We’re Going Through Another Tough Period in Gaza

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Last night, we learned that there are four new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gaza. Though this might not sound like many, it’s a huge concern here. These are the first known cases that have been detected outside of the quarantine centers located at the Rafah and Erez crossings into Gaza. Up until yesterday, we could take comfort in the knowledge that there were no uncontained cases of the virus, since there are so few people who are allowed in and out of the territory. But yesterday’s news changes everything.

I write this from my apartment, where my family has been sequestered for 24 hours. The whole of Gaza is on a 48-hour lockdown as the authorities try to learn more about where the virus might be spreading. The four who have COVID are all from the same family in the Maghazi Refugee Camp. One of them owns a popular grocery store and almost certainly came into contact with people before he learned he had the disease. We all nervously await more news.

In the meantime, I look out my window and the streets are completely deserted. I am not even hearing the fruit and veggie vendor that usually goes up and down my street dozens of times a day. It’s eerily quiet and I have time to think about our situation here. There is a confluence of things bearing down on us in Gaza, making life miserable for most people. 

We’re experiencing an acute lack of electricity right now  –  between two and three hours a day. Even for Gaza, where we always have shortages, it’s very bad. As we wait for the political actors to resolve the issues that are standing in the way of our access to this vital resource, hospitals and other healthcare facilities do not have enough fuel to operate machines and chronically ill patients like those who need dialysis are suffering. The elderly among us cannot use elevators to get to their upper floor apartments. Water cannot be pumped to people’s homes, so many people have no ready access to water for cleaning or drinking. Showers are a luxury. Bear in mind that it is hot right now! So, things like showers and fans can be life-savers. Now, COVID-19 has arrived. We’re stuck at home, but can’t really stock up on food, since our refrigerators go on and off. And opening the windows brings in the scents of sewage and hoards of insects. 

A Palestinian boy uses a gas lamp during a power cut in Gaza.
A Palestinian boy uses a gas lamp during a power cut after Gaza’s sole power plant shut down amid tension with Israel, in an impoverished household in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Mohammed Zaanoun, photographer.

Our children, who had just returned to school, are back at home again. This, for me as a mother, is probably the most painful thing. Since the start of the pandemic in March, Gaza children stopped going to school. Though they were supposed to have gone to online learning, for communities here that’s just not realistic. Investing in technology has not typically been a priority, given the massive poverty and daily struggle for most families just to survive. It’s been a huge challenge for parents to keep their children’s education going in one way or another. The schools had just reopened for in-person learning and they were trying to make up time by reviewing what they missed in the spring. But now all of that is in jeopardy.  

As Palestinians, this situation with the schools is particularly hard to deal with. We as a people have gone through much deprivation. But if there is one thing that can give us hope, it is education. We have always relied on education as our escape and our hope for better things. Every Palestinian parent wants something better for their children  –  a chance at a better life. Losing this opportunity means losing hope for the next generation.

On a more positive note, I am glad to say that, for months, Anera has been quietly and steadily equipping health care facilities across Gaza with PPE and vital medicines to fight the spread of COVID-19. With support from amazing partners like Direct Relief, Americares, and the Ray of Light Foundation, we’ll keep it coming. 

Just because Gaza isn’t in the news every day doesn’t mean that things are okay here. They aren’t! Don’t forget us and thank you, as always, for your steadfast support.

Dr. Safa Howar, from Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City, wears the PPE Anera delivered to her facility in July.
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