Traveling through Gaza’s Ravaged Landscape

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Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to north Gaza, in my own car no less. I filled it with vegetables for our colleagues in the north and made the journey. As I drove, I saw people walking with their belongings slung over their shoulders, their lives condensed into little knapsacks. For five long months, they’ve been on the move, seeking refuge wherever they can find it. No one paid much attention to me passing by, even though I was in one of the only vehicles around.

People leaving Rafah in May following an evacuation order by the Israeli authorities.
WHO photo from OCHA’s #164 flash update.

I struck up conversations with some of the many women walking by me. They shared that they were heading to schools for shelter. Sadly, though, these facilities that used to offer safety and some comfort now lack even basic amenities like windows or doors. There are no safe places left to offer protection from the harsh reality of Gaza.

My two days in the north were a rare bright spot among the horrors we have all been enduring. It was a joy to see my colleagues and friends again. I also was filled with pride over the work our team in the north is performing every day.

Sami and Anera’s team in the north greet each other for the first time in many month.

I visited an Anera distribution center and saw staff busily packing food parcels and doing inventories and data entry for distributions to go out the next day. From there we went to a location where we were distributing parcels to 1,600 families. I saw palpable relief on people’s faces as they picked up their flour, rice, cooking oil and sugar.

Making meals in northern Gaza.

The next day, though, everything changed in the north. We got a call from the Israelis telling us to evacuate immediately. Our distribution center got caught up in the red (evacuation) zone. Anera’s work in the north abruptly ended, and we had to urge the Israeli authorities to spare our center, which holds vital supplies for starving northern families.

Our staff had to move quickly into Gaza City to protect themselves – this is after going for seven months living every day with ever-dwindling resources. They, like everyone else in the north, have had to rely on aid for survival, sometimes going days with no food.

Things had recently been getting somewhat better in northern Gaza, but they are now worsening again. The Rafah invasion is exacerbating food shortages, leaving people desperate for essentials. Crossings are closed and there is no cash available in Gaza. Fear of chaos and civil unrest is palpable, with tensions rising over basic needs. Starvation looms again unless aid arrives soon.

My colleagues outside of Gaza often ask me about priority needs.

  • Right now, at the top of the list is tents, as people are once again undergoing mass displacement.
  • Fuel is also very low and the shortages will soon threaten our ability to get work done.
  • And, with the hot temperatures of summer, demand for water will keep increasing. The few desalination plants are inadequate, and most water wells are non-functional, leaving millions without access to clean water. Exploring solutions like installing reverse osmosis systems becomes imperative to ensuring basic hygiene and survival.
  • We also simply need aid to come in. Shipments into Gaza have been halted the past few days. People won’t be able to hold on much longer without external assistance.

I am back south with my family and colleagues. The influx of displaced people from Rafah has been overwhelming. They’re setting up tents wherever they can or just sleeping on the streets. All of our staff in the south are living in tents alongside the people they serve. Despite renting an office, a place where we could sleep too, the Anera team has chosen to be with our people, even if it means makeshift accommodations.

Our shelter is by the coastal road, in Rafah. It is supposedly a humanitarian zone. But it’s far from safe. Airstrikes and gunfire are constant threats. Just the other night, a strike hit a mere 300 meters (1,000 feet) away. It’s a constant reminder of the risks we face. Nonetheless, we continue our life-saving work.

When I was in the north, I went to where my home was. I spent everything I had to build that home, the place where my children were born and all our memories formed. Now it is completely gone, as is the whole neighborhood. But I believe that, together, we will rebuild Gaza, better than it ever was.

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