night. The park behind our apartment building was bombed and the explosion rocked the whole area. The noise was deafening. There isn’t a single street in Gaza that’s safe. I keep thinking, who is paying for this desire for blood and retribution? The children, that’s who.

This, of course, means constant worry and no rest for parents. Last night our chidren were really anxious and couldn’t sleep.

This morning we saw we are really low on milk. My husband ventured out to a nearby store. While he was away my heart pounded with worry and I watched for him every second he was away. Turns out that the errand was all for nothing, as the store is out of milk. Now we have to find other options for feeding our baby.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

For the third day the bombings have been incessant. I haven’t been getting any sleep and, last night, the kids didn’t. I hear explosions constantly.

I do my best to keep the children busy with with activities, to get their minds off of what’s going on outside our building. We play games, color, read stories. I want to make sure their fear doesn’t turn into trauma. I am not sure where I am getting the strength to hide my fear and play games – maybe it’s because I feel that the children are more important than anything else.

In the meantime, here it is Ramadan, our most spiritual time. It’s supposed to be a beautiful time of reflection and peace. But now, in Gaza, people are taking their first sip of water to break their long day of fasting while bombs are falling all around them.

 

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Sami Mater, ANERA project engineer, delivers water to displaced children in Jabalia in northern Gaza.

Delivering Drinking Water to Gaza

August 18th, 2014 by ANERA

When a short-term ceasefire was announced, children, women and men went into the streets with their empty bottles, jugs and jerry cans looking for places to fill them with water to drink. Bombing damage to infrastructure has created water shortages everywhere.

“As a resident of Khan Younis and a member of ANERA emergency response team, I can tell you that the area has been suffering huge water shortages since the start of the bombings. The eastern and western parts of Khan Younis were immensely affected as the major water and electricity feeder lines were totally destroyed,” said Ahmed El-Najaar, ANERA’s in-kind program coordinator.

ANERA has responded to the crisis by setting up 2,400-liter (634-gallon) tanks in convenient locations across Khan Younis as well as in the middle and northern areas of Gaza. On a daily basis ANERA refills the tanks so families can rely on getting access to clean, drinkable water.

Children line up to fill bottles from an ANERA water tank in their Khan Younis community.

Children line up to fill bottles from an ANERA water tank in their Khan Younis community.

ANERA Joins a Water Convoy to Reach Khoza’a in Khan Younis

ANERA brings water tanker trucks as part of a UN-coordinated humanitarian convoy.

ANERA brings water tanker trucks as part of a UN-coordinated humanitarian convoy.

When it became clear that water scarcity was a major problem in Khan Younis, Ahmad and ANERA’s emergency team was ready to help. Two trucks of tankered water were immediately sent into the region as part of a joint humanitarian water convoy that had safe passage into the heavily bombed area.

“When I first visited Khoza’a [population 15,000] it was like an earthquake had hit it. I saw destroyed homes everywhere and smelt death and blood. Many families are homeless now and some are still looking for corpses under the rubble,” says Ahmed.

“The ANERA trucks were swarmed with residents when they first arrived,” said Ahmad. “People were getting something they hadn’t had for a long time and they were in a panic that they wouldn’t have it again. But everyone calmed down when they realized that the new water tanks weren’t going anywhere and that ANERA would refill them regularly,” Ahmad says.

Ahmad Al-Najjar, ANERA's Gaza in-kind program coordinator, sets up a water tank in the Khan Younis area of Khoza’a.

Ahmad Al-Najjar, ANERA’s Gaza in-kind program coordinator, sets up a water tank in the Khan Younis area of Khoza’a.

More Water Dispersed in North and Middle Gaza

While Ahmed coordinated distributions in Khan Younis, ANERA’s emergency team expanded water tank deliveries to the communities of Jabalia, El-Maghazi, El-Bureij and El-Maghazi in the middle and northern areas of Gaza.

“Water is a problem for us,” said Om Mohammed Abu Eida, a Jabalia resident. “We are hosting 10 families who fled from Beit Lahia and have nowhere to go. Our taps don’t bring us more than few drops of water, so the water tanks are really helping.

________________________________

ANERA has placed a total of 50 large water storage tanks in communities across Khan Younis, Jabalia, El Maghazi and El Bureij. So far, ANERA has refilled the tanks with 1,753,000 liters of water.

 

Rania at a church in Gaza City where ANERA distributed food parcels to displaced families

Gaza Emergency Response Includes Food,Water

August 14th, 2014 by lkassman

By Rania Elhilou
Today was the first day I was able to leave my home and get back to work after nearly one month sheltering with my family inside my Gaza City apartment. I hardly recognized my city. Everywhere there are piles of rubble where buildings used to be, people searching for a safe place to shelter.

ANERA speeds delivery of 2,000 + emergency supplies of food and water to displaced.

Hundreds of men, women and children are squeezed into Gaza’s Orthodox Church where they sought refuge from the bombings. They fled their homes with nothing but the clothes they were wearing as the bombs rained down on their neighborhoods.

Gaza teen receives his family's emergency food parcel from ANERA delivery team.

Gaza teen receives his family’s emergency food parcel from ANERA delivery team.

Thanks to generous donations from UMCOR and other private donors, ANERA has been able to supply much-needed food parcels and water to the families who have no idea how much longer they will have to stay at the church and whether they’ll find their homes in one piece when it’s safe to return. Supplies of water and food were also delivered to two nearby schools.

Gaza mother opening ANERA's food parcel at Gaza church where she and her family sought shelter from bombings.

Suad El-Suwaiki opening ANERA’s food parcel at Gaza church where she and her family sought shelter from bombings.

When I arrived at the church with my co-workers, ready to distribute the relief supplies, I found groups of women and children trying to put their lives together, the sadness in their eyes reflecting fear and pain. Some children lay quietly nearby on donated mattresses, some showed signs of the war with visible burns and fractures.

Suad El-Suwaiki, who had fled her home in the Shaaf neighborhood explained her family’s plight: “There was intensive shelling and one of my kids lost consciousness. When dawn broke we fled, sneaking from wall to wall until we could reach a safer place.”

Suad told me they have no money and could not afford to buy bread. Out of desperation, she risked her life to go back home to make some bread. But the bombs started falling and she had to take the bread out of the oven before it was finished and run back to the church. “My family ate it, even unfinished, because we were so hungry.” Suad was delighted and relieved with the food parcel, “Now I can prepare quick sandwiches to feed the kids.”

ANERA's Gaza emeregency response delivery of water and food parcels are welcome for young girl traumatized by war.

Food parcels are welcome sight for young girl traumatized by war.

Referring to the delivered packages, Suad said, “At most shelters, water is in short supply. Delivery of bottled water has become a priority for relief aid.” Sabreen El-Azayza fled with her family to the church, leaving everything behind. “We are running out of drinking water and cannot afford to buy any because the prices are too high,” she said. “And even the water we are receiving from surrounding suppliers tastes salty.”

At a nearby school where ANERA delivered more food and water I met Om Mohamad El-Ghola, who also escaped a bombing. “In the dark of night we saw scores of people running barefoot coming from eastern Gaza and we ran too,” she said. “We cannot believe we survived.”

Om Mohammed smiles with relief and appreciation when she receives the emergency food parcel, “We don’t have stoves or any kitchen utensils so this ready-to-eat food like cans of hummus and bread are handy for me to feed my children.”

Women huddle with their daughters at a shelter seeking refuge from Gaza bombings.

Women huddle with their daughters at a shelter seeking refuge from Gaza bombings.

Mostafa El-Ghosein, manager of ANERA's in-kind medicine donation program in Gaza.

FAQs | ANERA Response to Gaza Crisis

August 14th, 2014 by ANERA

How will my donation be used to help Gaza and how soon?

How and why are you able to get things into Gaza so quickly and consistently?

How much of my donation is used to cover ANERA’s overhead?

How do I know I can feel safe donating to ANERA?

How can I help Gaza other than to give donations?

I would like to collect supplies (food, clothes, toys, hygiene supplies, surplus medical disposables, etc.) to send to Gaza. Can ANERA help me get them there?

I want to travel to Gaza to help with humanitarian relief efforts. Can ANERA help me get there?

Why do you sometimes buy medicines on the local market and how do you decide specifically who to buy from?

Why haven’t I ever heard about ANERA?

How can ANERA ensure that donations serve their intended beneficiaries and not parties like Hamas?

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How will my donation be used to help in Gaza and how soon?

With a staff of 16 in Gaza – Palestinians who all come from the communities they serve – ANERA is able to quickly identify areas of need and respond immediately as funds become available. Right from the beginning of the bombardment, ANERA was able to deliver vital medicines and medical supplies as well as food parcels. We expedite our response whenever possible by purchasing relief items in Palestine. We also have a very successful in-kind donation program that delivers millions of dollars worth of medicines and health care supplies. When hostilities cease, ANERA’s engineers will begin the work of rebuilding schools, clinics and water/sanitation networks.

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How and why are you able to get things into Gaza so quickly and consistently?

ANERA has been working in the West Bank and Gaza since 1968. We have had an office in Gaza for 30 years and have shipped things into the area for as long as we have existed. ANERA’s in-kind shipment program follows a clear set of stages that has proven effective every time. Two things stand out: ANERA is excellent with handling all of the logistical paperwork as well as getting clearance and coordination beforehand. We have a professional relationship with the authorities and are transparent in everything we do.

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How much of my donation is used to cover ANERA’s overhead?

ANERA’s overhead is only 3.5%. The costs of ANERA’s programs and expenses vary each year, however we consistently maintain a standard of roughly 96 cents per dollar going directly to program work. For the most recent allocations, please see the financial section of our annual report.

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How do I know I can feel safe donating to ANERA?

Since 1968 we have earned trust by delivering results. ANERA is audited annually and posts financial statements online. We screen funders, partners and program recipients using software to comply with the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Controls. USAID and other major governmental and institutional donors regularly award ANERA large grants even in delicate locations like Gaza. We are consistently a top-rated organization: 4-star charity with Charity Navigator, A-rated charity with the Institute of Philanthropy and meet every standard of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise-Giving Alliance. Read more about why you can trust ANERA.

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How can I help Gaza other than to give donations?

The extent and reach of our response depend on the amount of donations ANERA receives. The best way for you to help people in Gaza is to spread the word about what is happening there and how ANERA is addressing their needs. Forward our emails, share our Facebook and website postings, retweet our Twitter posts, and/or pass along our newsletters and mail appeals. More people need to be aware of what ANERA is, why we can be trusted, and how we are making a difference. As one of our supporters, you are the best and most credible ANERA advocate in your community of friends, family and colleagues.

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I would like to collect supplies (food, clothes, toys, hygiene supplies, surplus medical disposables, etc.) to send to Gaza. Can ANERA help me get them there?

While we appreciate the thoughtfulness that caring people invest in these collection efforts, for the most part we cannot accept these kinds of donations from individuals. Instead, we encourage people to donate money. This is for multiple reasons:

Volume. ANERA typically sends 20- and 40-foot containers of in-kind materials to the Middle East. This is by far the most cost-effective way to send donated goods as a container can fit a enormous volume of materials and many of our wonderful in-kind donors cover the cost of shipping.

Storage. Some organizations and individuals have asked us if we can include supplies from them in one of the containers we are already planning to ship. Unfortunately, the answer is still no. ANERA does not maintain U.S.-based warehouse space. The containers we send to the Middle East are shipped directly from the warehouses of our in-kind donor partners. For safety and quality control reasons, these donors will not allow ANERA to add donations to their carefully inspected and professionally packed containers.

Speed and Expense. It is a much slower process to bring goods in from abroad rather than to purchase them locally. To do so, ANERA would need to get the customs export and import documentation in order; arrange for and cover the cost of shipping; get the items approved through local authorities (which takes 6 weeks at a minimum); pay for the costs of clearance, storage, demurrage, and transportation to our local warehouse; receive and inventory them in the warehouse; and then finally distribute them. All told, this can cost us upwards of $18,000. With funds in hand, staff can immediately and specifically respond to the needs on the ground as they arise. This approach has the added benefit of supporting the local economy.

ANERA does accept in-kind donations from established organizations, such as AmeriCares, Direct Relief, Lutheran World Relief, and United Methodist Committee on Relief. These are organizations whose business is to send in-kind donations – from medicines and supplies to hygiene kits and baby care items – to the communities that need them most. Having done this work for decades, they have an effective and well-tested set of processes designed to respond specifically to the needs ANERA communicates to them through our on-the-ground staff. Read more about our in-kind work in Gaza.

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I want to travel to Gaza to help with humanitarian relief efforts. Can ANERA help me get there?

Your passion and commitment to help people in Gaza is inspiring and greatly appreciated. It is not feasible for ANERA to support anyone entering Gaza at this time. The borders are closed and anyone entering requires Israeli approval. Furthermore, while relief workers such as ANERA staff would be very moved by your gesture, as your hosts, they would be distracted from their critical work. Your presence would require that they shift energy and effort away from their own families and humanitarian deliveries, to ensure that you are properly trained in the work involved and keep you out of harm’s way. Please, heed our request not to pursue trying to go into Gaza now.

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Why do you sometimes buy medicines on the local market and how do you decide specifically who to buy from?

Typically, most medicines ANERA delivers are donated by reputable organizations, not purchased. In an emergency situations, however, purchasing can be the quickest way to get the medicines to where they are urgently needed. We go to manufacturers in the area, such as Jerusalem Pharmaceutical, to make those purchases and to support the local Palestinian economy.

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Why haven’t I ever heard about ANERA?

ANERA is well known in Palestine, where our programs are having a big impact on people’s lives. In order to maintain our very low fundraising and overhead expenses, we have historically limited our advertising and marketing expenditures. ANERA depends mainly on dedicated supporters to spread the word about our impact and efficiency.

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How can ANERA ensure that donations serve their intended beneficiaries and not parties like Hamas?

ANERA’s policy is to supply assistance to only legitimate and capable institutions and to comply with U.S. laws. We filter individuals and agencies against computerized lists of terrorist organizations cited by the U.S. Treasury Department,  Office of Foreign Assets Control list. Because Hamas is designated as a “terrorist group” by the U.S. State Department, ANERA does not work or even coordinate with them. 

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Lebanon hospitals identified the first case of the deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus in May and the topic of controlling the spread of infections in hospitals has become a priority. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s (PRCS) Hamshari Hospital is not taking any chances.

30,000 surgical face masks for Lebanon’s PCRS hospitals to prevent spread of infection. 

Mounir El-Hajj Khalil is responsible for control of infections in the hospital, located in Saida in southern Lebanon. He lists several key steps nurses are taking to preventing the spread of germs: isolation of the patient, hand washing and wearing personal protective equipment like facemasks.

Health masks are expensive and the hospital can’t normally afford to purchase them, Mounir says. But, thanks to an AmeriCares donation of nearly 30,000 particulate respirator surgical face masks, 11,200 of which went to Hamshari Hospital, Mounir has been able to ensure this critical step in controlling the spread of infectious diseases is taken.

Working with long-time partner Health Care Society (HCS), ANERA delivered the in-kind shipment in the Spring of 2014 to Hamshari and other PRCS hospitals. Now every department of Hamshari Hospital has a box of the masks, along with instructions on how best to use them.

Lebanon: Hamshari hospital nurse wears new protective masks to help prevent spread of infection.

Nurses wear new protective masks and gloves to prevent spread of infection.

HCS Executive Director Bahija Mayassi underlined the importance of such shipments, “Providing these important items and other medical equipment allows the hospitals to provide access for more patients to quality health services. Our support is critical because the hospitals do not have the financial resources and rely on donations to carry on.”

At Hamshari Hospital, Mounir was grateful for the high quality items. “The N95 facemasks we received are of very good quality. I learned about them during my training on infectious disease control, but this is the first time that I’m actually really using them.”

Mounir started working at Hamshari Hospital in 1999 as a trainee nurse while he completed his studies at Al-Quds Nursing Institute. He joined the staff in 2003 and soon specialized in prevention, monitoring and control of infections.

“There are two cases for which we use the N95 masks:” explains Mounir, “to prevent the spread of a contagious disease like MERS or tuberculosis and to protect patients with low immunity, especially patients with AIDS or leukemia.” Mounir adds, “the masks are essential because they can help block both the entry and exit of germs.”

Cases of tuberculosis are not very common but once or twice a year, Hamshari Hospital receives a patient who needs to be isolated while awaiting transfer to a specialized institute. Mounir explains that patients with low immunity must be protected from any minor infection, which could prove fatal to them. “In these cases, the medical staff and anyone visiting the patient should wear a mask in the patient’s room.”

Mounir trained five head nurses on their correct use and they then trained the hospital’s 78 nurses, so everyone knows how to reduce infection risks.

“If we happen to get a case of MERS, we are ready to deal with it like any other infectious disease,” says Mounir confidently. “Our medical staff is trained to control infectious diseases and now we have what we need to do that.”