“The situation was terrifying”: The impact of violence on people with disabilities in Gaza

“I woke up to the sound of bombing, it was terrifying. The bombing was not normal.” Rodayna is one of many Palestinians with a disability who was deeply affected during the Israeli military offensive on Gaza in May. “Israeli warplanes bombed a street near us. The situation was so terrifying,” she said. “You are walking and the warplane is bombing above your head.”

Rodayna suffers from back problems and faced huge challenges when trying to seek medical assistance during the bombardment. “It is difficult for me to move from place to place. Not all the roads are paved and adapted for people with disabilities. The problem is that when I move from one place to another, I have to take my medical bed mattress with me,” she said.

According to the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and the National Society for Rehabilitation (NSR), six people with disabilities were killed during the 11-day bombardment, where a total of 256 Palestinians were killed. Almost 2,000 people were injured, some of whom the UN reports may suffer from a long-term disability and will require rehabilitation, and 3,000 people with disabilities were displaced from their homes. The assault also affected several health and rehabilitation facilities, including 24 organisations working with people with disabilities, reported the PMRS and NSR.

The latest assault reflects a pattern of attacks on Palestinians with disabilities in Gaza. According to the Disability Representative Bodies Network, during the 2014 military offensive Israeli forces killed 23 people with disabilities and injured approximately 50, and 2,204 Palestinians with disabilities were internally displaced. Such attacks have been met with chronic impunity, and therefore a lack of effective remedy for people affected.

“It is difficult for me to move from place to place. Not all the roads are paved and adapted for people with disabilities. The problem is that when I move from one place to another, I have to take my medical bed mattress with me.”

A crippling 14-year blockade imposed on Gaza and regular Israeli military assaults have had a severe impact on people with disabilities. There is a lack of medical equipment and supplies, and Palestinians are frequently prevented from leaving Gaza to receive medical treatment. Restrictions on fuel imports to run electricity generators leads to frequent power cuts, affecting people with disabilities who may need to recharge the batteries of assistive devices such as wheelchairs and hearing aids, or use lifts.

Rodayna recognises that all Palestinians in Gaza struggle to live a life of safety and dignity, but highlights the concerns of people with disabilities. “We as people with disabilities want more attention. The situation was difficult for all, but is it harder for us as people with disabilities.”

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) supports community-based rehabilitation activities and works with partners in Gaza to promote an inclusive and accessible society for people with disabilities. Our work focuses on empowering people with disabilities to strengthen their full participation in communities. We educate people with disabilities about their rights; provide them with economic opportunities through short-term contracts or small-business grants; and support them to advocate around accessibility with local decision-makers.

Through our partnership with the Social Developmental Forum (SDF), we work across Gaza to promote inclusion, empowerment and advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities. The SDF provides inclusionary digital and rights-based trainings for people with and without disabilities, preparing them to become advocates in their communities and with local authorities. More than 100 young people are leading SDF’s digital and social media campaigns.

MAP is also working directly with the Ministry of Health to support burns services, limb reconstruction and neurosurgery in Gaza. These are all linked to a physiotherapy programme, which aims to increase the capacity of physiotherapists to address the widespread rehabilitation needs for people who are injured or exposed to burns, including those resulting from military assaults on Gaza.

Palestinian war injuries in Gaza have been described as “something akin to an endemic disease”. The recent violence has only exacerbated the harsh realities that people with disabilities face on a day-to-day basis. MAP and its partners will continue to advocate for the rights of Palestinians and demand that Israel, as the occupying power, ensures Palestinians’ rights to movement, access to healthcare and essential services, and protection across the whole of the occupied Palestinian territory. Earlier this month, we submitted information on these issues informed by our teams and partners in Gaza to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, which you can read here.

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Photo: Palestinians inspect a damaged tower building, which was hit in Israeli air strikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City. © 2021 UNRWA photo by Mohamed Hinna.

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